England travel to France this weekend looking to silence their doubters and get their Six Nations campaign back on track after being derailed by Scotland two weeks ago. France will be looking for their second win of the Championship and to prove that they are worth more than just a home win against Italy.
Our model has England as favourites, but it might be closer than you think. Although France have lost eight from the last nine matches, their opposition has generally been good (three away matches and one home match against South Africa, and one against each of New Zealand, Ireland, Scotland and Japan). So against England, at home for ‘Le Crunch’, the French will be competitive. England should win, but our model suggests it will be by just 6 points, with the English running out 17 – 23 victors.
France and England have met 103 times previously with England leading the head-to-head 57 to 39 and seven draws. England won 18 out of the first 20 matches played between the two before 1930, but after then it has been pretty even, 39 – 38 to England.
England’s biggest win came in 2003 with a 45 – 13 victory at Twickenham in the build up to their World Cup win the same year, taking revenge for a defeat the week before in Marseille. France’s biggest win was in the 2006 Six Nations inflicting a 25 point defeat over the English 31 – 6. Historically, the teams have been evenly matched in the rankings, with neither having too much dominance over the other for long. Recently however, the French have declined which, combined with England’s rise under Eddie Jones has seen the biggest rankings difference in the two sides in over 40 years.
Should England defeat France by the predicted margin they stand to gain a small amount (up 0.12 to 89.50) in the World Rankings, with both sides staying 2nd and 10th respectively. However, should the French prevail, or the Scots over Ireland, there could be some big movements in the rankings come Monday. Below are a few of the other possible outcomes.
If Ireland and France win then Ireland would rise to second, 0.14 above the English in third, who would swap 1.88 ranking points with France who would rise to eighth.
If Scotland and England win then Scotland would rise to third taking 1.58 points from the Irish who descend to fourth.
If Scotland and France win then Scotland would rise to third, Ireland descend to fourth and England remain in second, but with a reduced lead.
France are not good at the moment. As mentioned above they have lost eight out of their last nine matches, with their last win before Italy coming against Wales in the last game of the 2017 Six Nations. As also mentioned however, they have had some difficult opposition so they are possibly not quite as bad as the results might suggest. Their losses are also usually close, if we remove their away tour to South Africa and recent match against New Zealand, their heaviest defeat since 2016 is actually to Scotland at Murrayfield in the 2016 Six Nations, where they lost by 11 points.
They appear to be hit and miss then, if we look below we can see that they have been extremely close to some big wins: a three point loss away to England in 2017, a two point loss to Australia and a five point loss to New Zealand being among the highlights; with a 23-all draw at home to Japan being the definite low-light. So which France will turn up? We think it is likely that for this game, at home against England, they will be motivated and up their game to challenge England, at least for a time.
England have had a tough time in the press since their loss to Scotland. Whether or not this is due to genuine surprise that England could lose to Scotland, or because people enjoy laying into England is largely unclear. For us, the result was not that surprising. It’s not to say that Scotland are better than England, or that England aren’t any good, merely that England have ‘got away’ with a few games recently and this has perhaps have lulled some supporters into a false sense of security. Everyone loses eventually.
England are still a very good side, but undoubtedly have things to work on if they are to genuinely compete with New Zealand for the top spot. However, this is an opportunity for them. If they can put away France and Ireland in convincing fashion then it will send a message about how they adapt and learn from failure. England have rarely won by much in France, with their biggest away win against the French coming in 2008 with an 11 point win. They also have never scored four tries in Paris, which they will need to do in order to obtain the bonus point. This then, is a chance to silence their critics, to show what they are made of and where they are going. Score early against the French and their heads could sink, the crowd turn against them and England could run up a big score.