France have been told to forget about a potential Grand Slam and focus on claiming a first competitive win over England at Twickenham since 2005 by general manager Raphael Ibanez.
Fabien Galthie’s team resume their Guinness Six Nations campaign on Saturday after a coronavirus outbreak forced the postponement of their scheduled round three fixture in Paris with Scotland on February 28.
After victories on the road at Italy and Ireland last month, France remain in contention for a Grand Slam, which they have not achieved since 2010 but first they must look to pile more misery on Eddie Jones’ under-fire England this weekend.
While Les Bleus won at HQ in a World Cup warm-up fixture 14 years ago, they have lost their last seven Six Nations matches at Twickenham.
Former captain Ibanez said: “What is certain is that for this team we have objectives.
“The objective is for victory on Saturday at England, who did not give us an inch of ground in front of the French since 2005.
“The stakes of this match and the immense challenge that awaits us, 2005 it was far away.
“Now it’s 16 years that a French team has not won on English soil so before any talking (about the Grand Slam), this game is especially magnificent for this group and they will launch fully into this challenge that awaits us.”
The last meeting between the sides occurred on December 6 and Owen Farrell’s extra-time penalty secured a 22-19 victory for England in the Autumn Nations Cup Final.
France, despite missing numerous players due to Top 14 clubs not releasing them, had been set to claim a remarkable win before Luke Cowan-Dickie levelled the scores with a try late on.
It will be a stronger XV this time, with centre Virimi Vakatawa back after a knee injury and star scrum-half Antonie Dupont involved.
As with the Autumn Nations Cup, France’s tournament has been disrupted. Back in November it was an outbreak of Covid-19 cases at Fiji which saw Les Bleus robbed of a fixture and their own coronavirus problems this time mean they have not played since February 14.
Head coach Galthie insists it will not affect their preparation ahead of facing an England side who have lost two of their last three games.
“We had to stop the tournament last year and then we resumed,” the 51-year-old said in reference to the 2020 Six Nations being suspended at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
“And we had a new competition called the Autumn Nations Cup, with sometimes constraints and therefore to the team sheets.
“Obviously we took a little break that we will call the episode. I believe that now we are used to this type of event. We try to manage as well as possible.”
In addition to Vakatawa, Galthie makes three other changes with Teddy Thomas recalled and Romain Taofifenua in for Bernard Le Roux while Dylan Cretin is preferred to Anthony Jelonch.
France are without Arthur Vincent and Gabin Villiere but have Romain Ntamack available as one of two backs on the bench alongside six forwards.