England play France in Paris today [Saturday] – and champions Wales play Italy at home in the eagerly awaited curtain raiser to the Rugby Union’s RBS Six Nations championship.
Traditionally the opening games of what is, to many rugby minds, the best international tournament in the world are the hardest to call, and this year does not look likely to be any different.
Even though we fans of the oval ball game were treated to some pretty exciting autumn internationals late last year between the home nations and southern hemisphere sides, the story of that tournament has not presented a clear narrative.
England lost to New Zealand but beat Australia, and question marks still remain around key positions with a World Cup around the corner. Wales and Ireland’s formbook has also been inconsistent.
What we can be certain of is that there is no game more important for England than this mouthwatering curtain raiser against France in Paris. This seems like more than just a game – England in Paris is an event, with the French desperately looking to avenge the last time they hosted the English, when the men in white pipped Les Bleus 24-22 in a cracking game.
Wales ought to beat Italy today but nothing can be taken for granted. The Italians have shown themselves capable of causing an upset, as they proved against France in their stunning win in last year’s Six Nations.
Anyhoo. RadioTimes.com went to the championship’s official opening and here’s what the four home nations captains told us…
Sam Warburton, Captain of current champions Wales, 25, Back Row Forward
“After the defeat to Australia [in the autumn international in November] we had to pick ourselves up and we said to the players you can compete to get into the squad for the chance to win a third championship in a row which would be historic.
“Now we are no longer the underdogs and I am happy to be in that situation. The All Blacks are always in that position and that is where we have to strive to be. When you are champions you are desperate to hold on to it. I remember that feeling of celebrating winning with my teammates, there is nothing like it. There’s nothing like it and you want it again.”
Ireland Captain Paul O’Connell, 34, Lock
“[Coach] Joe [Schmidt] is a demanding guy and we are demanding players. Added to that, it’s Brian [O’Driscoll’]’s last championship and I am sure there will be a bit of extra hunger with us for that reason. It would be fantastic to give Brian something to go out on.”
England Captain Chris Robshaw, 27, Back Row Forward
“After two second-place finishes during my time in charge we are hungry for success and it starts in this campaign. For any professional sportsman the big defeats linger longer in he memory but we have to move on and look to the future.
– Scotland Captain Kelly Brown, 31, Back Row Forward
We are looking forward to improving, having come third last year and if we do then we will be in a very good place. As a child I grew up watching the Six Nations – it’s an incredible tournament and it is a huge honour to be here….
* England v France airs on BBC1 on Saturday. Kick off at 5pm. France v italy also airs on BBC1, with kick-off at 2.30pm