France v England: World Cup finalists could struggle in Six Nations opener
Simon Mail previews England's Six Nations opener and does not think the tournament favourites will have it all their own way in France...
France v England
Live on BBC One
Live on BBC One
England must avoid World Cup hangover
World Cup finalists England are favourites to win this season's Six Nations but their tough start in France could prove a stumbling block for Eddie Jones' side. The phenomenal semi-final win against New Zealand in Japan sparked huge optimism but their failure to perform in November's final defeat to South Africa could lead to a hangover in Paris.
Jones has been quick to suggest his squad will not allow their World Cup exploits to hinder their Six Nations campaign but the proof will be apparent on the pitch at the Stade de France. England finished second in the competition last season but their away form has to be a concern, with four defeats in their last six Six Nations trips.
The loss of outstanding number eight Billy Vunipola is a significant blow heading into this year's competition after his influential role in England's World Cup campaign. Vunipola was ruled out with a broken arm and will be sorely missed by England. Heading into their opener in France, hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie is also likely to miss the match for family reasons.
New era for France under Galthie
France start a new era under the leadership of Fabien Galthie after the former assistant coach replaced Jacques Brunel following the World Cup. Galthie has decided this is the right time to blood young players with the long-term target aimed at peaking for the home World Cup in 2023. The arrival of Shaun Edwards as defence coach is a huge coup for France with his ability likely to make a significant difference.
Galthie has selected two uncapped players in his team for their opener against England. Anthony Bouthier starts at full-back while Mohamed Haouas features at tight-head prop. Flanker Charles Ollivon takes over the captaincy for France. Galthie picked 19 uncapped players in his Six Nations squad, with an average age of 24. His emphasis on youth is shown in the half-back pairing of Romain Ntamack and Antoine Dupont.
France have won three of the last four home games against England and this has proved a difficult fixture for the visitors. England demolished France 44-8 at Twickenham last season but it would be big surprise if this weekend's game turned out to follow a similar pattern. This looks a very difficult start for Jones' side and there is no rush to back them at skinny odds of 1.62.
This is an exciting, yet unpredictable, young France team, with their pace and flair capable of upsetting England this weekend. Galthie will be expecting a fast start from his players and the hosts look worth backing to score the first try. The likes of Virimi Vakatawa and Teddy Thomas are potent finishers and France, assisted by their vocal home supporters, can cross the line for the breakthrough this weekend.
England look vulnerable in this Six Nations opener and France certainly merit strong consideration at 2.8 for the victory. But there have been plenty of examples of France squandering a lead late on, such as the dramatic defeat at home to Ireland in 2018. It is probably worth taking the safety net of backing the hosts with a three-point handicap advantage. This is likely to be a tight contest and France can keep it close even if the win proves elusive.
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