Eddie Jones has described England’s clash with France tomorrow as the 21st war in the nations’ long rivalry.
The Grand Slam champions launch their title defence against Guy Noves’ men at Twickenham seeking to claim a record 15th successive victory after negotiating 2016 unbeaten.
Jones has ratcheted up the tension by warning France, who enter the 103rd meeting between the teams as 6-1 underdogs, they should expect the latest instalment in a series of conflicts that began in 1213.
“It’s always a historic game, certainly there is history between France and England,” the England coach said.
“We’ve got one staff member who is into history – [defence coach] Paul Gustard. There’s been 20 wars between England and France. That’s a lot of rivalry there. There is another one happening on Saturday.
“We are going to face a side that’s desperate for success. They are under pressure to play with French flair. Their coach has been talking about that, they want to play like that, and that puts a certain pressure on them.
“It’s really important that we’re in the game right from the start and that’s in the head. We have to front up, do the business.
“It’s like going down the coal mine every day. We’ve just got to do the business, and our players will.”
England have been weakened by injury and among the absentees is Chris Robshaw, whose championship-ending shoulder surgery has created a vacancy for Maro Itoje at blindside flanker.
Itoje moves from lock to make his first start in the back row and, while Jones insists Robshaw, a bulwark of England’s success in 2016, is a hard act to follow, he is backing the young Saracen to succeed.
“Itoje has got big shoes to fill,” Jones said. “Robshaw has been one of our integral players in the team with his workrate, but Maro has trained well in that position and we believe he can make a really good fist of it. He brings his lineout skills.”
George Kruis’ absence with a knee injury and Itoje’s move to the back row to play alongside Nathan Hughes and Tom Wood means Joe Launchbury is reinstated at lock alongside Courtney Lawes.
Jones has picked Elliot Daly on the left wing ahead of Jack Nowell, who missed Tuesday’s training sessions due to personal reasons and was only back in the England camp on Thursday.