Monday 17 June 2019

Jones prepares England side for Paris 'test of manhood'

England coach Eddie Jones. Photo: Reuters
England coach Eddie Jones. Photo: Reuters

Mick Cleary

Eddie Jones has braced his players for "a test of their manhood" tonight as they prepare for the most important game of the Australian's time in charge of England.

They cannot afford to falter again if the NatWest Six Nations title is to be defended and, if it is to be so, England will have to summon the rage of the damned following their jolting setback at Murrayfield. This is the time for a response, the time to show willing in attack and the time to demonstrate that this is an England team who can live up to their billing.

England have a fine record - 24 wins in 26 Tests - but have only intermittently played to that status. This is the chance for England to silence the doubters and to prove that their credentials are bona fide.

Events in Dublin earlier in the afternoon will have a bearing on the task awaiting England at the Stade de France, where their mettle will be put to the test. They may have to get a bonus point if their championship challenge is to be sustained but, for all the conjecture in that regard, there is one certainty: every last spark of French resistance will have to be snuffed out if England are, first and foremost, to win, but also to contemplate a strike for bonus-point glory. With a turbo-charged back three in place, spearheaded by Anthony Watson at full-back, England have the capacity to hit hard from deep, to do a France on France, through punishing counter-attack.

Conversely, if they are as limp and indecisive as they were against Scotland, then misery lies in store. Successive championship losses, their third in five matches in the tournament stretching back to Dublin in 2017, would consign England to the mid-table ranks of World Cup contenders. Jones has no doubts that England will have to find their snarl.

"Every time you play against the French it is a test of your manhood," said Jones. "It may no longer be the case in their club rugby that they kick off straight into touch so that they can scrum against you. But it is still an area that will decide how much energy they have got in their game, in the scrum, on the gain line, so we have got to beat them in those areas.

"Everyone has got the responsibility of bringing energy and intensity. France are the European version of South Africa - they are big, they are physical and they want to hurt you."

No one more so than their talisman, Mathieu Bastareaud, who has acquired nuance to go with the muscle, as he showed with several deft offloads in the 34-17 win over Italy in Marseille, bringing to an end a dismal eight-match winless stretch for France.

That is the context on which England must be judged. France are an ad-hoc team still, under new management in Jacques Brunel and with their third fly-half in four matches, Francois Trinh-Duc, the latest to be anointed (again).

Ben Te'o's selection in midfield does, at the very least, offer a sizeable chunk of visible resistance to Bastareaud. Te'o is there to shackle the Toulon heavyweight by punching holes himself and putting the French defence on the back foot. He is well aware of his responsibilities.

"We are two physical teams across the water from each other so there are going to be fireworks," said the New Zealand-born centre. "It's a fierce rivalry. I'm a big guy, but I'm up against a bigger guy. He's athletic as well, though, and he can move. We'll have a job on our hands to stop him."

Before any of that might unfold, England have to win ball and deny France any momentum. That elemental battle has always been at the heart of the contest. Much rests on England's ability to scrummage well. If there was value in organising training sessions with Georgia last month, then it will be found this evening.

Redemption for England or a serious revision of their prospects? The stakes are high.

France v England,

Live, TV3/BBC 1, 4.45

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