Simon Mail previews the fourth round of the Six Nations with champions England needing a win in France to maintain their title bid...
"France are handed a seven-point handicap advantage and this appeals. The hosts have lost by no more than six points in this year's competition and it would have been a winning bet in six of the last nine games against England."
France v England
Live on BBC One
For the first time under Eddie Jones, England face an uphill battle to win the Six Nations after their defeat in Scotland. Ireland have assumed control of the championship and can pile the pressure on the defending champions with a win over Scotland - they are [1.3] on the Betfair Exchange to do just that, and you can read my preview of that match here. England must at least match Ireland's points tally from the fourth round of matches to set up a decider against the new favourites at Twickenham next week.
England were very disappointing at Murrayfield in their last match as their poor first-half performance, which was riddled with errors and ill discipline, gave them too much to do. Scotland were worthy winners as two tries from Huw Jones helped them establish a 22-6 lead. The visitors improved after the break but could not bridge the gap as they were beaten 25-13 for only their second defeat in 26 Tests under Jones.
Owen Farrell will captain England for the first time this weekend after Dylan Hartley was ruled out with a calf injury. Jamie George replaces the hooker and full-back Mike Brown is dropped for the first time under Jones. Anthony Watson moves to full-back with Elliot Daly on the wing. Ben Te'o's extra power at outside centre is preferred to Jonathan Joseph for the game at the Stade de France.
France claimed their first win under new boss Jacques Brunel in a 34-17 home victory over Italy in their last game. It was a much-needed result after a run of eight matches without a win. The French have shown glimpses of quality in their first three matches coming up short in two close openers. Ireland snatched a 15-13 win at the death in Paris while France could not hold onto their lead in Scotland after losing 32-26.
Fly-half Francois Trinh-Duc has been handed his first start in this year's competition for France. The Toulon back comes into the side in place of Lionel Beauxis after he played in the last two matches. It is the only change to the team which defeated Italy as Brunel has resisted the urge to recall the players dropped after going out in Edinburgh following the defeat to Scotland.
England have won the last two meetings between the sides with a 31-21 victory in France two years ago followed up by a tense 19-16 win at Twickenham last season. But this was with England in their pomp and France were undoubtedly struggling during these games. France have lost four of the last five games against England so the recent clashes have certainly favoured the Six Nations champions although four of the last six clashes have been settled by no more than five points.
This looks a difficult fixture for England and there is no doubt France will be determined to get one over their rivals. France are handed a seven-point handicap advantage and this appeals in a match likely to be tight. The hosts have lost by no more than six points in this year's competition and it would have been a winning bet in six of the last nine games against England.
If the visitors do prevail, there is every chance of it being by a small margin. It could be worth adding England to win by no more than ten points at 9/4. The winning mentality of Jones' side over the last two years could make the difference in a close match and the price on offer is tempting for a result which is needed to keep them in contention for a third successive title.
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