By the time England face France at Twickenham late on Saturday afternoon, they will know exactly what they must do to win the Six Nations.
The victory, so crucial ahead of the home World Cup this summer, is in Stuart Lancaster’s hands, and with championship rivals Wales and Ireland both playing before them, the equation will be a simple one. Win – and win by enough to keep their rivals down.
While France are forever unpredictable (and still, bizarrely, have a chance of lifting the trophy themselves), nothing about their performances this year suggests that this sluggish French outfit can upset the home side.
England, God save them, have become exciting to watch. So long content to arm wrestle their opponents into submission, this season has seen them score more tries than any other country, with recently introduced centre Jonathan Joseph on a blistering run of form.
So effective has his partnership with Luther Burrell been that you wonder just what England’s centre line will look like when experienced bulldozer Manu Tuilagi finally returns from injury.
That’s a headache for later in the year. For now, Lancaster has an opportunity to lay down a significant marker ahead of the World Cup, despite being outsmarted in Dublin by Ireland three weeks ago.
The head coach says he will delay his team talk until just half an hour before kick-off, to make sure that his charges know exactly what they have to do.
“We firstly have to understand what will be the challenge,” he said. “The Ireland match in Scotland will finish at about 4:25pm and we kick off at five.
“We will have to make sure the players understand the objectives. It might be just to win the game, or it could be to win it by 10 or 20 points.”
Rugby’s a sport that’s often criticised for this kind of regimented, risk-averse thinking, but that’s to miss what makes it so captivating. Fine margins, thick defensive walls and sharp assaults: those are the qualities that decide who triumphs – and who fails.
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