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RugbyU: Lawes back as England make changes for France

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Courtney Lawes will make his first England start at blindside flanker as one of three changes to a winning side announced Thursday by head coach Stuart Lancaster for the Six Nations clash against France at Twickenham.

In two other switches to the starting side that saw off Ireland 12-6 last time out in Dublin, the powerful Manu Tuilagi, who came off the bench at Lansdowne Road, is in midfield in place of ball-playing centre Billy Twelvetrees while Dylan Hartley takes over at hooker from Tom Youngs.

Lawes, all of whose nine previous Tests have been as a lock, has been drafted into the back row after James Haskell suffered a bout of flu.

Twelvetrees, Haskell and Youngs are all on the bench.

"We thought long and hard about changing a winning team which did so well against Ireland," Lancaster explained Thursday.

"But we believe that Dylan, Courtney and Manu are ready for the opportunity and allow us to vary our play, while the bench will add impact and energy as the game unfolds in the second half.

"The players are really looking forward to getting back to Twickenham. The atmosphere in the stadium is fantastic and hopefully the crowd can get behind us in what is sure to be a great challenge against a motivated and physical French team."

England lead the Six Nations table and are only the side in this season's tournament who can win the Grand Slam.

France, by contrast, have made their worst start to a Championship for 31 years and are currently bottom of the pile after back-to-back defeats by Italy and Wales.

That prompted France coach Philippe Saint-Andre to make seven changes and a positional switch for a match he has dubbed a "Grand Slam" encounter for his struggling side when he unveiled his Twickenham team earlier Thursday.

All of England's changes reflect what they think will be a physical threat from France, with Tuilagi joining defensive linchpin Brad Barritt in midfield.

Lancaster later explained his thinking in recalling Tuilagi and Hartley to the starting line-up, saying the centre provided "good gainline options and good options defensively" while the experienced Hartley was "a bigger, heavier man" than Youngs.

As for Lawes being selected at blindside flanker, Lancaster told Sky Sports: "Courtney brings a lot more than lineout presence. Defensively he is one of our best players.

"France drive well at lineouts and we have good defensive options there to counter that in Courtney and Geoff Parling."

England (15-1)

Alex Goode; Chris Ashton, Brad Barritt, Manu Tuilagi, Mike Brown; Owen Farrell, Ben Youngs; Tom Wood, Chris Robshaw (capt), Courtney Lawes; Geoff Parling, Joe Launchbury; Dan Cole, Dylan Hartley, Joe Marler

Replacements: Tom Youngs, David Wilson, Mako Vunipola, James Haskell, Thomas Waldrom, Danny Care, Toby Flood, Billy Twelvetrees.

jdg/phz

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130221/rugbyu-lawes-back-england-make-changes-france-0