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France need 'perfect' match to beat 'English ogre'

© AFP | Maxime Machenaud is looking for perfection from France against England in two weeks

MARSEILLE (AFP) - 

France may have ended an eight-match winless streak by getting off the Six Nations mark against Italy but Maxime Machenaud believes they need a dramatic improvement if they are to worry England in two weeks time.

It had been a miserable run over the last 11 months for France as they lost seven times and drew once -- at home to minnows Japan, perhaps their worst performance of that run.

But tries from Paul Gabrillagues, Hugo Bonneval and the returning Mathieu Bastareaud, added to 17 points from Machenaud's boot, gave France a much-needed morale boost and a 34-17 victory in Marseille on Friday.

"The result does us good, we're relieved and I hope we will be able to train with more serenity now," said the Racing 92 scrum-half, who has made the No.9 jersey his own under Jacques Brunel.

But he realises that playing with pride against England, the reigning tournament champions, will not be enough.

"We're desperate to beat the English in front of our fans, even though we know it's going to be a very difficult task," the 29-year-old said.

"Obviously we're going to have to make a jump in quality. We'll need to show up defensively like we did against Ireland, and reproduce the same intensity because it's the same calibre (of opponents).

"And we're going to need to be even more accurate: play the perfect match.

"And why not? Two years ago, we weren't far (from winning)."

Having started the Six Nations with successive defeats -- last gasp to a Johnny Sexton drop goal at home to Ireland 15-13 and then on the back of a terrible second half showing in Scotland to go down 32-26 -- France have at least given themselves a jolt of confidence ahead of the match that matters the most to players and fans alike.

But against a team that has won 24 out of 25 matches under Eddie Jones and claimed the last two Six Nations titles, they will have their work cut out, according to centre Geoffrey Doumayrou.

- 'English ogre' -

"We're going there to win. It was very important to break the spiral of defeats -- vital.

"Now we're gong to host the English ogre -- France-England is always special."

For captain Guilhem Guirado, though, there are few positives to take out of beating Italy, but rather lessons to learn.

And he pointed to their wasteful finishing against Italy as a reason for pessimism.

"If we want to beat England -- or even play well against them -- we need to perform better," he said.

"England are nothing like (Italy). I don't know if we'll get as many easy try-scoring opportunities.

"We haven't beaten them for three years, I can't wait for (the game)."

While the French might be playing down their chances, Italy's beaten coach Conor O'Shea believes they have the physicality and power, up front at least, to rock England.

"They're a strong side, physical, they've absolutely got the ability to cause everyone problems," said the Irishman.

"They can cause anyone trouble with that size, that ability. They can play anybody -- they're tough."

Against Italy it was the breakdown where France dominated, forcing several penalties that allowed them to keep the scoreboard ticking over -- Machenaud kicked five penalties -- and putting their visitors under scoreboard pressure.

But England will not give up the initiative so easily in two weeks' time and while Italy promise much while rarely delivering, England have developed a ruthless efficiency under Jones.

The Stade de France eagerly awaits, but the French would be wise to be wary of the ogre.

© 2018 AFP