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Monday 11 December 2017

Bastareaud back for a grand finale

France v England, Stade de France, tomorrow ko 7.45 (rté2/bbc1)

The beast is back. Mathieu Bastareaud returns for David Marty as the only change made by coach Marc Lievremont in what is shaping like the bones of the French squad to work towards the 2011 World Cup.

So much in life is about confidence. When France have their dander up, like they do this year, they can resemble an unstoppable, irresistible force.

All the pieces of Lievremont's jigsaw are falling into place. There were those who mocked him as a joker less than a year ago for his strange combinations and experimental attitude to international rugby.

But, the French are different. They have their own way of getting to the truth, which is that Morgan Parra is a mini-general in the making, Bastareaud a sure bet for gain-line supremacy and props Tomas Domingo and Fabien Barcella, currently out of commission, are progressing at a rate of knots. In contrast, England have been humbled by Ireland and Scotland, if only for a draw, as they reach out for the correct formula in terms of players and playing style to put the 'empire' back where they believe it should be -- on top.

The trouble is that coach Martin Johnson is no closer to knowing the answer to the important questions than he was when he came into the job. Is Jonny Wilkinson still good enough for out-half? What is the best combination in the backline?

To this end, Wilkinson has been replaced by Toby Flood; Chris Ashton makes his debut; Ben Foden and Mike Tindall are also selected. Veterans Lewis Moody and Simon Shaw return to the pack.

Verdict: France

France: C Poitrenaud; M Andreu, M Bastareaud, Y Jauzion, A Palisson; F Trinh-Duc, M Parra; T Domingo, W Servat, N Mas, L Nallet, J Pierre, T Dusautoir (capt), J Bonnaire, I Harinordoquy.

England: B Foden; M Cueto, M Tindall, R Flutey, C Ashton; T Flood, D Care; T Payne, D Hartley, D Cole, S Shaw, S Borthwick (capt), J Worsley, L Moody, N Easter.

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