Preview: England v France
Le Crunch has rarely been so tasty, as England and France battle to keep their Guinness Six Nations title hopes alive at Twickenham on Saturday.
The losers will be out of contention, while the winners will live to fight another day as the 2023 Championship heads for the final straight.
A bonus-point win is the target, as the maximum five points will ensure the winner has a chance to lift the trophy on Super Saturday – regardless of what Grand Slam-chasing Ireland do in Scotland on Sunday.
A win without a bonus point opens the door for Andy Farrell’s men to wrap it up a round early, with a bonus-point win in Edinburgh enough to secure the title.
The calculators will be out in force all weekend but the upshot is we have a cracker on our hands at Twickenham between two teams who cannot afford to lose.
England have rebuilt steadily from their Round 1 defeat to Scotland in the Calcutta Cup, putting together back-to-back wins against Italy and Wales.
France have been excellent at times and recovered from their Round 2 loss to Ireland with a thrilling home win against Scotland.
Now, they face the final hurdle under head coach Fabien Galthié – a win at Twickenham, something they have not achieved in the Guinness Six Nations since 2005.
Throw in a sell-out crowd and some bold selection decisions, and the latest instalment of this classic rivalry is not to be missed.
Steve Borthwick has made the big decision to drop captain Owen Farrell, and go with Marcus Smith at fly-half in one England change to the team that beat Wales.
It is a fascinating decision from the head coach, who started the pair together in Round 1 but then quickly shifted to Farrell when England were beaten by Scotland.
Farrell started the games against Italy and Wales at fly-half but his goal-kicking has come under fire – he’s below 50% for the Championship – and questions remain about his ability to extract the most from England’s backline with ball-in-hand.
Smith was kept on the sidelines for all but 14 seconds of England’s win in Cardiff and, when he was sent back to club side Harlequins last weekend, it appeared he had dropped to third choice No.10 – with George Ford returning from injury.
Fabien Galthié has made three changes to the team that battled past Scotland at the Stade de France in Round 3.
Two of them are enforced, with Dorian Aldegheri replacing the suspended Mohamed Haouas at tighthead prop, and François Cros called up in place of the injured flanker Anthony Jelonch.
The third change comes in the backs, where Jonathan Danty makes his first start of the Championship in place of Yoram Moefana at inside centre.
England team to face France: 15. Freddie Steward, 14. Max Malins, 13. Henry Slade, 12. Ollie Lawrence, 11. Anthony Watson, 10. Marcus Smith, 9. Jack van Poortvliet, 1. Ellis Genge, 2. Jamie George, 3. Kyle Sinckler, 4. Maro Itoje, 5. Ollie Chessum, 6. Lewis Ludlam, 7. Jack Willis, 8. Alex Dombrandt.
Replacements: 16. Jack Walker, 17. Mako Vunipola, 18. Dan Cole, 19. David Ribbans, 20. Ben Curry, 21. Alex Mitchell, 22. Owen Farrell, 23. Henry Arundell
France team to face England: 15 Thomas Ramos, 14 Damian Penaud, 13 Gaël Fickou, 12 Jonathan Danty, 11 Ethan Dumortier, 10 Romain Ntamack, 9 Antoine Dupont (c), 1 Cyril Baille, 2 Julien Marchand, 3 Dorian Aldegheri, 4 Thibaud Flament, 5 Paul Willemse, 6 François Cros, 7 Charles Ollivon, 8 Grégory Alldritt
Replacements: 16 Peato Mauvaka 17 Reda Wardi, 18 Sipili Falatea, 19 Romain Taofifenua, 20 Sekou Macalou, 21 Maxime Lucu, 22 Yoram Moefana, 23 Melvyn Jaminet