Brian Ashton: Ashton's style can add that je ne sais quoi

Tackling The Issues

England were looked after so well during the 2007 World Cup tournament, leaving aside a difficult few days spent at a Marseilles hotel situated in a Mediterranean version of Dog-Poo Alley, that we struck up a wonderfully positive relationship with our hosts, to the extent that the French security staff assigned to us were uncertain who they should support come our semi-final with Les Bleus. Who said the entente cordiale was dead?

I've never been much interested in the banter that routinely criss-crosses the Channel ahead of a serious game between the two nations, but when I cast my mind back to the events of four years ago I must confess that this week's comments by the French coach, Marc Lièvremont, seem a little odd. There again, the response in some quarters to his widely publicised thoughts on Anglo-French relations, or lack of them, has been so staggeringly predictable that it makes me wonder whether Lièvremont touched a nerve after all.

Of far more interest to my way of thinking are the prospects of England continuing their useful run of form against France at Twickenham this afternoon. Leaving aside World Cup warm-up matches, which are necessarily distorted affairs and don't really count in my view, England have beaten the Tricolores in four of the last five meetings and might easily have secured victory in Paris last season had Chris Ashton, then a new face on the wing, shown a little try-scoring devil. What a strange comment that seems in light of events since.

It is my sense that France will approach Twickenham with caution – quite the worst possible route for a French side to take. I also sense that in the minds of certain England players, caution has been banished to a faraway place; certainly, I expect them to play with real positivity from the outset. Can we expect to be treated to an attacking performance on the grand scale of 2001, when we won 48-19? That day, the roles traditionally associated with the two countries were reversed. The flair – the razzmatazz, if you want to call it that – came from England, to the extent that Austin Healey manufactured a startling try for Mike Catt with an overhead kick from the base of a ruck. Could this possibly be matched by my namesake and his mates today? Here's hoping.

The Welsh are hoping, and praying, that their mini-revival in fortunes against Scotland in Edinburgh last time out will continue in Rome. I refuse to entertain the possibility that Italy will play as poorly in front of their home supporters at Stadio Flaminio today as they did in London a fortnight back – that they will be so lacking in desire, in passion, in self-belief. If they are, we can expect Emperor Dondi (Giancarlo Dondi, the president of the Italian union, for those not in the know) to give the national team a Colosseum-style thumbs down, the ramifications of which could be rather painful, albeit in a modern kind of way.

As ever when the Italians are involved, the forward battle will be central to the outcome. If Wales can subdue the Azzurri pack and silence that Roman crowd, they will be three-quarters of the way to victory. This will be no easy matter, though, despite all the recent evidence to the contrary at Twickenham. If I know Italian rugby at all – and I've spent a fair bit of time in the country one way or another – they will be smarting badly from their humiliation at the hands of a rampant England, and I can't imagine they will leave their line-out strategy on the team bus for the second game running.

Wales did not have to play terribly well to beat the Scots, but just occasionally during that game the men of the valleys reminded us of their ability with ball in hand if given a little leeway. Every so often, the blind-alley sideways stuff gave way to something far more interesting and exciting, and as the Welsh are at their best when they are at their most direct, their supporters will travel in anticipation of seeing the running lines and offloading that makes an on-song Red Dragons side such a joy to watch.

Talk of events at Murrayfield leads us back to Edinburgh, where Scotland face a Six Nations D-Day tomorrow against a strangely erratic Ireland. If both teams continue to commit errors at the current rate – the technical mistakes have been coming thick and fast, as have instances of rank ill discipline – the neutral observer may find himself treated to a chaotic, points-laden bonanza. Andy Robinson, an incredibly passionate coach who sets very high standards, was not a happy man as the Wales debacle unfolded before his eyes, as his incredulous, not to say pugilistic, antics up in his glass eyrie indicated all too clearly. And he had just signed a four-year extension to his contract! Thanks, lads.

He will be expecting rather more support from his players tomorrow, while Declan Kidney, his Irish opposite number, must be anticipating another energetic display from his forwards, who summoned some green-shirted "hooley" against France after a peculiarly conciliatory performance in Rome.

That, however, will not count for too much if a back division who look highly capable on paper continue to complicate virtually every essentially simple move they undertake. Declan has publicly stated that he will not abandon his attacking approach, but he needs his players to show more accuracy and intelligence than we have seen from them so far.

Win an exclusive Doom Bar t-shirt!

Do you think you know your rugby? Do you want to make your voice heard? Do you want to win a sharp Sharp's t-shirt?

Tell us what you think about the state of the game in the comments below, and you could be in with a shot at winning a particularly snazzy Doom Bar t-shirt. Over the next month, Online sports editor Simon Rice will be watching the comments under Brian Ashton's Saturday columns like a hawk, looking out for the most interesting, thoughtful and provocative comments from readers. Is Brian on the money, or is he talking nonsense? What's wrong with the England team, who's going to win the Premier League, and are New Zealand really unbeatable?

Then, in March, after a month's heated debate, Simon will pick his favourite comment to win that coveted shirt. What are you waiting for? Put the rugby world to rights.

Entrants must be aged 18 or over. Terms and conditions apply.

If you have any problems posting your comments, you can also email your entry to onlinecompetitions@independent.co.uk

News
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
Gay and OK: a scene from 'Pride'
filmsUS film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
News
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
Arts and Entertainment
Hilary North's 'How My Life Has Changed', 2001
booksWell it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Magic roundabouts: the gyratory system that has excited enthusiasts in Swindon
motoringJust who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Sport
footballManchester City 1 Roma 1: Result leaves Premier League champions in danger of not progressing
Life and Style
The new Windows 10 Start Menu
tech
Travel
Bruce Chatwin's novel 'On the Black Hill' was set at The Vision Farm
travelOne of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
News
Kim Jong Un gives field guidance during his inspection of the Korean People's Army (KPA) Naval Unit 167
newsSouth Korean reports suggest rumours of a coup were unfounded
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?