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Bastareaud stokes the fire

MARCOUSSIS, March 17- France has got all the ammunition it requires to see off England in Saturday's Six Nations clash here at the Stade de France and clinch their first Grand Slam since 2004, claimed centre Mathieu Bastareaud.The 21-year-old has returned to the starting line-up after being a replacement for last Sunday’s 46-20 defeat of Italy after a niggling calf problem.

However, he replaces David Marty – who scored two tries against the Italians – in the centres alongside veteran Yannick Jauzion, a measure of how much favour he has regained following the scandal that surrounded him in New Zealand last August.

His false claims of being assaulted outside the team hotel provoked a diplomatic incident which saw first the New Zealand Government apologise swiftly followed by French Prime Minister Francois Fillon doing the same when Bastareaud’s lies were exposed.

Bastareaud, who went to a mental institution following that and is presently completing the community service he was ordered to do by the French Rugby Federation, is evidently keener not to dwell on that and focus instead on the challenge of their old rivals England.

England have failed to convince in this year’s renewal – they were held 15-15 last Saturday by previously pointless Scotland – but Bastareaud knows they will raise their game on Saturday.

"We (both teams) are not there to be affectionate to each other on the pitch!" said Bastareaud, who will be winning his ninth cap.

"It is France versus England, we are playing for the tournament, and the English for self respect after being heavily criticised.

"If they can stop us from winning the Grand Slam then they will do anything to do so.

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"We are going to prepare for this match in a serious manner. We are expecting a huge physical battle.

"It is imperative that we stick to our gameplan. Of course they will take us on in the physical areas but we have largely the means to reply to them effectively."

Bastareaud, cousin of veteran Arsenal and France defender William Gallas, said that the humiliating 34-10 defeat by England last year at Twickenham would serve as an extra motivating factor.

"We really took a hit there, a hell of a hit actually because we came into it on the back of a good performance against Wales (France won 21-16).

"Everything was going well, we were living together harmoniously, it was a relaxed atmosphere… and then we go and ship nearly 40 points.

"What’s more there was a crazy atmosphere at Twickenham, we had the bizarre impression that nothing could work, that evrything was going for them on the pitch.

"That was difficult. It was a hell of a blow to our progress. That match left its mark. It is clear that it will be a motivating factor come Saturday."

Bastareaud, who impressed in the wins over Scotland and 2009 Six Nations Grand Slam winners Ireland scoring a try in the former, said that while it would be a red hot atmosphere on Saturday there would be none of the open animosity that dominated encounters between the two countries in previous eras.

"The atmosphere is calmer now, it was more in the 1990’s where it was pretty hostile," said Bastareaud.

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"Now, though, mentalities have changed, we are both in each other’s clubs, there are French players at English teams and vice versa and there are no problems.

"Of course, England are one of the biggest northern hemisphere rugby nations therefore there is rivalry, but there is no animosity solely because they are English."

Bastareaud said that out of the lows of last year, his community work had changed his perceptions of life.

"It is going well. I am visiting rugby schools. I tell the boys there about my career such as it is so far. If I can give advice, I give it.

"I had the opportunity to coach the young lads one afternoon. And it really pleased me. Why not I thought go for a coaching diploma? That could be interesting."



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