By Mitch Phillips
TOKYO (Reuters) – England are disregarding the 44-8 thrashing they handed out to France in this year’s Six Nations as they prepare to face a team they say have changed beyond recognition from the sorry outfit destroyed at Twickenham in February.
Both teams have already qualified for the quarter-finals and their Pool C game in Yokohama on Saturday marks the first time they have clashed before the knockout stage at a Rugby World Cup.
England have been full of praise for the way France have lifted themselves from a poor Six Nations campaign, with much of the credit going to Fabien Galthie, who will succeed Jacques Brunel as head coach after the World Cup.
The former scrumhalf seems to have had a dramatic impact since becoming Brunel’s assistant in April.
“I see a big difference from the Six Nations,” England’s attack coach Scott Wisemantel told a news conference on Tuesday.
“Fabian has done some good things from an attacking point of view – they’ve changed their system – but defensively too, they’re a lot more aggressive.
“Fabian is an astute coach, well organised, well drilled and you can see what they are doing now and I think they are a real threat.”
Scrumhalf Ben Youngs, England’s most-capped back with 92, has been on the winning side in seven of the nine games he has played against France and he expects them to cut loose now the pressure of qualification is off.
“They’re a team playing with no consequences and that makes them extremely dangerous,” he said, adding that England’s players had not even looked back at the Twickenham match in their analysis.
“Damian Penaud is a wonderful open-field runner and they have some real dangerous flair. I’m assuming Antoine Dupont will play. He’s a wonderful player and he moves the point of attack really, really well.
“Without doubt they still have that ability and when their tails are up you can see the type of try like they scored against Argentina. They offload, everyone gets excited and suddenly everyone wants a touch of the ball.
“That’s the France you always prepare for.”
Coach Eddie Jones is expected to make a few changes to the side, with an eye on next week’s quarter-final, with Billy Vunipola highly unlikely to play as he recovers from a twisted ankle.
The number eight was wearing a protective boot as a precaution on Tuesday and though Wisemantel said he did know the details of his scan, he added that the medical staff were being “overly cautious”.
“If there is any risk that Billy is not going to be 100 percent we will rest him,” he said.
England will name their team on Thursday.
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)