You're afraid, France! Le Crunch tension rises as Johnson turns tables on Lievremont

When news reached Martin Johnson on Monday of the anti-English broadside from his opposite number in Paris, he welcomed it as a sign that France are approaching Le Crunch with trepidation.

The England manager relishes a dash of antagonism in the countdown to a major Test, so Marc Lievremont's remarks would have been greeted, privately, as manna from heaven.

Marc of disrespect: Lievremont (left) tore into the English

Marc of disrespect: Lievremont (left) tore into the English

By admitting how much the French dislike their 'insular' cross-Channel neighbours, Les Bleus' coach cranked up the tension which traditionally precedes this most combustible of fixtures.

Johnson is too shrewd to present Saturday's opponents with any ammunition. But he claimed Lievremont's outburst may be an indication the RBS Six Nations title-holders are concerned about the challenge they face at Twickenham, as the last unbeaten sides in the championship go head to head.

Mr Motivator: Johnson will make most of his rival's comments

Mr Motivator: Johnson will make most of his rival's comments

Johnson said: 'I don't know about fear - maybe there's a bit of that there. Marc has said he respects us as a team and I've got no problem with what he said. They have said from the outset that they will come to Twickenham thinking that if they can win here, they will win the championship. That shows it's a big game with a lot at stake.'

While Johnson is diplomatic in these situations, he always makes a point with the minimum of fuss. After Wales coach Warren Gatland laid into England hooker Dylan Hartley and the team's limited attacking game before the tournament opener in Cardiff, the manager spoke about people reacting to pressure in different ways.

Hartley played superbly at the Millennium Stadium and England won. Now Johnson has delicately suggested France are on edge about their trip to London.

England fly-half Toby Flood struck a similar note. It is a long time since anyone considered England worthy of such special attention. 'It could have come out of some clear and concise thinking and planning to try to upset us, or just because he was speaking his mind,' said Flood.

'I don't know, but it means people are taking notice of us and asking questions in terms of how we're playing. We're happy with that, but we understand this is the biggest challenge we've had for a long time.'

Johnson acknowledged yesterday that any attack on his team or the country as a whole can be harnessed. With Lievremont claiming that all the other home nations are rooting for France to win at Twickenham, the England manager conceded that his words could be used to foster a siege mentality. So will there be a circling of the wagons in response?

'Maybe a little bit,' said Johnson. 'What Tom Palmer said last week was right - people like to beat us. There is history involved in that and most of it is non-rugby history.

Back in the frame: but it is unclear whether Moody will start against France

Back in the frame: but it is unclear whether Moody will start against France

'Everyone wants to be there on Saturday and everyone here wants us to win. Around the rest of Europe, maybe that's not the case, but that doesn't matter.

'I saw what Marc said and he used the word "dislike". I quite enjoy all the hype in the build-up. Some guys enjoy it, some don't. Some guys take part in it, some don't. But this is England v France so there is enough history between the countries to spice it up.'

Flood delivered a tongue-in-cheek assessment of the comments, but revealed anti-English sentiment is a familiar feature of international rugby.

'I quite like going to Paris, so it's frustrating now to learn that they don't like us when I go over there!' he said.

Talk of the town: Flood says the France clash is a big challenge for England

Talk of the town: Flood says the France clash is a big challenge for England

'It's part of what goes on in Test rugby. It's good for the game. There have always been comments and it is part of our heritage. It comes with the territory that teams want to beat us. We've had it since age-group rugby and we're used to it. There are definitely situations where beating England has been seen as important at times.'

Leaving aside the mindgames to focus on physical issues, Johnson insisted that Lewis Moody was in the frame for a return to England's 22- man squad against France, but whether he will start remains uncertain.

The Bath flanker made a cameo comeback on Saturday after five weeks out with a knee injury and the manager said: 'We're hoping he is in the right place to be able to participate, but it's still early in the week.'

Meanwhile, London Irish prop Alex Corbisiero - an impressive debutant against Italy 10 days ago - has been recalled to the squad in place of Bath's David Wilson, who has an ankle injury. Harlequins captain Chris Robshaw has also been brought in as backrow cover, with Joe Worsley forced to return to Wasps for treatment on a neck problem.