Preview: England v France

Date published: August 14 2015

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England meet France for the 100th time on Saturday at Twickenham with both teams stepping into the unknown in their first warm-up game.

Fitness has been the order of the day on both sides, with a gruelling training camp in the Rockies for England, while les Bleus stayed closer to home with camps in the Alps and the Pyrenees.

For the French, watt bikes and cycling at altitude should have the players in top shape, while England have been a little more tight-lipped about the activities undertaken in Denver.

The result should see two supremely fit sides take to the field at Twickenham, whether they remember how to play rugby is another matter entirely.

The last time these two met – in the final game of the Six Nations – was as remarkable a game as the rivals have ever played, with the French scoring 35 points and still losing by 20.

This time the teams are a little more experimental, with England handing international debuts to Henry Slade, Sam Burgess, Calum Clark and Luke Cowan-Dickie.

France, surprisingly, have no new faces in their side, but that's partly because Philippe Saint-André has selected almost anyone eligible over the last four years.

Both teams are missing their captains, Chris Robshaw is rested and replaced by Tom Wood, while Thierry Dusautoir is recovering from a knock he took to his knee in training.

As they did in 2003 and 2007, the teams will meet twice, with the return fixture in Paris next week, but after impressive displays from respective pool rivals Australia and Ireland last week, both teams will be keen to lay down a marker.

Players to watch: 

For England: Between his sending off in a Junior World Championship final and his eight-month ban for breaking Rob Hawkins arm, Calum Clark is not the most popular player among rugby fans. However over the last two seasons he has established himself as arguably the key cog in Northampton's back row, and on Saturday he will get the chance to make his England debut alongside Saints teammate Tom Wood. Having switched from blindside to openside, he will have the chance to stake a claim for the England squad, and given his versatility, he may yet sneak into the 31.

For France: It's been almost two years since François Trinh-Duc started a Test match, and it's fair to say under Philippe Saint-André, he's struggled for opportunities. A blistering start to the season saw him recalled, only to break his leg in his final game for Montpellier before the November Tests. With only two fly-halves set to go to the World Cup, he faces stiff competition just to make the squad, but alongside long-time half-back partner Morgan Parra, Trinh-Duc has the perfect opportunity to succeed.

Head-to-head: It's hard to look past the midfield battle where England will pit two international novices against a French pair with barely more Test experience. While Sam Burgess and Henry Slade will be working together on Saturday, they will also be very aware that they are likely fighting for one spot in the World Cup squad. Slade offers the greater positional versatility and the form in the three-quarters, but Stuart Lancaster is clearly a fan of size in midfield, with Burgess being talked up as the replacement for Manu Tuilagi, despite his lack of pedigree in the backs since his switch from league.

For France, Rémi Lamerat and Alexandre Dumoulin have eight Test caps between them, but the former's only start lasted just 17 minutes before he pulled up injured, while Dumoulin shone last November only for tendonitis to then slow him down. Lamerat was one of the few Castres players to perform this season, and combines power and pace that could dovetail nicely with Dumoulin, a former fly-half who did a good impression of Yannick Jauzion during his one and a half Tests last year. 

Team news: England have gone for a relatively experimental side, with a number of first team regulars rested, including Chris Robshaw. Sam Burgess and Henry Slade are the standout inclusions in midfield, while Saracens duo Richard Wigglesworth and Owen Farrell combine in the half-backs. Tom Wood captains the side, while Ben Morgan makes his return from injury at number eight.

For France,  in the absence of the injured Thierry Dusautoir, hooker Dimitri Szarzewski, the most capped player in the 23-man squad, will lead the team. Trinh-Duc will start his first international match in more than two years while Louis Picamoles returns at the back of the scrum. Nicolas Mas provides plenty of experience from tighthead. 

Previous results: 

2015: England won 55-35 in London
2014: France won 26-24 in Paris
2013: England won 23-13 in London
2012: England won 24-22 in Paris
2011: France won 19-12 in Auckland
2011: England won 17-9 in London
2010: France won 12-10 in Paris
2009: England won 34-10 in London
2008: England won 24-13 in Paris
2007: England won 14-9 in Paris
2007: France won 22-9 in Marseille
2007: France won 21-15 in London

Prediction: It's hard to really say which way this will go, with very little to go on at the moment. Based purely on having greater faith in Stuart Lancaster's ability to prepare his side, we'll tip England to win it. England by 7!

England: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Sam Burgess, 11 Jonny May, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Ben Morgan, 7 Calum Clark, 6 Tom Wood (c), 5 Geoff Parling, 4 George Kruis, 3 Kieran Brookes, 2 Rob Webber, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Alex Corbisiero, 18 David Wilson, 19 Dave Attwood, 20 James Haskell, 21 Danny Care, 22 Danny Cipriani, 23 Billy Twelvetrees.

France: 15 Scott Spedding, 14 Sofiane Guitoune, 13 Remi Lamerat, 12 Alexandre Dumoulin, 11 Brice Dulin, 10 Francois Trinh-Duc, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Fulgence Ouedraogo, 6 Yannick Nyanga, 5. Yoann Maestri, 4 Alexandre Flanquart, 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 Dimitri Szarzewski, 1 Vincent Debaty.

Replacements: 16 Guilhem Guirado, 17 Xavier Chiocci, 18 Uini Atonio, 19 Sebastien Vahaamahina, 20 Loann Goujon, 21 Rory Kockott, 22 Remi Tales, 23 Gael Fickou.

Date: Saturday, August 15
Venue: Twickenham Stadium, London
Kick-off: 20:00 local (19:00 GMT)
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant referees: George Clancy (Ireland), Leighton Hodges (Wales)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)

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