x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Lionel Beauxis ready to inspire France against England

The French fly-half determined to take his chance after being called up by Philippe Saint-Andre.

Julien Dupuy, left, and Lionel Beauxis have been recalled by France to face England.
Julien Dupuy, left, and Lionel Beauxis have been recalled by France to face England.

With France needing to beat England to have a realistic chance of pipping Wales to the Six Nations title, coach Philippe Saint-Andre has made a potentially risky move by shaking up his team for the first time since taking charge after the Rugby World Cup.

France's lacklustre display in last weekend's 17-17 draw against Ireland, where they trailed by 11 points at one stage, was enough to convince him changes needed to be made.

He dropped experienced half-backs Morgan Parra and Francois Trinh-Duc, even though they have played together for the best part of four years, replacing them with scrum-half Julien Dupuy and fly-half Lionel Beauxis - who have played only nine minutes together at international level.

"I'll have to put in a good performance," Beauxis said. "I know I have a big hand to play, I want to remain a starter. But that is more difficult."

It is a brave move by Saint-Andre, who felt he needed the long kicking of Beauxis to push the English back and stop Stuart Lancaster's team gaining a territorial hold on the game in Paris.

Trinh-Duc, for all of his flair and quick hands, kicked poorly against Ireland, putting his team in trouble on too many occasions rather than clearing danger.

Beauxis, a reliable if unspectacular No 10, will also take the penalty kicks, with Dupuy as his back up.

Although they have appeared only twice together as late substitutes for France, Beauxis and Dupuy were teammates at Stade Francais for two years.

"We had a great understanding," Beauxis said. "The instincts are coming back."

Beauxis is determined to seize his chance. He played in France's narrow World Cup semi-final defeat by England at Stade de France five years ago, but made only three further Test appearances before being recalled by Saint-Andre.

"I'm nearly 27 and I've learnt from my mistakes. The nine and 10 spots are not easy, especially with a new game plan," he said. "I've gained a lot of confidence and maturity. I was always told off for not communicating enough. Now I speak more on the pitch. I even have a rant now and again. It feels good."

England are in a rebuilding phase after a bitterly disappointing World Cupcampaign, marked by numerous off-field incidents, and Lancaster's team scraped wins in Scotland and Italy before losing at home to Wales.

Lancaster has kept faith with the same team that lost 19-12 to the Welsh at Twickenham last week.

"We were really disappointed to lose to Wales, but we took a lot out of the performance and felt it was right to pick the same starting team to go to Paris," Lancaster said. "It will be a massive challenge going to the Stade de France and playing against an experienced and unbeaten French side."

The mood is surprisingly upbeat in the England camp.

"We are massively excited about the way we are going and I hope we can build on that," fly-half Owen Farrell said. "We have got brilliant players all over the field and we are using them right at the minute, we just need to finish our chances. We are going in the right direction."

There is no better time to prove that than today, when the scrum battle is again likely to decide the contest. Two years ago, France came out on top 12-10, with England winning 17-9 last year at Twickenham, though France defeated them 19-12 in October at the Rugby World Cup.

"It's going to be hostile in Paris, without doubt. There's 22 of us against the whole stadium," prop Dan Cole said. "It feels like us against the world. In a funny sort of way, you enjoy that."

Tight-head prop Nicolas Mas was France's dominant player in 2010, when the English forwards were bullied all game.

"I can still picture it. I can still see those scrums," hooker Dylan Hartley said. "A little bit of redemption would be nice this time. There are some demons to exorcise. It is inexcusable for an English pack to be pushed back on our own ball."

Cole has even worse memories.

"I remember being sat in the changing room in Paris after that game thinking: 'Wow, you just don't get taken off at half time'," he said. "That must be the toughest rugby experience I've had. I'm more pumped up for this game because of what happened."

The bad news for England is that Mas is in fine form, and giant lock Yoann Maestri has settled into the team with such confidence that he even drew high praise from Ireland captain Paul O'Connell - one of the best locks in the world.

And with the vastly experienced Lionel Nallet (lock) and William Servat (hooker) on the bench, France have a deep bench and strong options if England tire in the second half.