sport

Rowntree assesses French threat

England forwards coach Graham Rowntree has steeled his men to face a ferocious French pack in the RBS 6 Nations at the weekend.

France head to Twickenham under immense pressure after losing their opening two games of the championship for the first time since 1982.

Conversely, England are on a high but forwards coach Rowntree has placed them on guard for a French backlash in Saturday's tea-time kick-off at Twickenham.

Rowntree expects the biggest challenge to be up front, with England planning for the return of loosehead prop Thomas Domingo to the French front row.

"Philippe Saint-Andre is already saying this is their Grand Slam," Rowntree said.

"It will change the whole complexion of their championship if they win at the weekend and the way they will challenge us is through their forward pack.

"There is never a weak French scrum. We are preparing for Domingo. I think he will start.

"We have been watching him play for Clermont. He has been around that set-up for a few years now. He is an incredible scrummager, a compact little unit but technically very good.

"As an outfit, regardless of results, that area of the game is something we always respect with France."

Rowntree has a decision to make about England's loosehead prop, with Mako Vunipola issuing a strong reminder of his credentials in Saracens' Aviva Premiership victory over Exeter at the weekend.

Harlequins' Joe Marler is the incumbent loosehead with Vunipola, who has impressed Rowntree with his development this season, so far used as a high-impact replacement.

"He played well (against Exeter) didn't he? He has been one of the real breakthrough players of the season so far," Rowntree said.

"I am delighted with his progress. He demonstrates the strength we have got in many positions.

"I remember myself as a prop coming on and trying to get up to the pace of the game, trying to make an impact on the game and he does it better than I ever did.

"Who we start, it's no bad thing for a person like him to sit on the bench. What I mean by that is he could start, I'm quite comfortable with him starting. It is horses for courses."

England are due to name their 23-man squad on Tuesday night with head coach Stuart Lancaster finalising his starting line-up on Thursday morning.