England coach expects battle for the ages with France


Paris (AFP)

England's scrum coach Neal Hatley is expecting a forward battle worthy of the glory years of the late 1980s when the Six Nations champions tackle France on Saturday.

Hatley recalls the gruelling duels between the white-shirted English and their blue-clad counterparts from across the channel and is braced for more of the same at the Stade de France.

"I grew up watching games of rugby with Peter Winterbottom, Mike Teague, those late 80s, Brian Moore, Jean-Francois Tordo, people like that," he said on Friday.

"Epic rugby games that were unbelievably physical and carried a lot of emotion.

"Eddie (Jones, the England head coach) said 'Le Crunch' is a very good name for it and he's spot on.

"They're all important games but it's a big game with what happened in the past."

England and Hatley have been able to call on the help of a Frenchman to prepare for Saturday's match as Toulon assistant coach Marc Dal Maso is also a consultant for England.

A former hooker, Dal Maso played 33 times for France starting his international career in that same late 1980s period.

"I speak to Marc quite regularly, he's just another set of eyes," said Hatley, himself a former prop who played for England's second team, the Saxons.

"He gives me opinions of things we want to try, he's somebody to bounce ideas off, he's somebody who approaches me with ideas.

"So it's a very good relationship that I've got with him. I've been to see him a few times, it's a different point of view.

"Sometimes we get institutionalised in the way we look at things and the way that we work, so for me to have somebody who works in a different environment, who worked at the World Cup at Japan with Eddie previously, it's a big advantage to me to have somebody else to call on to look at the things that we do."

Hatley and England's focus for the last two weeks since losing 25-13 to Scotland at Murrayfield has been on fixing the problems they encountered at the breakdown, where their hosts were totally dominant.

"We've learned our lesson there, we've had two weeks to put a lot of work into the breakdown, which we have done.

"We've obviously identified it as an area that needed improvement, we've worked hard over two weeks right across the team.

"We respect the threat that France offer at the breakdown, so yes it's been a big area of focus for us."

England need to win the match to remain in contention to win a third straight Six Nations title, while France are merely looking for a morale boost after a difficult two years that has seen them win only a third of their matches.

Two years ago, England secured the Grand Slam with a 31-21 victory in Paris, a memory their hosts would dearly like to banish from their minds.