MARCOUSSIS, France, Feb 19 (Reuters) - France look nothing like the team who beat Australia in November but England are the same side who humbled world champions New Zealand ahead of Saturday’s Six Nations clash at Twickenham, according to Les Bleus.
France, pre-tournament favourites with England following wins over the Wallabies, Argentina and Samoa, were stunned by Italy in their opening game and lost 16-6 to Wales at the Stade de France.
“They won two games in the championship playing very well. We lost our first two games. It says it all,” captain Thierry Dusautoir told reporters on Tuesday.
“England can be our grand slam. They’re in a state of euphoria. Everybody sees them win the grand slam, everybody sees us take the wooden spoon,” said manager Philippe Saint-Andre.
England, who ended last year with a record 38-21 win against the All Blacks, kicked off their Six Nations campaign with a big victory over Scotland and a gutsy one in a low-scoring match in Ireland.
“We are going to play against one of the best teams in the world,” flyhalf Frederic Michalak, a member of the team who lost in the 2003 World Cup semi-final to England, told reporters.
South African Antonie Claassen, who earned his first France call-up last week, agreed.
“They are the best team in the world right now,” he said. “Since their victory against the All Blacks, they’re a steady team who play aggressively.”
France looked short of inspiration and stamina in their first two matches in the championship
But Les Bleus might never be more dangerous than when they have their backs to the wall - the last example came at the 2011 World Cup when they reached the final after suffering an embarrassing defeat against Tonga in the group stage.
“We will need to bring enthusiasm and confidence into the game,” said Saint-Andre.
“We will not beat England by doing nothing. Going to Twickenham is a fantastic challenge. I want to be proud of a team who will go there to give 120 per cent of what they have.”
“We’re going to play with our heart, defend our colours and I hope it will go our way. It would be the icing on the cake,” said Michalak.
But flanker Yannick Nyanga sounded a note of caution.
“They are flamboyant, outstanding, very good in everything they set their mind to, very, very good in defence,” Nyanga, who missed the first two matches, said.
“I have not seen many weak spots in their game. To be fair, I have not see any.”
The experienced Nyanga, however, knows how to win at Twickenham.
In 2005, he and Michalak played in the France team who snatched a last-gap 18-17 win there thanks to Dimitri Yachvili’s 74th-minute penalty, the last French Six Nations win at England’s home.
“It’s always special to play against England,” he said. “We will try to dig and find something we have not found yet.
“France v England, at Twickenham, it’s the ideal place against the ideal rival. You can’t dream of a better stage - 80,000 supporters with all the folklore that goes with it, the atmosphere... I cannot wait.” (Writing by Julien Pretot; Editing by Ed Osmond)
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