England v France Betting: Lancaster's experiments could backfire on him

On trial - Henry Slade (left) and Sam Burgess chase Jonny May in England training
On trial - Henry Slade (left) and Sam Burgess chase Jonny May in England training

England are huge odds on favourites as they start their World Cup build-up on Saturday night against France, but Ralph Ellis fears the "pre-season friendly" nature of the game...

"It will be two experimental teams lining up at Twickenham, making the game effectively a pre-season friendly. And we all know how unreliable they can be, making 1.3130/100 about either side a bet to lay rather than to take."

Trial games in a team sport are a contradiction in terms. You are there to show off your individual brilliance, to catch the eye of the man who will give you a contract or pick you for a representative squad; yet the idea of the game you are playing should be that the team and result are more important than your own glory.

I suspect that's a problem that will haunt England this Saturday night as they begin in earnest the countdown to the World Cup.

Stuart Lancaster's side are red hot favourites at 1.3130/100 to give Twickenham a boost ahead of the tournament by beating France, but it is hard to believe it will be as simple as that.

England's head coach is using the occasion not to deliver a morale-boosting victory but to look at some of the fringe players before he trims his World Cup party to its final number of 31. It means, for instance, that he's putting Sam Burgess and Henry Slade together as his two centres - but only one of them is going to be included in the eventual squad.

How's that for pressure? And if you're Slade, and you have a chance to play the pass that sends Burgess over for a try, wouldn't you be more tempted to try to wriggle through a couple of tackles and put the ball down yourself? Or vice-versa.

They are not the only experimental combination. Tom Wood gets the chance to be captain for the first time, while Andy Goode of Saracens is at full back trying to prove he should get picked for the World Cup ahead of Danny Cipriani.

Throw in Northampton's Calum Clark making his debut, and Ben Morgan testing his fitness after returning from a broken ankle, and this is anything but Lancaster's strongest side.

I know that France can be inconsistent, and I'd side with Simon Mail's view that Ireland are likely winners of their group when the action starts for real. What's more France are travelling with only 25 players, leaving captain Thierry Dusautoir and vice-captain Pascal Pale among other biggest stars back at base.

But that means it will be two experimental teams lining up at Twickenham, making the game effectively a pre-season friendly. And we all know how unreliable they can be, making 1.3130/100 about either side a bet to lay rather than to take.

England are attracting more and more support ahead of the World Cup itself. They are 6.25/1 second favourites now to win the tournament. Favourites New Zealand, meanwhile, have slipped out slightly to 2.466/4 after losing to Australia in Sydney last week.

That squared the Bledisloe Cup series at 1-1, ahead of a decider at Eden Park on Saturday. And it means the All Blacks will be in full-on tournament mode for their last Test before heading to Europe.

On the same day that Lancaster is experimenting, New Zealand will take to the field with their most experienced team ever - some 966 caps, an average of 64 per player, between them. You couldn't find a greater contrast to England's "trial" game.

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