- Womens 6 Nations Rugby - Ireland V Scotland Game On - a pacey, informative, interactive and agenda-setting sports magazine show featuring daily sports news, analysi
- Well tomorrow we begin our Six Nations Campaign against Scotland, and expectations are high. This week Damien went to County Louth to visit the home & farm of two of Ireland's starting fifteen.
By Brendan Cole
Wales are tournament favourites, and there is quiet optimism surrounding Ireland, but it's hard to imagine a final weekend without at least one of this pair involved in the battle to claim this year’s title.
How much of that feeling is based on a real assessment of the quality England and France bring to this tournament, and how much on their history of dominance through the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, is a moot point.
The hard evidence of the last few years suggests that both of these potential giants are some way short of the dominant teams they were able to field even in the recent past.
On the French side, an aspect of the mystique has slipped away. At club and provincial level, a succession of clubs and provinces from other countries have learned that tempo, attitude and will to win can knock even the top French teams off balance. Wales have led the way in showing that that holds true at Test level as well.
England, too, have struggled to translate their huge playing numbers and relatively strong domestic league into success at national level. The legendary players of the early 2000s are beginning to cast a long shadow.
With change needed after disappointing campaigns last year, both Phillipe Saint-Andre and Stuart Lancaster have rolled the dice on the selection front.
Lancaster has arguably taken the lesser risk by experimenting with his outside centre and on the wings. The core of his team is experienced.
By selecting a young and relatively untried out-half in Jules Plisson, Saint-Andre has taken a major risk. Plisson looks to have the full range of attributes, but whether or not he can apply his skills at this level has yet to be proved.
It is also legitimate to question Saint-Andre’s intent. Has he made this selection on the basis of Plisson’s ability to attack the gainline, or because the 22-year-old can drop goals to beat the band? It should become apparent at an early stage in this clash.
If France have shifted towards a more expansive style, there is class and sheer athleticism alongside Plisson in the shape of Wesley Fofana and Mathieu Bastareaud. For their own sake, France will hopefully have enough sense to make full use of arguably their strongest unit.
For England’s part, the youngsters out wide will hope for a solid platform from their athletic and technically accomplished pack. England have been able to select the best of the current generation of their forwards in the back five of the scrum and watching their performance in this cauldron will be one of the major points of interest in this match. Even this far out from RWC 2015, a big setback for that unit here would be a massive blow.
At half-back, the combination of a livewire scrum-half in Danny Care and a highly competent but slightly pedestrian ten in Owen Farrell is another crucial area of importance for England. The chemistry could go either way.
England would love to have named Alex Corbisiero and Manu Tuilagi, who would have been a perfect counter-foil to Bastareaud, and might well have managed to shade this clash. In their absence, they may just lack the set piece quality and backline class to win this one.
RBS 6 Nations Prediction: France 24-19 England
France v England, RBS 6 Nations, Saturday 1 February, Stade de France, 5pm Irish Time
France: 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Yoann Huget, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Maxime Médard, 10 Jules Plisson, 9 Jean-Marc Doussain, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Bernard Le Roux, 6 Yannick Nyanga, 5 Pascal Papé (c), 4 Alexandre Flanquart, 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 Benjamin Kayser, 1 Thomas Domingo
Replacements: 16 Dimitri Szarzewski, 17 Yannick Forestier, 18 Rabah Slimani, 19 Yoann Maestri, 20 Antoine Burban, 21 Damien Chouly, 22 Maxime Machenaud, 23 Gael Fickou
England: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Luther Burrell, 12 Billy Twelvetrees, 11 Jonny May, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Danny Care, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Chris Robshaw (c), 6 Tom Wood, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley, 1 Joe Marler
Replacements: 16 Tom Youngs, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Henry Thomas, 19 Dave Attwood, 20 Ben Morgan, 21 Lee Dickson, 22 Brad Barritt, 23 Alex Goode
LIVE: RBS SIX NATIONS
Live television coverage of the opening weekend of the RBS Six Nations from 14:00 on Saturday 1 and Sunday 2 February on RTÉ Two and RTE.ie (Ireland only).
Live radio coverage on Saturday Sport (14:00) and Sunday Sport (14:00) on RTÉ Radio 1 and RTÉ.ie (Worldwide).