was surprised to see France blow their Grand Slam chance by drawing with Ireland but I'm astonished by Philipe Saint-Andre's team selections for Sunday's clash with England.
Out goes Morgan Parra, out goes Francois Trin-Duch and I fail to understand either decision. I'm a huge fan of Trin-Duch, he's tough, he has a touch of class and, with one magical offload, he set up France's opening points last week. By replacing him with Lionel Beauxis, Saint-Andre has put all his faith in kicking prowess. The Toulouse man, who had a shocker against England in the 2007 World Cup semi-final, will be expected to pin England's defence deep inside their own half but I'm not convinced it will work.
Never before have I seen a France coach select his side in response to the threat posed by England. By picking Beauxis that's what Saint-Andre has done. Why? France are 1.42 favourites, they have by far the more settled, experienced team and they are at home. I was no fan of Marc Lievremont, he was guilty of some bizarre management, but he never allowed his team sheet to be dictated by England's strengths.
England have been very good at harassing opposition backs. Dan Parks retired following Charlie Hodgson's charge down at Murrayfield, Andre Masi was punished for his carelessness in Rome and Rhys Priestland had possibly his worst ever game for Wales at Twickenham. So on that level I appreciate Saint-Andre's thinking: Beauxis' long kicking will restrict England and earn France territory. That's the idea but I would still have still favoured Trin-Duch's composure and strength, because there is no doubt that he is the superior ten.
Saint-Andre wants to look shrewd and decisive. He's trying to send a message to his new charges that mistakes will not be tolerated but I think England will be encouraged. They have the impetus, they know France were rattled by Ireland's energy last weekend. I was encouraged by the partnership of Manu Tuilagi and Bradley Barritt against Wales and they, as well as the back row, will try to increase their line speed.
So with all that in mind, will I back England? I'm going to over to Paris with a group of Betfair customers, it's going to be a brilliant weekend and I would really like to put my money on the Red Rose. However, head before heart, I'm afraid I can't back Stuart Lancaster's young lions at 3.7 to pull this one off. Their attack has been criticised this week and, while I was pleased to hear Charlie Hodgson hit back, try-scoring is an issue. England have managed only two - less than both Scotland and Italy - and, while they have been aggressive and defensively brilliant, they need to take their chances against the big teams. They were punished for their profligacy against Wales and France could easily do the same this Sunday.
France possess too much class and they might yet scupper Wales' Grand Slam dream. Wesley Fofana has been one of the stars of the tournament and Thierry Dusautoir is the best player in the world. Back England to win in Paris? Ask me again when this team are a couple of years older.
2pts Back France to win by under 12.5 points @ 2.54
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