Six Nations - France v England: Te'o urged to send early warning signal out to hosts
Ben Te'o is ready for a thunderous collision with Mathieu Bastareaud after being instructed by Eddie Jones to make an early impression on the giant France centre.
England head to Paris for the penultimate round of the NatWest 6 Nations with the aim of reigniting their title defence by registering a bonus-point victory against unpredictable opponents.
Among the key battlegrounds at the Stade de France today will be Te’o’s heavyweight showdown with Bastareaud that sees outside centres weighing a combined total of 37 stones face off.
Te’o has been recalled to the starting XV in place of Jonathan Joseph amid orders from Jones to shackle the Toulon battering ram, the England head coach adding that “he’ll enjoying getting an early shot on him”.
The rugby league convert rose to a similar challenge against Sonny Bill Williams in the first Test of the British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand last summer and it is a task he is relishing.
“I’m a big guy but I’m up against a bigger guy! You don’t see many midfielders of his size running around,” said Te’o.
“Credit to him, he’s an athlete as well. He’s big but he can move. He’s strong and has an offload. I watched him the other weekend against Italy and he was very destructive.
“I’ve come up against him before and I want another crack at him. I’m up for it.
“The only way to stop him is by fronting up physically.
“We’ll have a job on our hands to stop him.
“Fingers crossed I’ll have the opportunity to get in there, but then I might not. I’m going to enjoy it.”
England enter the 106th meeting between the rivals as odds-on favourites and Jones believes containing Bastareaud offers a route to redemption after the 25-13 loss to Scotland a fortnight ago.
“Bastareaud is a bit of an icon player for them. He’s been built up as the guy who’s going to regenerate French rugby,” said Jones.
“So it’s important that, early in the game, we let him know he’s going to have a tough day in the office.”
England have their own “icon player” in the form of Owen Farrell, the Saracens playmaker and goalkicker who starts as captain for the first time in the absence of the injured Dylan Hartley.
Te’o views his midfield partner as the perfect cover for Hartley having effectively been groomed for the role from an early age by the presence of his dad Andy, the dual rugby league international.
“Owen is a great ball distributor and defensive leader. In terms of his captaincy, he’s a natural born leader. That’s just part of his DNA,” added Te’o.
“It’s probably got something to do with being around a professional environment from around two years old! I can see a lot has rubbed off him.
“His dad is a leader and it’s in his blood. I’m excited for him that he starts at captain.”
England, meanwhile, insist the breakdown issues exposed by Scotland have been rectified in time for today’s encounter.
A key battleground at Murrayfield was dominated by the Scots, enabling them to inflict only the second defeat of Jones’s 26-Test reign in the shape of a 25-13 Calcutta Cup victory.
“We’ve learned our lesson there. We’ve had two weeks to put a lot of work into the breakdown, which we’ve done,” scrum coach Neal Hatley said.
“We’ve obviously identified it as an area that needed improvement and we’ve worked hard over two weeks right across the team.
“We respect the threat that France offer at the breakdown so it’s been a big area of focus for us.”