Autumn Nations Cup final: England vs France talking points
England host France in the Autumn Nations Cup playoff final at Twickenham on Sunday (2pm kick-off). Anthony Watson is the only change to the starting XV as he replaces Jonathan Joseph. Les Bleus head into the game without 25 of their best players due to a rotation agreement with the Top 14
Last Updated: 06/12/20 2:01pm
England host France on Sunday in the final of the Autumn Nations Cup, with both looking to end successful 2020 campaigns with silverware...
'Undermanned France will fight'
France team manager Raphael Ibanez understands why Sunday's Autumn Nations Cup final against England at Twickenham is considered a "farce".
Les Bleus have picked a starting XV numbering only 68 caps against the most experienced England team of all time, containing 813 caps. Indeed, France are without 25 of their top players for Sunday's Test.
Almost half of France's total is supplied by veteran full-back Brice Dulin, who has made 30 Test appearances, while fly-half Matthieu Jalibert contributes seven caps.
Head coach Fabien Galthie has been forced to field a shadow side due to an agreement struck with the Top 14 clubs that means he can select each player a maximum of three times across the autumn's six Tests.
Having fielded his stars in the first-half of the campaign, Galthie is now left with his third, and even fourth, choice in some positions. Ibanez, however, believes they are capable of staging a famous upset.
"The players have been exemplary in their preparation and they all deserve their caps," former Wasps and France hooker Ibanez said.
"It must also be recognised that seen from abroad this final can be regarded as 'a farce'. We can understand them. Our two national selections are not on the same footing.
"Since the start of our international period, we have not been able to benefit from two weeks of preparation together.
"Despite all this, we won our matches to reach the final. This is the result of the state of mind of the players and all the efforts so far.
"They are a talented team that we believe in and who will perhaps overthrow mountains this Sunday. We are not going to let it go."
Only No 8 Selevasio Tolofua is making his debut but there are five players who have played just one international with centre Yoram Moefana and prop Hassane Kolingar given their first starts.
Among the six changes to the starting XV that thumped Italy 36-5 last Saturday is Clermont's Fijian-born wing Alivereti Raka, who won the last of his four caps at the 2019 World Cup. Scrum-half Baptiste Couilloud is France's third captain of the autumn.
'England won't underestimate France'
Fly-half George Ford knows from England's most recent tour to Argentina that France's shadow team will approach the Autumn Nations Cup final unburdened by fear.
England fielded a similarly inexperienced side when they toured Argentina in 2017 yet they won the Test series 2-0 while giving Tom Curry and Sam Underhill - now mainstays of the back row - their first caps.
"That tour certainly brought the best out of us. It's a motivating factor and it's one we're well aware of as a team," Ford said.
"We had 11 uncapped players, 11 guys who had got the opportunity to play for their country for the first time. It was almost like 'let's go for this, no fear'.
"It's an unbelievable privilege to play for your country. Whether it's your first cap or you're very inexperienced, whenever you're given an opportunity it's something you build your whole career for.
"That's what it will be like against these guys at the weekend. They've got an opportunity to represent their nation.
"Every time you pull the shirt on you want to be at your best and prove a point individually and as a team. I'd imagine it would be the same for them.
"Whoever they pick or select they're going to be dangerous. They'll be one of the best teams in the world regardless and are one of the most improved teams in the world.
"They've got some strength in depth there now. I was watching some individuals who could potentially play at the weekend and they're very good players in their own right. We've got to pay that the utmost respect.
"They'll be coming here chomping at the bit. We've got to expect the best French side to turn up at Twickenham on Sunday."
The hosts have, however, had to contend with a late change to their starting line-up after Mako Vunipola was ruled out with an Achilles injury. Ellis Genge therefore steps up to replace him at loose-head prop.
A different defence?
Since Fabien Galthie, Raphael Ibanez and Shaun Edwards have combined to form a new coaching group choc-full of fresh ideas, Les Bleus have been a different animal.
Galthie has come in with a swagger, arrogance and command. Ibanez with a winning-mentality and media-savvy approach. Edwards with his reputation enhanced off the back of 2019 and considered the best defence coach in the world.
For the first time in a decade, France won their opening three Championship games and won away in Wales during the 2020 Six Nations. In fact, it was the first time in nine years that France won away to any previous Six Nations champion (England, Ireland or Wales).
Ahead of France's Test with England in February, Eddie Jones remarked: "Test match rugby requires experience and France have decided not to take experience in, they've gone with youth. And they might be wrong, they might be right.
"We don't know but it's going to test those young players because they will have never have played against a brutal physicality and intensity that we are going to play with on Sunday."
The outcome? A youthful Les Bleus ripped England's World Cup finalists apart for an hour and recorded a fabulous 24-17 victory in a cauldron of noise in Paris.
England may be facing a severely understrength France this weekend, but it will still be a group with the same heart, defensive system and willingness to play.
"France are very good defensively now obviously with Shaun Edwards there," Leicester fly-half Ford added.
"Shaun brings a very, very energised, aggressive defence. Lots of line speed, getting off the line, wanting to force errors. It fires them up in terms of winning collisions as well.
"Shaun's record speaks for itself. Any defensive team coached by him will be up for the challenge.
"France have got some really good kickers in the game as well, but it's an offload, a turnover, a high ball that bobbles everywhere that brings them alive, it really does.
"One offload and 15 French guys with blue shirts come alive - they're ready, they're off and that makes them unbelievably dangerous. We need to be at our best."
England: 15 Elliot Daly; 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Owen Farrell (c), 11 Jonny May; 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs; 1 Ellis Genge, 2 Jamie George, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 4 Maro Itoje, 5 Joe Launchbury, 6 Tom Curry, 7 Sam Underhill, 8 Billy Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Joe Marler, 18 Will Stuart, 19 Jonny Hill, 20 Ben Earl, 21 Dan Robson, 22 Max Malins, 23 Joe Marchant.
France: 15 Brice Dulin; 14 Alivereti Raka, 13 Yoram Moefana, 12 Jonathan Danty, 11 Gabin Villiere; 10 Matthieu Jalibert, 9 Baptiste Couilloud; 1 Hassan Kolingar, 2 Pierre Bourgarit, 3 Dorian Aldegheri, 4 Kilian Geraci, 5 Baptiste Pesenti, 6 Cameron Woki, 7 Anthony Jelonch, 8 Selevasio Tolofua.
Replacements: 16 Peato Mauvaka, 17 Rodrigue Neti, 18 Uini Atonio, 19 Guillaume Ducat, 20 Sekou Macalou, 21 Sebastien Bezy, 22 Louis Carbonel, 23 Pierre-Louis Barassi.