French pack poised for power struggle

FRANCE’S forwards are poised for a brutal Six Nations power struggle against bitter rivals England tomorrow with their Grand Slam ambitions on the line.

The French pack, so badly punished in the 2008 tournament as the team struggled to come to terms with the post-World Cup retirements of stalwarts such as Pieter de Villiers, Rafael Ibanez, Olivier Milloud and Fabien Pelous, has been transformed in 2010.

They have become the heartbeat of the team as France has swept past Wales, Scotland, Ireland and Italy to stand on the verge of a first Grand Slam since 2004.

France’s turning point came when their forwards over-powered world champions South Africa 20-13 last November, wearing down the Springboks’ famed, intimidating “Jurassic Pack”.

“The English are tougher than the South Africans but perhaps less malicious. In terms of intensity, we haven’t yet faced that in this Six Nations,” said lock Sebastien Chabal, who spent four seasons playing with Sale in the English Premiership.

“It’s going to be 80 minutes of total commitment,” added fellow lock Julien Pierre.

Backrow forward Julien Bonnaire admitted facing England will be his team’s biggest challenge.

“It’s a huge challenge for us, the forwards need to be able to make progress to get good ball to the backs,” he said.

“English rugby is simple and efficient. They have great intensity up front and carry a lot of the ball.”

Forward power had been a traditional prop of the English game, proving pivotal in the country’s lone World Cup triumph in 2003.

Despite criticism that their game is too sterile, England have won two and drawn one of their four matches in the Six Nations this season and have a psychological edge over the French having won 34-10 at Twickenham in 2009.

“We have to remain disciplined,” said backrow forward Imanol Harinordoquy aware of France’s tradition of imploding when the mind games begin.

Hooker Dimitri Szarzewski added: “If they deny us the Grand Slam, for them it would be like winning the tournament”. –– AFP.

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