England coach Stuart Lancaster has described his team selection for France as ‘proactive’ rather than ‘reactive’ after he made three changes to the side that saw off Ireland.
Lancaster is expecting a hugely physical encounter against the French and has therefore recalled Manu Tuilagi, Dylan Hartley and Courtney Lawes to his starting lineup for Saturday’s encounter at Twickenham.
The trio were all on the bench for the Round 2 win in Dublin, with Lawes and Hartley also featuring as replacements in the opening success against Scotland.
Billy Twelvetrees, Tom Youngs and James Haskell are the men to make way – although all three are still included in the matchday squad – as England look to dominate up front and then capitalize out wide.
“We want to impose our gameplan on the French. It’s a proactive decision to make sure we get some good scrum ball and lineout ball and to also make the opposition think that they’ve got some problems securing their own,” said Lancaster.
“We thought long and hard about changing a winning team which did so well against Ireland.
“But we believe that Dylan, Courtney and Manu are ready for the opportunity and allow us to vary our play, while the bench will add impact and energy as the game unfolds.”
Lock forward Lawes has been selected on the blindside flank as Haskell continues his recovery from a flu bug.
Lawes hasn’t started a Test since the 2011 World Cup and has never began an RBS 6 Nations game from the off or an international of any sorts in the No6 shirt, but Lancaster is convinced he will impress alongside captain Chris Robshaw and Northampton colleague Tom Wood.
“Part of our thinking going into this game is centred around the lineout. France have got a very good lineout and a lot of their attacking game comes from that,” added Lancaster.
“Courtney’s a very good lineout forward and gives us lots of presence there. He’s played six a lot with Northampton and I’m very confident in his ability to play there.
“He’s desperate to prove a point. He’s not really had a start on a consistent basis because of injury, certainly not in the last year-and-a-half with me.”
Fellow Saint Hartley is back in the side after a knee injury ruled him out of the autumn internationals, with Youngs shining so brightly in his absence that the former centre kept the hooking berth for the first two games of the tournament.
Lancaster insists Hartley’s promotion is no reflection on the performances of his rival, although the setpiece was once again at the heart of his thinking.
“It’s an opportunity to give an experienced player who we trust an opportunity to prove a point. Dylan’s been sat patiently waiting for his chance after injury.
“Tom took his chance brilliantly, and starting six games on the bounce at international level from where he was is unbelievable. Dylan adds a bit more weight in the scrum and Tom gives us a significant impact from the bench.
“It’s just a little bit more experience in the front row for what will be a very tough French pack.”
As for the midfield combination, Lancaster has dropped newcomer Twelvetrees from his first XV despite the Gloucester player earning rave reviews in his first two Tests.
Tuialgi’s recovery from the ankle injury that ruled him out of the Scotland game and kept him on the bench for the trip to Ireland means he takes the outside centre berth this week, with Brad Barritt reverting back to the No12 shirt.
“Manu is clearly a threat carrying the ball and defensively he’s very strong with Brad.
“He looks hungry, he looks sharp now – having been back for the game for Leicester – and he’s desperate to prove a point.
“It’s a misconception to say that Manu and Brad can’t play together and we can’t play attractive rugby. Certainly against the All Blacks they were a pretty effective pairing.
“With Billy on the bench, I’m sure he’ll get some game time and, as the game opens up in the last 20 minutes, his passing skills will come to the fore.”
England (v France, Twickenham, Saturday 5pm)
Alex Goode (Saracens); Chris Ashton (Saracens), Manu Tuilagi (Leicester Tigers), Brad Barritt (Saracens), Mike Brown (Harlequins), Owen Farrell (Saracens), Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers); Joe Marler (Harlequins), Dylan Hartley (Northampton Saints), Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers), Joe Launchbury (London Wasps), Geoff Parling (Leicester Tigers), Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints), Chris Robshaw (Harlequins, capt), Tom Wood (Northampton Saints)
Replacements: Tom Youngs (Leicester Tigers), David Wilson (Bath Rugby), Mako Vunipola (Saracens), James Haskell (London Wasps), Thomas Waldrom (Leicester Tigers), Danny Care (Harlequins), Toby Flood (Leicester Tigers), Billy Twelvetrees (Gloucester)