Rugby Union: It is folly to begin the season with its crucial encounter

The bookies are making England favourites to win the Five Nations' Championship at 13-8 on. Then come France at 13-8, Wales at 14-1, Scotland at 25-1 and Ireland at 40-1. It seems to me that England are over-priced, France under- priced, Wales a good bet likewise and Ireland under-priced in relation to Scotland.

If Wales were playing their home matches at the old National Stadium instead of at Wembley, I would have fancied them to bring off a surprise, even with their somewhat makeshift pack. As things are I agree, both with the bookies and with Jonathan Davies in the Independent on Sunday, that the real contest is between France and England, as it has been throughout the 1990s.

I also agree with Davies that in a commercial age - indeed, in any age - it is folly to begin the international season with what will almost certainly prove to be its crucial encounter.

There are two ways of approaching the compilation of these fixtures. One is to revert to the traditional order, whereby France played Scotland, for instance, on the first Saturday of the new year, and the other countries similarly followed their hallowed pattern. The other way is to take account of current form (by which I mean form over roughly a five-year span) and to save up what look like being the decisive matches for the last weekend.

For this season, I have to remind myself, even if I do not have to remind my readers, Five Nations matches are being played on Sundays as well as on Saturdays. But in a fashion typical of the organisation of rugby union football, the pattern is not being imposed consistently and seems to have no rhyme or reason about it.

Thus on Saturday there are three internationals (one of them the friendly between Wales and Italy at Llanelli) but there are none on the Sunday. There is a similar pattern on Saturday 7 March. Yet on Saturday 4 April England play Ireland at Twickenham, leaving Wales to play France at Wembley on the Sunday.

Oddly, I have the feeling that Wales may win this match, if Kevin Bowring can pick the right team. For the game with Italy he has picked the correct backs apart from Gareth Thomas on the left wing.

I have nothing against Thomas, except that an injustice has manifestly been done to Nigel Walker. He was Wales' best player against New Zealand at the same stadium, and saved several tries. He is, I am afraid, the victim of prejudice: not colour prejudice - certainly not - but that prejudice which works against players who have come to the game relatively late in life and also happen to be extremely fast.

The wiseacres always say in these circumstances that they are "not sure about his defence" even though his defence is exemplary, as it is with Walker. Both Andrew Harriman of Harlequins and Simon Davies of Swansea were insufficiently recognised by their countries (in Davies' case, he was not recognised at all) on this spurious ground.

Earlier I mentioned the makeshift aspect of the Welsh forwards. There are four forwards in the Allied Dunbar Premier Division who are arguably the superiors of the players Bowring has chosen: John Davies and Craig Quinnell of Richmond, and Nathan Thomas and Richard Webster of Bath, though Thomas is a substitute.

Admittedly Davies and Webster are getting on a bit, even though Webster did sterling work for Bath at Bordeaux. The younger Quinnell is not the most accomplished line-out performer I have ever seen either. But with the other exports that really have been chosen, Barry Williams, Gareth Llewellyn and Scott Quinnell, they would undoubtedly strengthen the pack. The time when the Welsh selectors could afford to turn up their noses at players turning out for English clubs has long passed.

From what I have seen in France, the standard of top English club rugby is higher than anything regularly available there as well. And Clive Woodward has been more level-headed in his selections for Saturday's match than Pierre Villepreux and Jean-Claude Skrela seem to have been with theirs, despite some silly, unnecessary teases on Woodward's part last week.

Accordingly Jeremy Guscott duly returns, and quite right too. Woodward has kept the pack that held New Zealand, with the enforced substitution of Mark Regan for Richard Cockerill.

The most risky French ploy is to play Thomas Castaignede, now of Castres, at outside half, when what he is naturally is an attacking centre. But, illogically, I still think France will win, and am backing them to take the Championship as well.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones