England travel to take on France in their opening matches of the Six Nations, with both sides looking to secure a Grand Slam crown, yet the two are very far apart in what many believe they will achieve.
Here we are then, after almost three months of pain and reflection, both France and England return to international duty with the pair looking to forget the sorrows they were forced to endure in Japan last year.
For France, their road at the World Cup ended in the quarter-finals as they imploded in true-French style in a game they had in the palm of their hands. Playing against a Welsh side that many knew would struggle to really battle back in a game they were behind in due to the fact they are stronger-defensively than they are going forward, the French knew that they were doing everything right as they led 19-10 at half-time.
However, an utterly idiotic red card for French lock Sebastien Vahaamahina for an elbow at the top of a rolling maul saw France reduced to 14-men and, with some questionable decisions like deciding not to have a player at the back of the scrum, they contrived to lose a quarter-final that they had been well on top in, and so the legend of the consistent underachievers France was strengthened once again.
For England, the story was very different, and the pain was far worse. A supreme run to the final saw three wins in the group stage and a wash-out draw against France followed by a 40-16 mauling of Australia that was made all the more impressive by the fact the Red Rose did not see much of the ball in a game in which they put 40 points on their opponents.
Their next match saw arguably their greatest performance at a World Cup as they completely outplayed double reigning-world champions New Zealand. That game saw Manu Tuilagi crash over inside the opening few minutes and England never looked back. A Sam Underhill score along with a try from Ben Youngs were disallowed and the 19-7 scoreline could have been a lot better had it not been for mere millimetres in their decisions. However, as it stood, the win sent shockwaves through world rugby as New Zealand were denied the chance to secure a third World Cup in a row, and it earmarked England as the team to beat as their forwards and backs put in performances more akin to gladiators, as they put their bodies on the line in a game of extreme physicality.
However, that incredible performance against New Zealand in the semi-final was dubbed ‘England’s World Cup final’ by many, with critics citing that their biggest performance had come a week too early – and so it proved. England went into their game against South Africa as the favourites and, after losing Kyle Sinckler mere minutes into the game, they could never get a foothold. South Africa’s scrum absolutely dominated a usually powerful English pack as Dan Cole, normally a sub for England, was hounded for 78 minutes in the final.
In the end, England were killed by the loss of Sinckler early-on and when they had the ball in hand they were unable to penetrate a South African defence that was superb. Simply put, Eddie Jones and England had no answer for the South African defence throughout the 80 or their attack in the final 20, with the Springboks profiting from England’s desperation as the seconds ticked away. Now, Jones has the huge job of picking his players up, adding to the squad, and starting a new World Cup cycle with his side.
Now, onto 2020, with both sides desperate to put a disappointing end to 2019 behind them. France and England’s first match of the Six Nations will be one in which neither side will contemplate losing, but we are of course backing the side that come into this one with a good run of form behind them. England arrive with a single loss in their last eight matches with seven wins in this time when excluding their 0-0 draw with France. England’s last Six Nations campaign ended in a second-placed finish and in the second round of fixtures at Twickenham, the Red Rose humiliated France 44-8 as Jones’ side completely outclassed their opponents.
France meanwhile were beaten by Wales in the last match they played, while they had to edge past Argentina, the USA and Tonga at the World Cup, while they lost to Wales, England and Ireland in the 2019 Six Nations, and they just about came through games with Scotland and Italy in a campaign that failed to ever really hit the heights it might have. Their home game’s last year saw a 24-19 loss to Wales in a game they led 16-0 in and a tough 27-10 win over Scotland as the Stade de France failed to become the fortress they would have wanted it to be.
England meanwhile looked good on the road as they hammered Ireland and came within moments of beating Wales at the Principality Stadium last year, and they will target this trip to France as a chance to put down a marker in the competition this time around.
While there are some outstanding teams with brilliant players right across the competition, we feel that the quality of this English team along with the fact they are a settled side with a similar management team means they have a huge chance of winning the championship and a Grand Slam, something they have not managed since 2016. With this in mind, we are backing a fairly comfortable English win to get things started.
The away side are currently 17/10 with Paddy Power to win by 1-12 points and while this is perhaps not the biggest of margins, we think that it will be a match in which the away win will not really ever be in doubt. All of the last seven games between the two sides in France has seen the victor come out on top by between 1-12 points which is where our recommended margin of victory is. With Shaun Edwards now at the defensive helm for France, we think things will be tighter for the home team, although it would be premature to assume he has been able to have a massive impact on them yet though.
Our second tip sees us backing speedster Jonny May to get on the scoresheet in this one. May was in fine form last year as he bagged six tries along with a hat-trick in 30 minutes against France last year. May is one of those players that just loves to run with the ball in hand, while he has proved that he is able to take up try-scoring positions throughout his time with England as he utilisies the clever kicking and passing of the likes of George Ford and Owen Farrell to get over the line. While there may be some unrest in the camp following Saracens relegations to the Championship with many of their players starring for England in the past, we do not think this will change anything for Leicester’s May, who will not care who is supplying him with that final ball.
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