England v France
DW Stadium, Wigan
Saturday 8pm (UK time)
Sunday 7am (AEDT); 6am (AEST)
While the English look to have shaken off their pre-tournament disruptions to really hit their stride, the disappointing French have been thoroughly unconvincing and lucky to have scraped through to the quarters at all, with just one win from three starts.
The English mixed it strongly with the Aussies in the tournament opener before going down by eight points, but then were far too strong for Ireland (42-nil) and Fiji (34-12).
Meanwhile the French side started the tournament by losing their trial against surprise packets the USA, scraped a one-point win off an unlucky Papua New Guinea side, were blown off the park by a rampant Kiwis outfit 48-nil,before being comprehensively outplayed by Samoa 22-6.
It means the French barely made it out of their group, finishing on two points from their one win with a shocking for and against, finishing ahead of only the luckless and winless Kumuls in Group B.
Their poor group stage performance has consigned them to a sudden-death quarter final against England (they would have met Fiji instead, had the Bati finished above Samoa). It's a tall ask, no doubt, but they'll have to pick themselves up from a very physical encounter against Samoa to brace themselves for the monster Kiwis forward pack.
That Samoa game saw Mose Masoe sin-binned for repeated team infringements and two Samoans suspended (although Suaso Sue was successful in having his tripping suspension overturned on appeal) highlighting the physical nature of that battle.
England have brought back winger Josh Charnley for his second game, having not played him since the Australia game, with Tom Briscoe missing out. He is the only new face among the 19-man squad who did not feature in the last outing against Fiji.
Watch Out England: Young fullback Morgan Escare is warming to his task – after making just 47 metres against PNG, Escare ran for 79 against New Zealand then 111 against Samoa, with six tackle breaks and a try. With 19 four-pointers in 20 Super League and Challenge Cup appearances for the Catalans Dragons, Escare could be just about to show England what he is capable of.
Watch Out France: After missing the Ireland rout as he paid his penance for a swinging arm on Kangaroo Sam Thaiday, British enforcer Sam Burgess showed exactly why he is considered one of the game's premier forwards, whether in the front or back row. Slammin' Sam turned in one of the best individual performances of the tournament to date against the outclassed Fijians, who had no answer to his size, strength and mobility. His relentless runs earned him 182 metres from 21 hit-ups in 62 quality minutes – a big workload for a starting front-rower. Add in eight tackle breaks, four offloads, three line breaks and a try, and the tricolours can consider themselves warned that Big Sam is out to make an impact.
Key Match-Up: As much as the French forwards will have a task against the likes of the Burgess brothers and James Graham, the decisive match-up could be between France's battered halves combination – likely to be Thomas Bosc and William Bartheau – against Rangi Chase, Kevin Sinfield and Gareth Widdop off the bench.
Bartheau shouldered the bulk of the kicking responsibility in the win over PNG, while the task was left largely to Bosc in the other two matches. England have shared the load around more evenly but crucially, Sinfield and Chase have a couple of try assists each, while the French playmakers have none – and they'll need to get that stat off the duck here to overhaul the men in white.
Televised: 7mate – Live, Sunday from 6.30am (NSW); 5.30am (Qld).
The Way We See It: France just haven't looked like a side capable of troubling the top teams in this tournament, while England clearly are warming to the task. If England continue to play to the level they have been, the tricolours will need a massive improvement just to get close – and we don't see it happening. England by at least three converted tries.
*Statistics: NRL Stats