England captain, Lewis Moody, has been left out of Martin Johnson’s match day squad for what is being tipped as the Grand Slam decider just three matches into the tournament as they take on France at Twickenham.
Moody, who missed England’s first two matches with a knee injury, returned for the final 20 minutes of Bath’s match last week in order to prove his fitness in time for the Saturday evening clash this week. It had looked as though the 32 year old would be involved until he once again suffered a knee injury during England training this week. As a result Mike Tindall, the Gloucester centre, continues to lead the side, while the back row is also unchanged from the first two matches.
With Moody unable to return, Johnson makes just one change, as Alex Corbisiero drops back to the bench to be replaced by the returning Andrew Sheridan. Sheridan started at prop in the championship opener as England defeated Wales at the Millennium Stadium but was unable to play against Italy due to injury.
James Haskell, Tom Wood, and Nick Easter continue their successful back row partnership to date due to Moody’s absence.
France have made considerably more changes for the match against England, which has for some time been dubbed “Le Crunch” as Sebastien Chabal starts at number eight, with Imanol Harinordoquy moving to the flank and Julien Bonnaire dropping to the bench as it appears that manager Marc Lievremont is beefing up his back row, possibly to combat the strength of Haskell and Easter.
There are three further changes, all in the backline as scrum-half Dimitri Yachvili, winger Vincent Clerc, and centre Yannick Jauzion all start, in place of Morgan Parra, Maxime Medard, and Damien Traille. Medard had originally been shifted to fullback as Clement Poitrenaud dropped out of the starting line-up, however a thigh injury forced Medard out of the match day squad, allowing Poitrenaud to start the third 6 Nations match in a row.
The choice of Yachvili sees England’s starting half-back pairing of Ben Youngs and Toby Flood as the only pairing of all the 6 Nations sides that has lasted throughout the tournament to date, with Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Italy all changing their pairings for this weekend’s fixtures, along with France.
6 Nations holders France arrive at Twickenham as the underdogs despite both sides having a 100% record to date in this year’s championships. Both sides have scored plenty of point, however England defence has looked the more robust, conceding two tries to date, one against both Wales and Italy, while France allowed Scotland to cross the line three times in the Stade de France, and conceded another a further three away to Ireland two weeks ago.
France travel to Twickenham to face England on Saturday, with kick-off at 17:00.
England: Ben Foden (Northampton); Chris Ashton (Northampton), Mike Tindall (Gloucester, captain), Shontanye Hape (Bath), Mark Cueto (Sale); Toby Flood (Leicester), Ben Youngs (Leicester); Andrew Sheridan (Sale), Dylan Hartley (Northampton), Dan Cole (Leicester), Louis Deacon (Leicester), Tom Palmer (Stade Francais), Tom Wood (Northampton), James Haskell (Stade Francais), Nick Easter (Harlequins).
Replacements: Steve Thompson (Leeds), Alex Corbisiero (London Irish), Simon Shaw (Wasps), Hendre Fourie (Leeds), Danny Care (Harlequins), Jonny Wilkinson (Toulon), Matt Banahan (Bath).
France: Clement Poitrenaud (Toulouse); Yoann Huget (Bayonne), Aurelien Rougerie (Clermont), Yannick Jauzion (Toulouse), Vincent Clerc (Toulouse); Francois Trinh-Duc (Montpellier), Dimitri Yachvili (Biarritz); Thomas Domingo (Clermont), William Servat (Toulouse), Nicolas Mas (Perpignan), Julien Pierre (Clermont), Lionel Nallet (Racing-Metro), Thierry Dusautoir (Toulouse, captain), Imanol Harinordoquy (Biarritz), Sebastien Chabal (Racing-Metro).
Replacements: Guilhem Guirado (Perpignan), Sylvain Marconnet (Biarritz), Jerome Thion (Biarritz), Julien Bonnaire (Clermont), Morgan Parra (Clermont), Damien Traille (Biarritz), Alexis Palisson (Brive).