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

Ben Little, right, is a Labour supporter while Jonathan Rogers supports the Green Party
general election 2015
The 91st Hakone Ekiden Qualifier at Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 2014
Life and Style
Former helicopter pilot Major Tim Peake will become the first UK astronaut in space for over 20 years
food + drinkNothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
Life and Style
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
Life and Style
Buyers of secondhand cars are searching out shades last seen in cop show ‘The Sweeney’
motoringFlares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own