British & Irish Lions

3 key things for France v England Six Nations opener

Manu Tuilagi (Getty Images)
Manu Tuilagi (Getty Images)

Paris - Rugby World Cup runners-up England travel to France in their opening match of this year's Six Nations on Sunday.

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Here AFP Sport picks out three key factors which could have an impact on the outcome:

- Midfield monsters 

Two highly talented Pacific Island-born powerhouses will line up at outside centre as Virimi Vakatawa faces Manu Tuilagi.

Racing 92's Vakatawa, who is of Fijian heritage, has been in the in-form midfielder in European club rugby this season, scoring seven times in 10 games and assisting three tries to carry over his impressive performances at the World Cup to the domestic level.

Leicester's Samoa-born Tuilagi, who comes from a family of top level players, was at his best during the tournament in Japan, crossing on three occasions before England lost in the final to South Africa, but has featured just five times for the Tigers this term.

The pair can crash through, sidestep around and offload away from potential defenders with equal measure but will have each other to deal with for the first time at Test level on Sunday.

- Front row difference 

The contrast in Test experience between both sides is highlighted among the front row. France's starting trio of uncapped Mohamed Haouas and Toulouse pair Julien Marchand and Cyril Baille have made just 19 international appearances while Kyle Sinckler, Jamie George and Joe Marler have 150 appearances for England as well as the British and Irish Lions.

The hosts' replacements include a former national team captain in tight-head prop Jefferson Poirot, although he's joined by Peato Mauvaka and Demba Bamba who have yet to reach double figures on the Test scene. The visitors have international rookie Will Stuart alongside Luke Cowan-Dickie and Ellis Genge, who both have at least three years each of international rugby under their belts, on the bench.

- Fledgling fullbacks 

Two of the six Test debutants who are set to feature on Sunday will start the game at fullback.

France's Anthony Bouthier has just 17 top-flight appearances in six months after joining Montpellier this season following five years with Vannes in the French second and third tier. His six tries this term were insufficient to originally grab Les Bleus head coach Fabien Galthie's attention, with the 27-year-old's place in the squad down to club boss Xavier Garbajosa speaking with the former scrumhalf.

George Furbank, 23, who has scored three times in 11 appearances in just his fourth campaign as a senior professional, is given his international chance by Eddie Jones after Anthony Watson failed to recover from a calf injury.

Kick-off is at 17:00 SA time.

Teams:

France

15 Anthony Bouthier, 14 Teddy Thomas, 13 Virimi Vakatawa, 12 Gael Fickou, 11 Damian Penaud, 10 Romain Ntamack, 9 Antoine Dupont, 8 Grégory Alldritt, 7 Charles Ollivon (captain), 6 François Cros, 5 Paul Willemse, 4 Bernard Le Roux, 3 Mohamed Haouas, 2 Julien Marchand, 1 Cyril Baille

Substitutes: 16 Peato Mauvaka, 17 Jefferson Poirot, 18 Demba Bamba, 19 Boris Palu, 20 Cameron Woki, 21 Baptiste Serin, 22 Matthieu Jalibert, 23 Vincent Rattez

England

15 George Furbank, 14 Jonny May, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 Owen Farrell (captain), 11 Elliot Daly, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Tom Curry, 7 Sam Underhill, 6 Courtney Lawes, 5 Charlie Ewels, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Jamie George, 1 Joe Marler

Substitutes: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Ellis Genge, 18 Will Stuart, 19 George Kruis, 20 Lewis Ludlam, 21 Willi Heinz, 22 Ollie Devoto, 23 Jonathan Joseph

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