Sat, Aug 18, 2007 - Page 18 News List

England seek revenge against France

COMING BACK Wasps flanker Tom Rees, who has shrugged off two frustrating injury setbacks, will be looking to make his mark today at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille

AFP , MARSEILLE, FRANCE

England play France today hoping to reverse the 21-15 defeat they suffered in the first warm-up game against the French last week.

France, fired by late replacement Sebastien Chabal, outscored England by two tries to nil in the first game during which the English failed to convert their superior possession into points.

And the home side will be hoping that Brian Ashton's men take their dismal away form with them to Stade Velodrome, home of Marseille soccer club and one of the most intimidating venues in the country for visiting teams.

In recent times, England have recorded a solitary success -- against Italy in Rome -- from their last 15 away games stretching back to March 2004.

The World Cup title-holders have come unstuck in Paris (twice), Cardiff (twice), Dublin (twice), Edinburgh, Dunedin, Auckland, Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Bloemfontein and Pretoria during that dismal period.

"We are going to Marseille with bags of confidence," insisted England's defense coach Mike Ford. "For the first time in four years, we have been together for about seven or eight weeks, and the fact we have got the bonding going will help us massively."

"We are on a journey and these last two games, I feel, have put pride back into the jersey and English rugby," he said. "We have got a squad here that is full of experience -- big-game players who understand how to win games."

With just three weeks to go before the opening game of the World Cup, France seem set to pick Toulouse duo Jean-Baptiste Elissalde and Frederic Michalak at half-back.

France coach Bernard Laporte has had 31 different pairings at half-back in 89 games since 2000, and this one is seen as slightly more adventurous than that of Pierre Mignoni and David Skrela.

It will be South Africa-bound Michalak's 12th game alongside Elissalde in the French jersey.

"It's undeniably an advantage to play with Frederic," Elissalde said. "We understand each other on the pitch, that's the main point, but also off if. For half-backs it's good to have a certain complicity."

One England player looking to make his mark will be 22-year-old Wasps flanker Tom Rees.

He has shrugged off two frustrating injury setbacks -- a knee problem, then hamstring trouble -- to feature in today's encounter.

"Tom got big applause when he came on to the training pitch for the first time this week," England forwards coach John Wells said. "As a coaching team, we think very highly of him, and the players do as well. We are hoping his injuries are behind him -- he is a quality player who will add something to this side."

"Tom has had good players and coaches around him at Wasps. His defensive game is very good -- the last six months of last season you saw more rounded performances from him," Wells said. "He has the potential to go on and be one of England's greats in that position."

Scrum-half Shaun Perry and lock Simon Shaw both play in their third successive August fixture with wing Josh Lewsey also retained.

Full-back Mark Cueto, prop Perry Freshwater and hooker George Chuter join Rees in being handed their first starts of the warm-up campaign.

Finding the right balance in midfield has been a problem for England since the retirement of World Cup-winning center Will Greenwood.

If today's team is Ashton's best, it means former Great Britain rugby league captain Andy Farrell and Dan Hipkiss, who featured against Wales, are the coach's first-choice center combination, leaving a minor role for World Cup winning center Mike Catt, who was one of England's more impressive players in the first match with France.

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