13 November 2019

England rugby head coach Simon Middleton on France clash at Sandy Park 'amazing' captain Sarah Hunter

England rugby head coach Simon Middleton said the Red Roses' fixture this weekend against France at Sandy Park will be 'incredible'.

The two sides are clashing for the second time in seven days following England's 20-10 victory last weekend - the first time their rivals away from home in seven years.

And Middleton, who led his side out for their first ever match at Sandy Park in front of a record 10,545 fans back in March, said playing at Exeter Chiefs' ground in the Six Nations was 'almost as good as winning the tournament'.

Speaking to NewsChain, he said: "I think the fixture last year was long overdue. The south west is an incredible place for rugby, the passion and the knowledge that the crowd have for the game there is amazing.

"To go to Sandy Park and be received like we were in front of a sell-out crowd and how the crowd got behind us was incredible.

"We can't wait to go back after that fantastic experience the first time round especially playing France. The top two teams in Europe going head to head and, just having played them, everyone will be that much wiser from that last performance."

The crowd at the Six Nations game held at Sandy Park in March (PA Images)

Sarah Hunter scored both tries in the Roses' victory last weekend and Middleton could not have been more complementary of his captain.

"I thought she [Hunter] was absolutely amazing," he said. "When you go into the lion's den, which we did at the weekend with that French crowd, you need your leaders to stand up and lead.

"That's why she is the captain of the side. When she walks onto the field in an England shirt she is a different person all together. Sarah is one of those players who just goes 'right follow me, this is how you do it' and that's exactly what she did at the weekend. I thought she was absolutely fantastic."

France are travelling to the south of England in a bid to avenge their recent defeat, and Middleton thinks his side will need to improve on their performance at Stade Marcel Michelin if they are to secure another win.

He said: "I think first of all we need to be better at what we were good at last weekend. Our set piece and kicking game has to be very good again, both were outstanding at the weekend. 

"We have to look after the ball better in the middle of the field. We did a good job on them but we didn't give ourselves enough opportunities to really pressurise them. We spent a lot of time on the back foot so I'd like to see a balance of attack to defence.

"We have a few attacking plays up our sleeve that we would like to look at but we need possession of the ball to do that. We didn't get that in the right areas last week, we defended well, but I'd like to see a bit more aggression in our defence."

The match is the second in the Red Roses' three-match autumn series, the final of which is against Italy on November 23 in Bedford.

England and France will kick off at 1:10pm on Saturday and the match is available to watch on Sky Sports Arena and Sky Sports Mix.

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