Tuilagi back to lock horns with Bastareaud
Twickenham will be shaken to its foundations on Saturday when the mighty Manu Tuilagi, recalled to the England starting team as one of three changes, meets mountainous Mathieu Bastareaud in a 230kg Six Nations demolition derby.
The shuddering midfield collisions between two of the most powerful backs in the sport will be among the eye-catching highlights of Saturday's clash between an England side seeking a third successive win to propel them towards a grand slam and a French team in disarray after losing their first two games.
Courtney Lawes and Dylan Hartley also return for the match as coach Stuart Lancaster showed he was not afraid to shake up a winning team.
Despite opening the championship with impressive victories over Scotland and Ireland, Lancaster opted to start with the three experienced men, who all came off the bench to play important roles in Dublin, when he announced his team on Thursday.
Tuilagi, who missed the Scotland game with an ankle injury, comes in at outside centre as Billy Twelvetrees drops to the bench and Brad Barritt switches back to the 12 shirt.
Lawes, who has played almost all of his international rugby in the second row, comes in at blindside flanker in place of James Haskell, while Hartley, another to have regained full fitness, has managed to displace Tom Youngs at hooker
The experience of Hartley, who captained England in their draw against South Africa last June, and the presence of the combative Lawes make England's pack a stronger-looking unit.
"We thought long and hard about changing a winning team which did so well against Ireland," Lancaster said in a statement.
"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 presence of Bastareaud, back in the France team for this Six Nations after a three-year absence, probably influenced Lancaster's decision to recall Tuilagi, despite the impressive performances of Twelvetrees, who offers more movement but less destructive power.
The changes reunite the centre partnership that looked so good in December's victory over New Zealand and Barritt, England's defensive organiser, said the team were ready for the physical threat of Bastareaud.
"He's a big physical presence in the midfield and crucial for their go-forward and the gain line battle," he said. "He's a physical target runner for them so we'll have to meet fire with fire and up our physicality.
"We pride ourselves on our two-man tackle focus. When you've got people coming at you, in the face of the line speed we are aiming to impose, it's difficult for them to get any momentum. It will be about stopping his initial momentum.
"Everyone imposes themselves in a different ways, different players provide different obstacles to overcome and he will come hard and straight so we need to be as physical as we possibly can."
France's defeats by Italy and Wales represent their worst start to the tournament since 1982 when they lost their first three games and coach Philippe Saint-Andre has reacted by making seven changes for the England game.
Flyhalf Francois Trinh-Duc will make his first start in eight months as Frederic Michalak is dropped to the bench while scrumhalf Morgan Parra comes in for Maxime Machenaud.
"It's always good when we're scared. We'll have to stick together and get ready for a great fight," Saint-Andre said.
England: 15-Alex Goode, 14-Chris Ashton, 13-Manu Tuilagi, 12-Brad Barritt, 11-Mike Brown, 10-Owen Farrell, 9-Ben Youngs; 8-Tom Wood, 7-Chris Robshaw (captain), 6-Courtney Lawes, 5-Geoff Parling, 4-Joe Launchbury, 3-Dan Cole, 2-Dylan Hartley, 1-Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16-Tom Youngs, 17-Dave Wilson, 18-Mako Vunipola, 19-James Haskell, 20-Thomas Waldron, 21-Danny Care, 22-Toby Flood, 23-Billy Twelvetreees.