Ben Youngs insists the influence of Shaun Edwards ensures that even a France team severely depleted by rugby politics will be formidable adversaries in Sunday’s Autumn Nations Cup final.
England created the stage to avenge their only defeat of the year after dispatching Wales 24-13 at Parc y Scarlets, but the climax to the tournament has been devalued by the constraints placed on Les Bleus coach Fabien Galthie.
An agreement struck in response to the threat of legal action from France’s Top 14 clubs means Galthie is only able to pick each player a maximum of three times across the six matches that form an extended autumn.
— Autumn Nations Cup 🏉 (@autumnnations) November 28, 2020
Having front loaded stars such as Antoine Dupont, Virimi Vakatawa and Gregory Alldritt in a campaign that started with a warm-up match against Wales – a week before the final round of the interrupted 2020 Six Nations – Galthie is left with limited options.
Fly-half Romain Ntamack could be back from injury, but even the shadow team that flattened Italy on Saturday night must now return Teddy Thomas and Baptiste Serin back to their clubs.
The loss of Serin requires Galthie to pick his third captain of the autumn against a side he says are “probably the best team in the world right now since South Africa have not been playing”.
England would now be Grand Slam champions but for a harrowing 24-17 defeat in Paris in February when a French revival that coincided with the arrival of Edwards from Wales began.
“Whichever French team takes the field will be ferocious,” said Youngs, Eddie Jones’ first-choice scrum-half.
“With Shaun Edwards as defence coach there will be no lack of physicality or organisation.
“It doesn’t really matter because they are a squad with a huge amount of talent. They have some huge quality so we’ll prepare as best we can to make sure we give the best performance we can.
“We really respect France and know what they’re capable of – we got done the last time we played them so they’ll be confident.
“They’re probably the most-improved team over the last 12 months. We fully respect what’s coming and next weekend we’ll get a real sense of how far we’ve come.”
Congratulations on the win @FranceRugby 👏
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) November 28, 2020
England finish Group A emphatic winners after avoiding the banana skin of a trip to Llanelli in a game Jones compared to watching the shower scene in the film ‘Psycho’.
Jones was referring to Wales’ third-quarter comeback when the lead was reduced to 18-13, creating the type of scenario where in the past his teams have imploded – but on this occasion they responded with two critical penalties by Owen Farrell.
“We had a large part of the game under control but there was a period in the second half where we gave away a few penalties in a row and were ill-disciplined,” Youngs said.
“The pleasing thing for me is that previously when that’s happened we’ve sometimes not eradicated the penalties and they’ve kept coming and we haven’t been able to snap them.
“That shows a huge amount of growth in the side and that was really pleasing. As a whole it was a fairly professional performance in many ways in getting a good job done.”