Rugby

Key talking points as England conclude Six Nations campaign against France

England’s title hopes rest on Ireland losing to Scotland earlier in the day.

England will be hoping their title hopes remain alive when they face France
England will be hoping their title hopes remain alive when they face France (Mike Egerton/PA) England will be hoping their title hopes remain alive when they face France (Mike Egerton/PA)

England and France clash in the climax to the 2024 Guinness Six Nations in Lyon on Saturday night, by which time it will already be known if anything is at stake on the match.

Here the PA news agency examines five talking points as England aim to snatch the title from Ireland’s grasp.

Farewell to Manu?

Manu Tuilagi could make his final England appearance
Manu Tuilagi could make his final England appearance (Mike Egerton/PA) Manu Tuilagi could make his final England appearance (Mike Egerton/PA)

Manu Tuilagi’s first appearance of the Six Nations could also be his last for England. Although the Sale centre has remained tight lipped over his talks with French clubs Montpellier and Bayonne, he appears certain to leave at the end of the season, at which point he will be 33-years-old. England teams have been built around his marauding runs for over a decade and the national side are unlikely to field his like again. When he steps off the bench it will be only his 60th cap, a legacy of long spells out injured. Had he been fit for every match since his debut in 2011, he would have amassed 156 caps by now.

Ford holds on… for now

George Ford’s place is coming under increasing pressure from Marcus Smith
George Ford's place is coming under increasing pressure from Marcus Smith (Adam Davy/PA) George Ford’s place is coming under increasing pressure from Marcus Smith (Adam Davy/PA)

Marcus Smith emerged as England’s match winner when Ireland were stunned in round four, landing the deciding drop goal as well as providing a cutting edge in attack. But in a show of faith from Steve Borthwick, George Ford continues at fly-half to complete a full set of starts in the Championship. It is easy to forget amid Smith’s headline-generating intervention at Twickenham that Ford has performed well in this tournament, most notably orchestrating the comeback against Wales in round two and pulling the strings to potent effect last Saturday. But for all Ford’s influence, Smith is the coming man and a stellar performance will be needed against France to hold on to the jersey for the summer tour to Japan and New Zealand.

Bonus points fiasco

For the first time since bonus points were introduced in 2017, a scenario has arisen whereby the Six Nations winners can claim the title despite accumulating fewer victories than the side finishing second. That is the prospect facing England if they win at Groupama Stadium and Ireland claim at least a bonus point against Scotland. It is hard to envisage any outcome other than Ireland successfully defending their title, but if they do so with their closest rivals beating more teams, it will be a bad look for the tournament.

Unleash the big beasts

France’s starting and replacement forwards weigh a combined 1,000kg, a startling total that can be both a strength and weakness for the hosts. They field the four heaviest players in Uini Atonio, Emmanuel Meafou, Georges-Henri Colombe and Romain Taofifenua – each of them over 21 stones. But with such size and power comes vulnerabilities that can be exploited through clever half-back play, a good kicking game and superior conditioning.

The stats signpost home win

France have traditionally finished the competition strongly
France have traditionally finished the competition strongly (Joe Giddens/PA) France have traditionally finished the competition strongly (Joe Giddens/PA)

France are odds-on favourites to register their third win of the tournament and there is one statistic that helps explain why. Since becoming the Six Nations in 2000, Les Bleus have performed better than any other side in the final round of games, winning 17 of 24 matches. England, meanwhile, have the second worst record with just 10 victories. Whatever the data suggests, ‘Le Crunch’ is set up to be a humdinger with England lifted by a triumph over Ireland that is their greatest performance since the 2019 World Cup and France impressing against Wales in their last outing.