Updated: Saturday, 01 February 2014 10:28 | By Agence France-Presse

France face England in rugby union Six Nations opener

France coach Philippe Saint-Andre made no attempt to disguise his reliance on size and strength when he named his team to face England in their Six Nations opener on Saturday.


France face England in rugby union Six Nations opener

France’'s locks Alexandre Flanquart (L) and Yoann Maestri jump for the ball in a line-out during the captain's run training session at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, outside Paris, on January 31, 2014 - by Thomas Samson

French flair might be noticeable by its absence at the Stade de France as Saint-Andre will look to tackle the 'XV of the Rose' head on with all the French might he can muster.

The signs were clear on his team-sheet revealed Thursday where the 2.05m Alexandre Flanquart found his name listed at lock alongside captain and Stade Francais team-mate Pascal Pape.

Power was in evidence right throughout the side with Toulouse colossus Louis Picamoles at No.8 and Toulon battering ram Mathieu Bastereaud picked at outside centre.

But it is also on the bench where Saint-Andre made his feelings known, opting for six forwards and just two backs, proving he expects the match to be won and lost in a bruising encounter up front, and it is there that he wants the maximum number of options. 

In selecting two back-row replacements he showed that the breakdown is where he wants to have the greatest impact.

"The players have to be committed, to give everything; we need audacity, generosity, discipline and a lot of combativity," said Saint-Andre.

"We need to be as precise as possible at the breakdown."

It's not just Saint-Andre that is looking primarily at the pack as former England international and Toulon prop Andrew Sheridan also believes that will be the key area.

"It's often very tight against France and these are huge matches for the forwards," he said. 

"That's often where the result is decided. There are a lot of scrums and carried ball (by the forwards into contact), a bit like the Top 14.

"Against Wales, though, you have a more open game that's a lot more fluid."

If France can win the battle up front, they will be confident in their ability to make inroads against England's inexperienced backs, for whom Northampton centre Luther Burrell and Exeter wing Jack Nowell will be making their debuts.

Gloucester wing Jonny May will be winning only his second cap while his team-mate and inside centre Billy Twelvetrees will claim his ninth.

The combination of Burrell and Twelvetrees in midfield is particularly surprising given that Manu Tuilagi is injured but the experienced Brad Barritt is back from injury.

But while Twelvetrees can probably consider himself very much a potential first-choice starter even with everyone fit, the selections of Burrell, Nowell and May remain a surprise, particularly against traditionally England's toughest opponents.

Yet England head coach Stuart Lancaster has no doubts that the trio are ready for the occasion. 

"The upside is that they have no fear. There is no fear factor that sometimes can build during players' careers in international rugby," he said.

"Ultimately I've gone with my gut instinct, which was probably formulated after watching training on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday last week.

"I had a bit of time to think about it over the weekend. Form, potential and consistency of performance in the Premiership and Europe have been factors."

He added: "My instincts after the three days told me that Jack, Luther and Jonny were ready."

It's a risk to take against the team being described in many quarters as the favourites, just because this Six Nations falls in a post-British and Irish Lions tour year.

France have won the last four championships (three Six Nations and one Five Nations) following a Lions tour and you have to go back to 1994 the last time they failed to do so.

But Saint-Andre, who trails 2-0 in his head-to-head record with Lancaster in France-England ties, has laughed off such a notion.

"You can't be the favourites when you finished last in the 2013 Six Nations! We are outsiders. The favourites are the Welsh and the English," he said.

Last year, England triumphed 23-13 at Twickenham having claimed a 24-22 success at the Stade de France in 2012.

France's last win over England was a 19-12 success in New Zealand in the 2011 World Cup quarter-finals, when Marc Lievremont and Martin Johnson were in charge of the teams.

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