WITH more records primed to tumble, scrum-half Ben Youngs says relentless England want to “set a precedent” with their rugby style as they start their Grand Slam defence this evening.
If they defeat France in their opening game of the RBS Six Nations at Twickenham, Eddie Jones’s side will clinch a 15th consecutive Test win and eclipse the previous best set during Sir Clive Woodward’s imperious reign.
After a perfect calendar year in 2016, Youngs admitted; “It’s down to us to perform and keep continuing the run we’re on. It also adds a prize for the team if we crack it.
“We really want to set a precedent in terms of how we’re playing, showing improvement from the autumn to now.
“We really want to hit the ground running in this tournament; the run we’ve been on doesn’t count for anything unless we get it right at the weekend.”
Jones, of course, has been central to England’s revival given the wily Australian has been in charge for 13 of the 14 wins in this impressive sequence and has yet to taste defeat.
They have been beset by injury problems ahead of this evening’s encounter, but such is their strength in depth they remain, albeit incredulously some would say, 7-1 on to win.
Perhaps it is because they still have almost twice as many caps in their starting line-up – 595 compared to France’s 333 – and also boast an increasingly impressive record at HQ where they have racked up seven successive wins since the ignominy of their 2015 World Cup failure.
Furthermore, Les Bleus have not won at Twickenham since prevailing 21-15 in a World Cup warm-up match in 2007 so it is understandable why the hosts are in such a position of authority.
Nevertheless, Leicester Tigers No 9 Youngs believes his side must improve further and making their home ground impregnable is uppermost in their thoughts.
“Winning at Twickenham certainly adds confidence and belief within the side,” said the player, who has clearly improved like so many others under Jones’s watchful eye.
“It’s a bit like Saracens and Allianz Park – you go there and you know you’re going to have to be absolutely on it to come away with anything.
“Hopefully we’re beginning to build that reputation so that when teams come to play us they think it’s a real tough place to crack. We want to make Twickenham as intimidating as possible.”
France, meanwhile, have disappointed for some years now – it was 2010 that they last won the competition – but there are stirrings of a revival under Guy Noves.
Louis Picamoles, the marauding No 8 who has been a spectacular success in his first season at Northampton Saints, is earmarked as one player England must control.
“The Saints boys know Louis well and have spoken about how important he is,” Youngs said.
“He is the heartbeat of the French team, he’s a big physical presence who certainly gets them on the front foot.
“Guys like him have been mentioned, so we know the importance of dealing with his ball-carrying threat.
“Once the French side get momentum and on to the front foot it only takes one offload and they get excited and off they go.
“Someone like him can ignite that and we are fully aware of what he can bring to the game and how we have to try to stop him.
“The thing with France is that you could be six points ahead, feel very comfortable and it doesn’t look like they’re breaking you down.
“But it just takes one or two offloads and they’re behind you and they’ve got you.
“No team has a threat like they do in terms of some of the stuff they can do; one off-load and the whole team becomes energised and comes to life.”
France captain Guilhem Guirado, though, envisages a fearsome examination from Jones’s side.
“We must be ready to defend,” he said.
“We know England are a very efficient side with a direct approach and above all we are aware of the ferocity with which they play the game.
“But we competed well in November against two of the three best nations in the world – Australia and New Zealand.
“We know where we went wrong, but we’ve worked hard since.”