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England urged to stiffen the sinews as depleted ranks prepare to face France

The defence coach, Paul Gustard, has given the defending Six Nations champions a history lesson before they start the defence of their title against their old rivals

In days gone by it was Brian Moore who set the bristling pre-match tone for England v France fixtures, muttering about the French XV comprising “15 Eric Cantonas” in terms of their ability to display both brilliance and brutality. Eddie Jones did not go that far after confirming his lineup to face Les Bleus but the scent of traditional cross?Channel rivalry is again drifting through England’s team rooms.

At one of the squad’s meetings this week the England defence coach, Paul Gustard, asked his players to guess how many full-on battles the armies of England and France had fought over the years. He reckoned the answer was 20 – or slightly fewer depending on how you prefer to regard the hundred years war – but the key message was sporting rather than militaristic. He wanted to get across to the players that the French will never stand tamely aside in any contest with their neighbours, whether the backdrop be Crécy, Agincourt or Twickenham.

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