Modern history insists France will win the Six Nations this season, but this is the season modern history will prove to be bunk, according to Nick Easter. The former England No 8 believes such is the grip the clubs hold over the game in France that it leaves the national side with little chance of escaping from the rut in which they were horribly caught throughout last year as they won just two of their 11 matches.
The Six Nations trophy has been ferried across the Channel – or tunnelled under it – after every campaign in the wake of a Lions tour. France won in 2010, 2006 and 2002 – in the process claiming two of their last three Grand Slams – and also collected the old Five Nations in 1998. It is not since Wales in 1994 that a home nation has won the championship the season after the Lions have returned home.
The theory runs that in the professional era, with the huge physical demands placed on players at club and international level, England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland have struggled to last the pace after the draining intensity of a Lions tour and a shortened summer break.
"People always say after the Lions tour France win the Grand Slam," said Easter, who collected the last of his 47 caps at the 2011 World Cup. "That is not going to happen, the state their rugby is in. With the players they have got, they should – but what was it last year, two wins?"
France finished with their first wooden spoon of the century in 2013 and throughout the year beat only Scotland and Tonga. Four of those defeats were to New Zealand – three in the home of the All Blacks – but they also lost to Italy in the Six Nations.
Easter played for the Harlequins side beaten by Clermont Auvergne at the weekend and believes the dominance of the clubs in France is costing the national side.
"It's the same with English rugby, the clubs run things," said Easter, talking at a BT Sport round table chaired by the channel's rugby presenter Craig Doyle. "It's not like where the unions run it and they can tell the clubs or the provinces, 'We want this guy to play this certain style'. It's very difficult when you come together [as a national side], but England are a lot better set in the style they want to play than France. At the moment it doesn't look like they know what they want to do."
France have not won the Six Nations since 2010, after the Lions' unsuccessful trip to South Africa. Wales have won the last two, with England's most recent triumph coming in 2011. Easter believes that England can win in Paris on the opening weekend and a victory would set them up for what he sees as the pivotal fixture against Wales at Twickenham on 9 March, the penultimate round of games.
"It is a big Six Nations for England because they have got Wales at home," said Easter. "That game at Twickenham is potentially the decider. I think it's England's time – it's been a long time since they won a Slam.
"Ireland are developing nicely and have a high-quality coach but I don't think they are in as good a position as England and Wales."
Easter, consistently overlooked by England's head coach, Stuart Lancaster, despite being one of the standout No 8s in the Premiership over the last season and a half, describes England as "rolling along nicely" but wants to see more "spark" behind the scrum.
George Ford's inclusion in the squad offers one possible move in that direction. Supporters of the Bath man have suggested he should play at 10, with the incumbent Owen Farrell stepping out to 12 – how the two lined up successfully together in England's junior ranks.
"It depends what people want," said Farrell. "When I play 12 at [Saracens] it's different because I'm playing like a second 10, I'm not changing my game to suit a different position, because otherwise I would just end up being an average centre. I have not played there enough. It depends what's wanted because I'm a ball player at the minute. If anybody wanted another 10 at 12 it could possibly happen."
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