By Brendan Cole
This is normally one of the great contests of the RBS 6 Nations but after two dud performances, the question is a Six Nations classic: “Which France will turn up?”
Phillipe Saint-Andre’s reign so far suggests that Marc Lievremont may not be such a bad coach after all.
Lievremont’s tenure also got under way in a blaze of stylish suits and perfect rugby before becoming a bizarre spectacle, albeit with the odd spectacular performance thrown in.
It is that tendency to follow the ridiculous with the utterly sublime that England and Stuart Lancaster must fear today.
French rugby is never more to be feared than when its players have been shamed.
The French selection also gives them a chance of significantly upping their performance.
"French rugby is never more to be feared than when its players have been shamed"
Francois Trinh-Duc now looks like a relatively successful project of the Lievremont era and, with the brilliant Morgan Parra alongside at scrum-half, there is a far greater possibility that the quality in the centres and on the wings will be released properly.
The concern is that up front, Saint-Andre has persisted with the plodding Louis Picamoles.
A fine player behind a dominant pack, his ability to contribute to a French eight that is getting outworked at the coalface is less certain.
There are far fewer doubts about England’s consistency after a year of solid progress under Stuart Lancaster and as the ultimate pragmatist, the English coach is unlikely to fear any mysterious ‘mercurial quality’.
England’s execution of the basics and their implementation of the perfect gameplan for the situation against Ireland indicates that this is a coaching team and a squad to be respected.
And Lancaster has not been afraid to mix up his selection, replacing skilful ball handlers with bruisers and bringing his best athletes into the starting XV.
Courtney Lawes performance against Ireland was devastatingly effective, and England will hope for a similar impact from both him and the powerful Manu Tuilagi in the backline.
The selection of Dylan Hartley is a risk. The Northampton hooker is abrasive and brings extra size, but the chance his mean streak will cost England at some point cannot be discounted.
The keys to victory, as shown by Italy and Wales, are discipline, work-rate and high tempo.
England have all those and, in Tuilagi, an attacking weapon capable of turning the smallest cracks in a defensive structure into gaping holes.
Match prediction: England 25-14
England team to play France, Twickenham 17.00: 15 A Goode, 14 C Ashton, 13 M Tuilagi, 12 B Barritt, 11 M Brown, 10 O Farrell, 9 B Youngs, 1 J Marler, 2 D Hartley, 3 D Cole, 4 J Launchbury, 5 G Parling, 6 C Lawes, 7 C Robshaw, 8 T Wood.
Replacements: 16 T Youngs, 17 D Wilson, 18 M Vunipola, 19 J Haskell, 20 T Waldrom, 21 D Care, 22 T Flood, 23 B Twelvetrees
France: 15 Y Huget, 14 V Clerc, 13 M Bastareaud, 12 W Fofana, 11 B Fall, 10 F Trinh-Duc, 9 M Parra, 8 L Picamoles, 7 Y Nyanga, 6 T Dusautoir (capt); 5 Y Maestri, 4 C Samson, 3 N Mas, 2 B Kayser, 1 T Domingo.
Replacements: 16 D Szarzewski, 17 V Debaty, 18 L Ducalcon, 19 J Suta, 20 A Claassen, 21 M Machenaud, 22 F Michalak, 23 F Fritz
Live RBS 6 Nations coverage on RTÉ Two from 2pm on Saturday 23 February and 1.15pm on Sunday 24 February (Scotland v Ireland). Live streaming Ireland only.
Live radio coverage of Scotland v Ireland on Sunday Sport on RTÉ Radio 1 from 1.50pm. Live streaming available worldwide.