x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

France feel that they have 'a point to prove'

Les Bleus lost two of their pool matches, while England will aim to 'take hold of the game from the start'.

A thrum of tension has pervaded the preparations for both England and France as they readied for today's quarter-final match in the Rugby World Cup.

As well as a place in the last four, the winners of the Eden Park battle will be afforded redemption for lukewarm performances in the pool stage. The losers, however, can expect a torrid examination back home.

Both camps have insisted that they are concerned only about their own performances, but it cannot be doubted that each knows what to expect from an old rival and what needs to be done to defeat them.

"In the past, France has traditionally needed this kind of electroshock to give its best," said Marc Lievremont, the French coach.

"We need to prove a point. We have had a good week; concentration and commitment has been bigger than in previous matches, that's for sure.

"Now we need to prove, on the pitch, that we have had a good week. We have to prove that we can play very well on the pitch, for the French support and for ourselves."

England appear to have struck an early psychological blow with the inclusion of Jonny Wilkinson and Toby Flood in the same side.

"Yes, it is one more complexity for us," Lievremont said.

But news of five forwards on the English bench came as no surprise.

"It shows that they are wary of our pack and that they will meet us with a big physical challenge," said Thierry Dusautoir, the French captain.

"England has always succeeded against France in the World Cup, and that adds to the tension in this match.

"The essential is what we will do [today], not what has been said. I want to see a team that fights. The most important thing is the way we start this match."

England, too, want only to look ahead and put behind them a pool stage where the media focus was as much on off-pitch behaviour as mediocre performances.

"We're here, it doesn't matter what's happened in the four games," said Martin Johnson, the England coach, who noted that France advanced despite two pool defeats.

"We have to get on top of them. We can't think of them except at their absolute best. We have to put our game on them. If you are dominating possession and dominating territory, it doesn't matter what they can do.

"We have to take hold of the game from the start. That's the battle and they will be trying to do the same to us."

Lewis Moody, the captain, echoed his coach's thoughts. "I think we need to focus on our performance and I think we have done that and are getting into the right mindset for the game.

"We are well aware of what France are capable of."