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French prepare for English invasion

The first match in the Six Nations - France against England - could turn out to be the match of the tournament

THE Six Nations rugby tournament kicks off on Saturday with what could turn out to be the match of the tournament, as France face England at Stade de France.

Both coaches have sprung a few surprises by selecting untested players for the big clash of the opening weekend.

England coach Stuart Lancaster has named an inexperienced backline, handing starting jerseys to two uncapped players - Northampton's powerhouse centre Luther Burrell and Exeter flier Jack Nowell – while left wing Jonny May boasts just one cap.

New boy Burrell and midfield partner Billy Twelvetrees, who has a grand total of eight caps, line up opposite France's vastly more experienced centre pairing of Mathieu Bastareaud and Wesley Fofana.

Harlequins scrum-half Danny Care returns to the England starting line-up. His 42 caps make him the by far the most experienced member of a backline that has just 91 caps.

But it is the England pack who face arguably the toughest job, standing up to the threat of the powerful and mobile French forwards.

Lancaster has named the same starting eight that held their own against New Zealand in the autumn, and has two British Lions in Tom Youngs and Mako Vunipola warming the bench.

With France's regular skipper Thierry Dusautoir sidelined through injury, second row Pascal Papé takes over captaincy duties, and Racing Metro's Bernard Le Roux takes the vacant flanker slot.

Coach Philippe Saint-André, meanwhile, is giving Stade Français young fly-half Jules Plisson his first cap. He will form an inexperienced halfback partnership with Toulouse's Jean-Marc Doussain.

Saint-André had released Plisson when he trimmed his training squad down from 30 to 23, but recalled him when Castres' Rémi Talès picked up a knock in training last weekend.

The Six Nations tournament is annual, the other four nations being Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales. The winners (currently Wales) are unofficial champions of Europe.

France team:
Dulin (Castres); Huget (Toulouse), Bastareaud (Toulon), Fofana (Clermont Auvergne), Médard (Toulouse); Plisson (Stade Français), Doussain (Toulouse); Domingo (Clermont Auvergne), Kayser (Clermont Auvergne), Mas (Montpellier), Flanquart (Stade Français), Papé (Stade Français, capt), Nyanga (Toulouse), Le Roux (Racing Metro), Picamoles (Toulouse).
Replacements: Szarzewski (RacingMetro), Forestier (Castres), Slimani (Stade Français), Maestri (Toulouse), Burban (Stade Français), Chouly (Clermont Auvergne), Machenaud (Racing Metro), Fickou (Toulouse)

England team:
Brown (Harlequins); Nowell (Exeter Chiefs), Burrell (Northampton Saints), Twelvetrees (Gloucester), May (Gloucester); Farrell (Saracens), Care (Harlequins); Marler (Harlequins), Hartley (Northampton Saints), Cole (Leicester Tigers), Launchbury (London Wasps), Lawes (Northampton Saints), Wood (Northampton Saints), Robshaw (Harlequins, capt) B Vunipola (Saracens)

Replacements: T Youngs (Leicester Tigers), M Vunipola (Saracens), Thomas (Sale Sharks), Attwood (Bath Rugby), Morgan (Gloucester), Dickson (Northampton Saints), Barritt (Saracens), Goode (Saracens)

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