x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Wilkinson can still be a threat, says Lievremont

France are wary of Johnson's selections as they go into Grand Slam decider knowing England are out to spoil their party.

The France coach Marc Lievremont said he expects a physical encounter with England after seeing their team selection.
The France coach Marc Lievremont said he expects a physical encounter with England after seeing their team selection.

Marc Lievremont, the France coach, has not ruled out the possibility of Jonny Wilkinson making a key contribution in tomorrow's Six Nations encounter, even though the Toulon fly-half will start on the bench for England in Paris. The French go into the game knowing a win would see them clinch the Grand Slam and the championship while England are merely playing for pride.

That, plus the Wilkinson factor, makes England dangerous opponents, according to Lievremont. "I was a little surprised when I heard Wilkinson was not playing," he said. "I was expecting Wilkinson to start if he was fit, or not to take part at all if he hadn't recovered from his head injury. "I haven't forgotten, however, that Wilkinson was not playing last year at Twickenham and Toby Flood was at fly-half. It didn't save us from conceding 30 points.

"And we know that if the match is in the balance, Wilkinson can come on and that could be decisive." Lievremont was less surprised with the composition of the rest of the England side. "We were expecting the return of Simon Shaw who is the cornerstone of the English pack," he said. "We were also expecting England to beef up their backline with a player like [Mike] Tindall, even if I appreciate Mathew Tait is more creative and unpredictable.

"Through the selections of Shaw and Tindall, England have unveiled their game plan." Thierry Dusautoir, the France captain, is more concerned about the threat Les Bleus pose to themselves, rather than anything Martin Johnson's side have to offer. "The greatest mistake we could make is to doubt everything we have achieved so far," said Dusautoir, whose side have so far won all four of their games in this year's tournament. "The English expect one thing: that we ask ourselves too many questions.

"It is always difficult and yet exciting to play England. "Since the start it has always been our aim to win the tournament so there is a great deal of tension. "I will try to lead the team, find the right words without putting them under any added pressure." While Lievremont and Dusautoir took a circumspect approach, Imanol Harinordoquy, the Biarritz No 8, was more bullish when discussing his thoughts on the English.

The 30-year-old key performer during France's 2010 campaign is on a revenge mission after losing to England at the semi-final stage in the 2003 and 2007 World Cups. "England are a team who I like to play against because they are a great side," he said. "You know that you are in for a hell of a match and that your opposite number is not going to concede an inch. There will be fights, of course. "There is no hatred, nothing personal. But I have a vindictive personality. England are a team who have prevented us from playing in two World Cup finals, so therefore yes we really want to beat them."

Meanwhile, Tindall has said that he and his English teammates are focused purely on spoiling the French party and preventing them from taking the Grand Slam. The Gloucester centre has been recalled to the England side just three weeks into his comeback from a hamstring injury which kept him out for four months. He has been drafted in to provide a physical edge to England's midfield after France restored powerhouse centre Mathieu Bastareaud to their side.

And Tindall is relishing the prospect of a return to the Test arena for the first time in 12 months. "The thing I enjoy about it is that we have got a chance to really annoy the French, spoil their party and silence Stade de France," he said. "That is one of the reasons I play rugby. It is going to be physical, it is going to be fast and it is going to be hard, and I like playing them." * With agencies