LONDON • England rugby coach Eddie Jones has given the Six Nations pot a vigorous stir on the eve of this year's tournament by dismissing the notion of English arrogance as "absolutely ridiculous".
He also revealed that his squad have been discussing the key battles of the Hundred Years' War ahead of the opening Test against France today.
England's players, according to Jones, were challenged by defence coach Paul Gustard this week to guess how many times their country had fought against France.
"We've got one staff member, he is into history," Jones said. "Certainly there is history between France and England... it's always a historic game.
"So there have been 20 wars, have there? That's a lot of rivalry there. There is another one happening on Saturday."
The idea was to remind the team that France are invariably tough opponents but, with Anglo-French relations under strain following Brexit, Jones and Gustard have picked a sensitive moment to ruffle Gallic feathers.
Jones also hit back at comments by the former Scotland and Lions coach Jim Telfer, who criticised England's "disdainful" supporters and compared Jones to United States President Donald Trump.
"Jim's quite entitled not to like me, that's his prerogative," Jones said. "But to say the fans at Twickenham are arrogant is absolutely ridiculous.
"I've coached all around the world and I think the fans at Twickenham are passionate, loyal, reasonably well educated and provide a great atmosphere.
"It's one of the greatest rugby grounds in the world. If he doesn't like that, don't come."
England, on a 14-match unbeaten run - 13 of those wins since Jones was installed as coach after their first-round exit at the 2015 World Cup - will be favourites.
But Jones insisted "Les Bleus" would prove formidable opponents, saying: "We are going to face a side desperate for success. They are under pressure to play with French flair."
Jones has drafted utility back Elliot Daly in on the left wing while injuries have seen him reshape his pack.
Maro Itoje, best known as a lock, makes his first Test start in the back row after blindside flanker and former England captain Chris Robshaw was ruled out of the entire Six Nations with a shoulder injury.
With George Kruis out with a knee problem, Courtney Lawes and Joe Launchbury will start in the second row.
France will be looking to go one better after close defeats to both world champions New Zealand and Australia last November.
France coach Guy Noves said: "Like anyone else, we can only admire the continuity in their (England's) results, their mindset.
But I hope we will show we can start doing the same, and that we will match up."
THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
ENGLAND V FRANCE
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