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

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
Details of the self-cleaning coating were published last night in the journal Science
Approved Food sell products past their sell-by dates at discounted prices
Life-changing: Simone de Beauvoir in 1947, two years before she wrote 'The Second Sex', credited as the starting point of second wave feminism
peopleHer seminal feminist polemic, The Second Sex, has been published in short-form to mark International Women's Day
Caption competition
Caption competition
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

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable