Six Nations: England braced for French backlash

England head coach Stuart Lancaster has named an unchanged 23-man squad for Saturday’s RBS Six Nations game against France at Twickenham.

Wasps No 8 Billy Vunipola was pressing hard for selection until he suffered an ankle injury in training yesterday. As a result, Lancaster will select his starting side from the same matchday 23 that defeated Ireland 12-6 in Dublin, a result which left England top of the Six Nations table.

“We had to make some close calls but the team did very well in Ireland so we’ve gone with the same squad against France,” Lancaster said. “We are looking forward to getting back to Twickenham against what I am sure will be a highly motivated French team.”

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Forwards coach Graham Rowntree has steeled his men to face a ferocious French pack, 
motivated by a desire to rescue their own Six Nations campaign at the expense of England’s Grand Slam dreams.

France head to Twickenham under immense pressure after losing their opening two games of the championship for the first time since 1982. And Rowntree has warned of a French backlash in the tea-time kick-off.

He expects the biggest challenge to be up front, with England planning for the return of loosehead prop Thomas Domingo to the French front row.

“Philippe Saint-Andre is already saying this is their Grand Slam,” Rowntree said. “It will change the whole complexion of their championship if they win at the weekend and the way they will challenge us is through their forward pack. There is never a weak French scrum. We are preparing for Domingo.

“We have been watching him play for Clermont. He has been around that set-up for a few years now. He is an incredible scrummager, a compact little unit but technically very good. As an outfit, regardless of results, that area of the game is something we always respect with France.”

Rowntree has a decision to make about England’s loosehead prop, with Mako Vunipola issuing a strong reminder of his credentials in Saracens’ Aviva Premiership victory over Exeter at the weekend. Harlequins’ Joe Marler is the incumbent with Vunipola, who has impressed Rowntree with his development this season, so far used as a high-impact replacement.

“He [Vunipola] played well [against Exeter] didn’t he? He has been one of the real breakthrough players of the season,” Rowntree said. “I am delighted with his progress. He demonstrates the strength we have got in many positions. I remember myself as a prop coming on and trying to get up to the pace of the game, trying to make an impact on the game and he does it better than I ever did. It’s no bad thing for a person like him to sit on the bench. What I mean by that is he could start, I’m quite comfortable with him starting. It is horses for courses.”