Ruck and Maul: Put money on sopranos to fire up the Twickenham heavy mob

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"Win when you're singing," say Betfair, the official betting partners of the Rugby Football Union. England, who have won only five of their past 15 Tests since beating France in the 2007 World Cup semi-finals, haven't been very vocal recently – "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" has almost disappeared off the top 10 chart – so Betfair have taken to the stage.

Led by Christine Rice of the Engish National Opera, sopranos (not of the New Jersey variety) will be "strategically placed around Twicken-ham to activate the vocal chords of England's supporters and inspire the national team to glory." So it's come to this. Betfair say their top team, belting out "Jerusalem", etc, will give the Red Rose brigade a "competitive edge over their opponents". They are called the Betfair Opera-ettes. Shouldn't it be Opera-bettes? Rice says: "I've performed all around the world, but to lead my country and 82,000 passionate rugby supporters is one of my most memorable moments... to take on the French at their own game and help to sing England to victory." England are 6-5 to win today's encounter and France are 10-11 so, with the help of the sopranos, the bookies are trying to beat the odds and save themselves a few pounds. France are 9-1 to win the Six Nations, and they have an outside chance. England? 219-1. It's not a fair bet.

Gatland goes for local beef

Meanwhile Warren Gatland, the New Zealander who is in charge of Wales, fancies Les Rosbifs to come home with the bacon against the French today. "If France beat England they have a final weekend trip to Rome, and a big win there over Italy could be enough to give them the championship," Gatland says. He saw France at their best as Wales suffered their first championship defeat on his watch. "The challenge for France is: can they repeat the emotional intensity that they brought against us in Paris? There were periods of that game when the French were almost out on their feet but they hung in there." However, Gatland adds: "England have been improving and I think they have a performance to give." He thinks France can be beaten, but there's an element of wishful thinking. His England opposite number, Martin Johnson, on the other hand, takes a defensive view. "Whenever you play France you know that if you're not at your best there's a chance they could rip you to pieces. They are different and dangerous."



Ryan not so keen on Lamb

How many No 10s does Dean Ryan want at Kingsholm? Having signed Olly Barkley from Bath and Carlos Spencer from Northampton, he has just recruited the talented Nicky Robinson from Cardiff. This is all in addition to the local lad Ryan Lamb, who must feel like looking for alternative employment. "To leave my home town was one of the hardest decisions I've ever had to make," Robinson said, "but I wanted to experience life in a different environment and improve myself as a player and a person, and Gloucester will give me that opportunity." Has he actually walked around Gloucester?



t.glover@independent.co.uk

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