G eorge Furbank is unlikely to be fazed by a hostile atmosphere on his international debut given the Northampton full-back’s first encounter with one of England’s senior players. Joe Marler is not a man who gives the merest hint that he is someone to be messed with.
Marler was using the urinals at the England squad’s training base in Portugal when he was interrupted, not in mid-flow, which may have been fortunate for Furbank who sneaked up behind the front rower and yelled: “Boo.”
“I did not think there was anyone about, because it was the middle of the day,” says Marler. “There were two urinals and I was using the left one. I was just finishing when I felt a presence and then I heard a boo behind me. It scared the shit out of me. I turned around, thinking it would be one of the older guys who I knew and it was George Furbank staring at me, deadpan.
“I walked back to the villa thinking:‘ What just happened there? ’And then I thought it was good from him. It showed that in that moment he had a bit about him and I liked it. I told the story to the group because we were getting to know the new boys. People may say I was trying to take the piss, but I wasn’t: one of the young ones, trying to integrate himself, took the initiative. ”
The 27 – year-old Furbank is winning his first cap little more than two years after making a try ‑ scoring debut for Northampton against Exeter in what was then the Anglo-Welsh Cup. It was the first of 29 starts for the saints and he has flourished under their director of rugby, chris boyd, the New Zealander who arrived at Franklin’s Gardens at the beginning of last season and transformed one of the Premiership’s more conservative sides into one that revels in the unstructured.
“I did not know much about him before this season,” says Ben Youngs, who will be winning his 96 th cap. “The Saints have a huge group of young players coming through and he is one who has been impressive. There are great things going on down there and that is why they are flying.
“He has trained well and he’s got a huge boot. The pitch we trained on in Portugal is probably one of the biggest in world rugby and he was banging the ball from one 22 to the other with ease. He has been razor-sharp for Northampton and seems at home, good to go. ”
Furbank is the lone debutant in England’s line-up , although the Bath prop will stuart will make his test bow if he is used from the bench. France have two, the Montpellier full-back, Anthony Bouthier, more seasoned than Furbank at 90, and the tight -head prop Mohamed Haouas – rescued from a life of petty crime by rugby and renowned for punching his Montpellier team-mate Bismarck du Plessis before the start of a match – who will be scrummaging against Marler.
Eight of the France side started the World Cup quarter-final against Wales in October, a match they lost in the closing minutes having spent most of the second-half a man short after Sébastien Vahaamahina’s dismissal for elbowing. “Whenever you play against France you know that if they get their tails up they are difficult to beat,” says Youngs.
“They got on to the front foot early against Argentina and Wales in the World Cup and a young side plays with freedom and without fear. It is important that we get a grip on the game in the opening 22 minutes. They are a side that is building and they will be a huge threat going forward. ”
Youngs’s opposite number is Antoine Dupont, the Toulouse scrum-half who is far removed from the controlling nines France long favorite. His main threat comes not from his box-kicking or organizing pods of forwards to take play a meter or two to the next phase, but his ability to see space almost as soon as it appears.
“He is the catalyst of a side that, in the manner of French teams of old, is geared to run and handle,” Young says. “I have not played against him much but I am a big fan of his. If he isn’t there already he’s going to be a nine that dominates for the next decade. At his age  he’s got an amazing future. He will be a talisman for French rugby. ”
Youngs described the World Cup in Japan as the greatest experience of his career and how the disappointment at the end when they lost in the final to South Africa has evolved into an opportunity to kick on. “You come into camp and just want to be involved again,” he says.
To Marler, it is already forgotten. “I don’t see it as a relevant tool to rectify anything,” he says. “I focus on the next game. Experience has given me that perspective. I just try and concentrate on the next challenge as it’s boring to keep going over what happened. I am just thinking about Mohamed Haouas. He is a built like a house, massive and very big ‑ chested, very tall, and I am intrigued to find out more about his personal story. He’s going to be full of energy and excitement, but so am I. ”
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