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Invigorated England eye unlikely Six Nations title with France trip

England face France in the Rugby Six Nations. Photo: Adrian Dennis/AFP

England head to an equally resurgent France on Saturday holding an outside chance of pipping Ireland to a Six Nations title not many would have predicted at the start of the campaign. 

Steve Borthwick’s side need a bonus point victory in Lyon, with Paris’ Stade de France out of use due to it being prepared for this summer’s Olympic Games, and must hope Ireland lose to Scotland by more than seven points earlier in the day in the final round of the competition.

Despite a surprising third-placed finish at last year’s Rugby World Cup, Borthwick and his conservative outfit were criticised in many quarters but they are now 80 minutes from a first tournament success since 2020.  

“It’s out of our control. Our job is to play as well as we can on Saturday night and take another step forward,” Borthwick told reporters on Thursday. 

“We took another step forward last week.  

“Winning is a habit. It is a habit we want to get into,” the former England captain added. 

Borthwick has made just one change from last Saturday’s statement 23-22 victory over Ireland with Elliot Daly coming in on the wing for Immanuel Feyi-Waboso, who is missing due to concussion. 

Marcus Smith is on the bench despite his match-winning drop goal alongside powerhouse centre Manu Tuilagi, in what could be his final England game. 

The Samoa-born 32-year-old has been linked with a move to various clubs in France at the end of the season, with Borthwick unable to select players based outside of England. 

“The very best players make everyone else be five per cent or 10 per cent better, because of their presence, and Manu has that effect,” former lock Borthwick said. 

“So I can’t wait to see his impact on the players and then his impact when he comes on to the pitch,” he added.

Ramos the leader

Borthwick’s France counterpart Fabien Galthie has kept the same matchday squad from last Sunday’s 45-24 win over Wales. 

Thomas Ramos retains his place at fly-half outside of Nolann Le Garrec, who claimed the player of the match award in Cardiff. 

Ramos was a crucial part of Les Bleus’ 53-10 record win over England last season, scoring 23 points from his usual position of full-back as the visitors stunned Twickenham. 

“Thomas has a lot of leadership in the gameplan and within the squad,” Galthie said.

“He’s confident and he controls the game and does so in tough moments very well,” he added. 

Despite the confidence-boosting victory, questions still remain about Les Bleus’ defence, which had been a strong point under Shaun Edwards since the Englishman took over in late 2019. 

“We need to be more precise in many sectors, notably in defence. We have a big meeting in that sector against England,” Galthie said. 

“We have to be consistent, compact, solid. 

“In their gameplan, they attack often, powerfully in the middle of the field.  

“We have to put our hands up and be counted, as we’ve done in the past,” he added. 

A major change in England’s set-up since the World Cup has been the arrival of defence coach Felix Jones, who helped South Africa to consecutive Webb Ellis trophy wins in 2019 and four years later. 

They have the best defence in the Six Nations behind Ireland despite a few toothing issues in conceding sloppy tries to Scotland and Italy earlier in the competition. 

“We see well that they chose to copy South Africa, which jumps on top of the attack, allows little time to play,” Galthie said. 

“We’ve prepared as a result of that with our attack, to respond to those aggressions with the ball and without the ball,” he added. 

Standings provided by Sofascore

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