Clash of centres adds spark to Six Nations match
When heavyweight centres Mathieu Bastareaud and Manu Tuilagi cross paths in this weekend's Six Nations match between France and England at Twickenham, expect fireworks.
The pair add spice to a game that is as eagerly awaited as ever even though France have no chance of winning the championship after losing their first two matches.
England, however, are still on course for the grand slam and for that to happen they have to make sure that Les Bleus do not claim their first win at Twickenham in the Six Nations since 2005.
Tuilagi, who replaces Billy Twelvetrees in the starting line-up after missing the win over Scotland due to injury and coming off the replacements' bench against Ireland, will play alongside defensive mainstay Brad Barritt.
In the French midfield, Wesley Fofana will partner Bastareaud.
"We just saw the England team, (first five Owen) Farrell has two powerful and speedy centres alongside him," Fofana, a powerful and pacy player himself, told reporters.
"Tuilagi is one of the best centres in Europe so you have to be vigilant all the time."
The face-off between Tuilagi, who weighs about 113 kilos, and Bastareaud, 115, could be one of the keys to the contest.
"Mathieu is quite powerful himself, he's got nothing to be ashamed about," said Fofana.
"There could be some sparkles."
Bastareaud, however, will not just focus on Tuilagi.
"I take what's coming," he said.
"There is not much better than Tuilagi., it is going to be a great game. But I don't play against Tuilagi I play against the England team."
Just like his team mates, Bastareaud will need to be fully focused and put pressure on his opponents.
"England play some intelligent rugby," he said.
"It's nothing fancy but it's efficient. It's our job to put them under pressure."
The surprise effect might work, according to Fofana, who played on the wing in France's defeats by Italy and Wales.
"They like to show it when they're good," he said.
"They think that we've hit rock bottom. Maybe they think we won't defend too well."
RINGING THE CHANGES
As well as Tuilagi, the English brought in tough forwards Courtney Lawes and Dylan Hartley as they look to back up wins over Scotland and Ireland.
The French went further by making eight changes in a bid to claim a first win of the tournament, shoring up their starting XV with a more conservative selection that included dropping of inconsistent first five Frederic Michalak.
"After two defeats, we had to make changes, increase competition and freshen things up," France coach Philippe Saint-Andre said. "We know that the English are favourites. We will have to be brave, audacious and unpredictable."
England coach Stuart Lancaster opted to tinker with a team that scrapped out a 12-6 win over Ireland, ending a 10-year winless run in Dublin in the Six Nations.
"We believe that Dylan, Courtney and Manu are ready for the opportunity and allow us to vary our play, while the bench will add impact and energy as the game unfolds in the second half," Lancaster said.
England: Alex Goode, Chris Ashton, Manu Tuilagi, Brad Barritt, Mike Brown, Owen Farrell, Ben Youngs; Tom Wood, Chris Robshaw (captain), Courtney Lawes, Geoff Parking, Joe Launchbury, Dan Cole, Dylan Hartley, Joe Marler. Reserves: Tom Youngs, David Wilson, Mako Vunipola, James Haskell, Thomas Waldrom, Danny Care, Toby Flood, Billy Twelvetrees.
France: Yoann Huget, Vincent Clerc, Mathieu Bastareaud, Wesley Fofana, Benjamin Fall, Francois Trinh-Duc, Morgan Parra; Louis Picamoles, Thierry Dusautoir (captain), Yannick Nyanga, Yoann Maestri, Christophe Samson, Nicolas Mas, Benjamin Kayser, Thomas Domingo. Reserves: Dimitri Szarzewski, Vincent Debaty, Luc Ducalcon, Jocelino Suta, Antoine Claassen, Maxime Machenaud, Frederic Michalak, Florian Fritz.
- Reuters and AP