5 major talking points ahead of England’s Six Nations showdown against France

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England and France clash for the 110th time in Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations showdown at Twickenham.

Here, the PA news agency examines five talking points as both sides aim to stay in contention for the title heading into the final round.

Selection bombshell

No one is safe – that was the clear message issued by Steve Borthwick when he made the seismic decision to drop his captain Owen Farrell to the bench and install Marcus Smith at fly-half in his place. Under Borthwick’s predecessor Eddie Jones there was a group of untouchables, players who would be retained whatever the circumstances, but with Farrell following Manu Tuilagi and Ben Youngs in being marginalised, England’s new head coach has amply demonstrated his ruthlessness in selection.

Need for speed

Marcus Smith in action for England
Marcus Smith has been installed at fly-half (Adam Davy/PA)

Stage set for Smith

While Borthwick moulds his team according to the opposition, Smith will sense that at Twickenham he has the opportunity to make the 10 jersey his own. The electric 24-year-old stands apart as an attacking fly-half and has the potential to ignite England, but he must also display the generalship possessed by Farrell and George Ford, his more experienced rivals for the position. Having been previously forced to work within a creative axis alongside Farrell at inside centre, stifling his natural game, he is now able to launch a balanced midfield duo of Ollie Lawrence and Henry Slade. The stage is set for the young Harlequin, now he must deliver.

Danty’s back

Jonathan Danty celebrates
Jonathan Danty makes his first appearance since the autumn having recovered from a knee injury (Adam Davy/PA)

Twickenham hoodoo

France may have undergone a welcome revival over the last three years, but one destination victory eludes them. In fact, the last time they prevailed at Twickenham in the Six Nations was back in 2005 when Tony Blair was still Prime Minister, U2 were at number one in the singles charts and YouTube was founded. That losing sequence has produced some classics with the fixture rarely failing to deliver, but France will be determined to finally end their London drought before hosting the World Cup later this year. Adding jeopardy for both teams is the knowledge that with one defeat apiece entering the penultimate round, neither can afford to lose again if they are to win the title.

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