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England v France Teams – Nowell & Burrell handed debuts as England shake up backline

As expected Stuart Lancaster has named two debutants in his England side to face France, with Jack Nowell earning his first cap on the right wing, and Luther Burrell at outside centre.

Speaking on the selection of his two debutants, Lancaster said:

“Jack (Nowell) beats defenders – I think he has close to the highest number of beaten defenders in the Aviva Premiership. He’s powerful and quick and is a great footballer. Having spent time at full back, he’s good under the high ball and is positionally good as well as brave and courageous.”

“The time is right for him as his temperament is good. He’s been to a World Cup final and won it with England Under 20. Against Toulon for Exeter in the Heineken Cup he was opposite Bryan Habana and ended up as one of the stand-out players.”

“He’s (Burrell) impressed over the last 24 months, actually…With his move to Northampton he’s got consistent rugby and he’s grown in confidence. He’s worked hard on his conditioning and he’s now a good, strong athlete with skills as well. Everyone at Saints deserves credit.”

“You’ve got to have people that get over the gainline and stop them getting over the gainline but there’s more to his game than that – he’s got kicking and distribution too. Alongside Billy Twelvetrees, he forms a robust centre partnership.”

Gloucester’s Jonny May comes in on the left wing for just his second cap, while Danny Care has leapfrogged past Ben Youngs and Lee Dickson to earn the starting berth at scrum half, with Dickson on the bench and Youngs left at home.

Lancaster stressed that May’s pace and ability to do the unexpected were the reasons for his inclusion over the likes of Watson and Ashton:

“He’s played some big games recently and he’s done really well. We’ve always known his pace offers a point of difference – he’s electric with the ball in hand and his footwork is outstanding… He can score tries out of nothing and I feel the time’s right for his opportunity.”

Mike Brown and Billy Twelvetrees retain their spots at full back and inside centre respectively, while Owen Farrell retains his position at fly half.

The area of fly half looks as though it could be a controversial one though, as the uncapped George Ford travels with the party but is not included in the matchday 23. That means that there is no specialist fly half cover, only the possibility of Alex Goode stepping up from the bench to fill in the role that he used to play at the start of his career, or Billy Twelvetrees shifting in one from the centres – as he has a couple of times for Gloucester this term.

The suspicion is that in order to provide specialist back three and centre cover on the bench a compromise had to be made. Normally that compromise has been to leave out centre cover as Farrell has plenty of experience there, however with Burrell making his debut against the beasts that are Wesley Fofana and Mathieru Bastareaud, the defensive nous and reassurance of Brad Barritt on the bench was deemed necessary.

The forwards look far more settled, with the pack virtually picking itself, save for a decision that had to be made between Joe Marler and Mako Vunipola at loosehead in the absence of Alex Corbisiero.

Marler gets Lancaster’s nod, meaning that Vunipola’s explosive ball carrying can be used from the bench, and Stuart Lancaster was keen to point out that it was a positive selection:

“I think the modern game dictates that you need two world-class looseheads. In that regard, we have two in the making. We feel Joe is the better player to start and that Mako [Vunipola]’s impact will cause problems for the French in the second half.”

Vunipola’s brother, Billy, does start though, at number eight, with Tom Wood and captain Chris Robshaw flanking him, leaving Ben Morgan on the bench.

Joe Lauchbury and Courtney Lawes continue their blossoming partnership in the second row, with the in form and hungry Dave Attwood waiting in the wings, while Dylan Hartley again keeps out Tom Youngs at hooker.

The ever-reliable Dan Cole starts at loosehead, with Sale Sharks’ Henry Thomas providing cover in the absence of David Wilson.

France have named some exciting players in their line up too, although a major injury has forced their hand somewhat.

Stade Francais fly half Jules Pilsson will make his debut, the young stand off has impressed in the Top 14 and is rewarded with a start, while Toulouse’s Jean-Marc Doussain starts at scrum half, having been pivotal in Toulouse’s dismantling of Saracens from the ten berth.

Brice Dulin is selected at full back and will be expected to bring his exciting running game to the international scene, while the experience of Yoann Huget and Maxime Medmard will flank him from the wings.

Welsey Fofana and Mathieu Bastareaud form a formidable looking centre partnership, the more diminutive nature of the rest of the backline being rendered irrelevant by these two giants.

In the pack the absence of Thierry Dusautoir through injury will be a blow, Pascal Pape takes over the captaincy in the second row, where he is joined by Alexandre Flanquart.

Replacing Dusautoir in the back row is Bernard Le Roux, he will be joined by Dusautoir’s Toulouse clubmates, Louis Picamoles and the boundlessly energetic Yannick Nyanga.

France’s formidable front row trio continue their partnership, with Benjamin Kayser at hooker between Thomas Domingo and Nicolas Mas.

The likely French approach is perhaps best summarised by England captain Chris Robshaw though, who said:

“They all have big, physical packs that are very good in the scrum, the maul, the lineout – all aspects of forward play.”

“Behind that, you’ll have an agile backline generally who can hurt you. Clermont have [Wesley] Fofana, who will be playing for France as well. He hurt us once or twice and if you give a player like that space, they can cause you problems.”

What do you think of the two teams, and who do you see coming out on top? Will England’s exciting new backline be proved to be too raw, or will it be the creative and agile solution that England have been searching for? Let us know via the comment box below or via @FifteenRugbyXV

England XV:

15. Mike Brown (Harlequins)  14. Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs)  13. Luther Burrell (Northampton Saints)  12. Billy Twelvetrees (Gloucester)  11. Jonny May (Gloucester)  10. Owen Farrell (Saracens)  9. Danny Care (Harlequins);  1. Joe Marler (Harlequins)  2. Dylan Hartley (Northampton Saints)  3. Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers)  4. Joe Launchbury (London Wasps)  5. Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints)  6. Tom Wood (Northampton Saints)  7. Chris Robshaw (Harlequins, captain)  8. Billy Vunipola (Saracens).

Replacements: 16. Tom Youngs (Leicester Tigers)  17. Mako Vunipola (Saracens)  18. Henry Thomas (Sale Sharks)  19. Dave Attwood (Bath)  20. Ben Morgan (Gloucester)  21. Lee Dickson (Northampton Saints)  22. Brad Barritt (Saracens)  23. Alex Goode (Saracens).

(Also with the travelling party: Matt Mullan, George Ford, & Anthony Watson).

France XV:

15. Brice Dulin  14. Yoann Huget  13. Mathieu Bastareaud  12. Wesley Fofana  11. Maxime Médard  10. Jules Plisson  9. Jean-Marc Doussain;  8. Louis Picamoles  7. Bernard Le Roux  6. Yannick Nyanga  5. Pascal Papé (captain)  4. Alexandre Flanquart  3. Nicolas Mas  2. Benjamin Kayser  1. Thomas Domingo.

Replacements: 16. Dimitri Szarzewski  17. Yannick Forestier  18. Rabah Slimani  19. Yoann Maestri  20. Antoine Burban  21. Damien Chouly  22. Maxime Machenaud  23. Gael Fickou.

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