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Six Nations 2009


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Europe's showpiece rugby union event, the 2009 RBS Six Nations, will begin in earnest on Saturday when England take on Italy at Twickenham at 1500 GMT.


Ireland, with new coach Declan Kidney at the helm, will face France at Croke Park in Dublin at 1700 GMT.


Meanwhile, champions Wales will begin the defence of the 2008 crown against Scotland at Murrayfield in Edinburgh.


Wales are aiming to become only the sixth team in history to complete back-to-back Grand Slam victories.


While the adverse weather conditions have affected large parts of the sporting weekend, the venues of the three Six Nations matches have so far not suffered any significant problems.


England's opening match will be their 250th at Twickenham as they look to continue their 100% record against Italy.


Flanker Steffon Armitage is poised to make his international debut alongside brother Delon and the pair will become only the ninth set of siblings to play in the same England team.


Ireland have been boosted by the news that Rob Kearney has passed a fitness test and will take his place at full-back against France on Saturday.


Defending champions Wales will be without Gavin Henson at Murrayfield because of a calf strain, so Tom Shanklin will start at centre against Scotland.


All matches are live on BBC ONE and the red button, with radio coverage from BBC Radio 5 Live and text commentaries on the BBC Sport website.


The matches at Twickenham and Murrayfield are also available on BBC HD.



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England v Italy (Sat)




England aim to kick-start their Six Nations campaign with a morale-boosting victory over Italy at Twickenham in the first match of this year's tournament.


Martin Johnson's men have lost five of their last six matches but have won all 14 of their Tests against the Azzurri.


The hosts have picked experienced fly-half Andy Goode, with Harry Ellis and Jamie Noon late call-ups after injuries to Danny Care and Mike Tindall.


Mauro Bergamasco, normally a flanker, starts at scrum-half for Italy.


With Italy deprived of three scrum-halves through injury, open-side Bergamasco will start there in a Test for the first time.


His opposite number Ellis was called into the England team on Thursday after Care, who started all four of England's autumn Tests, sustained an ankle injury in training.


"This contest is tailor-made for Harry," said attack coach Brian Smith. "That is why we had no hesitation bringing him in. All the qualities he has as a scrum-half we are going to need at the weekend.


"We know it will be very tough and confrontational and he is the perfect man for the job."


On Friday night England were forced to make a second change when Tindall was ruled out because of a back injury picked up during a weights session in the gym.


He had been brought into the team at the expense of Noon and the Newcastle man leapfrogs Mathew Tait, who stays on the bench, to go straight back into the starting XV.


Johnson, who captained England to their last Six Nations title, a Grand Slam, in 2003, has experienced a torrid time since taking over as England manager.


His side suffered three heavy defeats against the southern hemisphere giants in November after his only win, against the Pacific Islanders, and Johnson has opted to pack his side with wise old heads.


Mark Cueto and Goode come into the backs with Danny Cipriani, the 21-year-old fly-half who has been tipped to become a superstar, relegated to the second-string Saxons.


Captain Steve Borthwick said Cueto was an "experienced international" who was playing "exceptionally well" for his club Sale.


Borthwick added: "Andy Goode is not massively experienced at international level but hugely experienced at the top level of European club competition and he is a very calm influence.


"The fact those younger guys have the experience of the autumn under their belts will help them in the long run.


"The autumn was a tough experience. There were some bitter disappointments and I took the losses personally.


"Every England player wants to set things right and put the record straight."


Brive number 10 Goode started the season as fourth-choice fly-half at best but with Cipriani out of favour and Jonny Wilkinson and Toby Flood both injured he has been handed an unexpected chance to make the number 10 jersey his own.


"There's a lot of guys out there snapping at my heels and wanting to get their hands on this shirt. If I don't perform well then they'll be in with a shout," said the 28-year-old, who has won nine caps.


"I've got to back my own ability to try and do that and keep hold of the shirt and help England have a successful Six Nations."


The selection of Ellis meant England had showed six changes from the side that started the final autumn Test against New Zealand, but Noon's return takes the number of changes back to five.


The final two changes see prop Andrew Sheridan and flanker Steffon Armitage come into the pack.


Armitage is the 23-year-old brother of full-back Delon and they become the first set of siblings to play together for England since the Underwoods, Rory and Tony, in 1995.


The major talking point of the Italy side has been the switch of Stade Francais open-side Bergamasco to scrum-half, where he has only played as a junior before.


The brother of Italy winger Mirco has also played on the wing for the Azzurri, and Italy coach Nick Mallett said he "didn't have much choice" at number nine.


"This is something I want to try. Mauro has no fear of these type of games and I hope he has a great game against England," said Mallet.


"This is a difficult game for Mauro but the whole team is behind him."


Italy may not have beaten England yet but came close last year with a 23-19 loss in Rome. Nevertheless it would still be a major shock if they were to prevail at Twickenham.



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Ireland v France (Sat)



The form of captain Brian O'Driscoll will be key for Ireland


Ireland aim to end a run of seven straight defeats against France to launch their first Six Nations campaign under Declan Kidney in style in Dublin.


The Irish won only two matches in 2008, leading to a fourth-place finish and the exit of ex-coach Eddie O'Sullivan.


Fly-half Paddy Wallace moves to inside centre as Ireland chase their first Six Nations win over France since 2003.


For France, Sebastien Tillous-Borde and Lionel Beuaxis form a half-back pairing at Test level for the first time.


Kidney, who led Munster to two Heineken Cup triumphs, took over as Ireland coach following O'Sullivan's exit last March.


O'Sullivan resigned after the disappointing finish to last year's Six Nations, their worst return since the competition was expanded to include Italy in 2000.


Kidney did not take charge until after the summer tour, which saw Ireland produce promising displays against Australia and New Zealand, and in November he saw his side beat Canada and Argentina but lose 22-3 to the All Blacks.


Former Ireland captain Keith Wood believes Ireland's Six Nations title ambitions hinge on Saturday's opening match.


"It's all about momentum and we have the hardest game first, against France," he said. "If we lose it we have no momentum. If we win it then we're in a very good place.


"Ireland have had a boost in confidence over the last couple of months because the provinces have started doing well.


"I had no expectations for Ireland up until three weeks ago, but they do have a chance. They have a settled look about them."


One of Kidney's targets will be to reverse a worrying spell against the world's leading nations.


Following a 51-24 win over Italy in March 2007, they have played 15 Tests against countries ranked in the world's top 10 and won only four.


Kidney has sprung something of a surprise by naming Wallace as skipper Brian O'Driscoll's partner at centre and the success of that combination could prove crucial to Irish hopes at Croke Park.


O'Driscoll, who has led Ireland a record 51 times since 2002, was retained as captain by Kidney at the start of the year despite many expecting Paul O'Connell to take over.


Rob Kearney played on the wing for the autumn Tests but moves to full-back against the French, while Stephen Ferris will be eager to impress as he makes his Six Nations debut at blind-side flanker.


Jamie Heaslip retains his position at number eight despite pressure from the fit-again Denis Leamy.


Ireland have lost their last five encounters against France, and they last tasted victory in a 15-12 win at Lansdowne Road in 2003.


Since then, they have lost three times in Paris and twice in Dublin, the most recent defeat being a 26-21 reverse at the Stade de France last year.


France were third in the 2008 Six Nations but coach Marc Lievremont says he is happy to be fielding a full-strength team for the first time in his tenure.


Although Tillous-Borde and Beuaxis form a new Test partnership, they were part of the side which won the Under-21 World Cup in 2006.


Florian Fritz comes in at centre and Clement Poitrenaud has been recalled at full-back.


Maxime Medard displaces Cedric Heymans on the wing and Imanol Harinordoquy comes in for Louis Picamoles at number eight.


Coach Lievremont has urged his players to liberate themselves and fulfil their potential.


"Our ambition is to play our own game and win. I told the players to free themselves and show their potential."


The French coach said that after a year in charge he was approaching the first game of the championship "with more demands, more expectations and more hopes".


"More conviction too that this squad is strong, consistent, able to play good rugby and to beat anybody," Lievremont added.



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Scotland v Wales (Sun)



Scotland have a good record against Wales at Murrayfield


Wales begin their Six Nations defence in Scotland, having won only once on their last five trips to Murrayfield.


Inside centre Gavin Henson pulled out with a calf injury, so Tom Shanklin starts in midfield with Jamie Roberts. Scrum-half Mike Phillips is recalled.


Scotland are missing influential duo Euan Murray and Nathan Hines.


Chris Paterson, Scotland's all-time record points scorer, is dropped to the bench, while prop Geoff Cross makes his debut in place of Murray.


With Hines absent, flanker Jason White switches to the second row for just the fifth time in 70 international appearances.


And head coach Frank Hadden has opted against including a specialist lock on the bench, with number eight Simon Taylor providing the only cover if White or Jim Hamilton need to be replaced.


Paterson, who kicked all of Scotland's points in the 21-9 win over Wales in 2007 and in last year's 30-15 defeat in Cardiff, has only recently recovered from a rib injury and his place at full-back goes to Hugo Southwell, while fly-half Phil Godman will take over goal-kicking duties.


With Nikki Walker unavailable through injury, Simon Webster has been preferred to in-form Glasgow winger Thom Evans, with the Edinburgh man getting the nod due to his experience.


Ally Hogg and John Barclay team up with Taylor in the back row, while Gloucester flanker Alasdair Strokosch is a surprise omission from the match-day squad.


Henson and Phillips last played for Wales on the day the team completed the 2008 Grand Slam, having missed the tour of South Africa and the November internationals series through injuries.


Now they are part of a talented group of backs with IRB player of the year Shane Williams on one wing and 20-year-old Leigh Halfpenny given his Six Nations debut on the other.


The visiting pack is unchanged from the eight that beat Australia in November, with Matt Rees and Ian Gough keeping their spots, while Ryan Jones continues as captain and blind-side.


Scrum-half Dwayne Peel is on the bench after being left out of coach Warren Gatland's original 28-man squad for the tournament, Gareth Cooper's knee injury handing Peel a return to Test duty.


Gatland has urged his players to embrace the favourites' tag, rather than view it as a suffocating burden.


And Williams knows Wales must handle such expectation in the right fashion.


"A lot of emphasis has been put on us from outside about being favourites and so on," said the star winger.


"We know we have got to approach this tournament the same as we approach every Six Nations, and that's being full of confidence and fully prepared.


"We've trained really well. We are there or thereabouts in terms of our preparation for the first game.


"But Murrayfield is a tough place to play and we know it is a very good Scotland side. We will need to be on top of our game.


"We are a confident side. There is a confidence in our ability as a team and as individuals, but I don't think we've got a label of arrogance in the squad.


"You've got to have confidence. You can't go into these games thinking you want to do well, you've got to go in with a positive mindset, which is a little bit different from being arrogant."


Having won just one match in each of the last two Six Nations, Hadden is under pressure to deliver a good campaign.


"We prepare to win every match and, after each game, you evaluate your position," he said.


"The competition is so tight this year that losing the first game may not be insurmountable. The important thing is to get ourselves in the mix for the last Saturday of the championship."



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I'm looking forward to the game vs Ireland this afternoon ^^ It will be tough, Ireland has a strong pack and they are very meticulous...

I can't wait to see how the Tillous-Borde/Beauxis combo will work....! Tillous-Borde (TB) is remplacing Jean-Baptiste Elissalde (my favorite player^^) cause he's injured...but TB is pretty good and associated with Beauxis who is more experimented will be interesting...! And Parra is remplacent for TB...This one is a young crazy dog (that's even his nickname XD) and I would like to see him play too!

Glad to see Poitrenaud back! I miss him last season (he was severely injured) and I'm glad to see him back on the field! I thinl he will be eager to show off his game!

Medard and Malzieu are two young players but they a good vision of the game and very quick...Glad to see them on the field!

As for the pack, Lièvremont has made a good choice, it will be a 'equilibrated' pack with strong endurant players...(Chabal is selectionned, I guess we'll see some impressive tackle by Caveman XD)


Anyway, it will be an interesting match., tough but the winner will be the one with the stronger 'mental'..Lièvremont has mix up young players with experimented ones for a year now and they are starting to have 'reflex' together...Hope it will work this afternoon!

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  • 2 weeks later...



I can't believe that no one here is watching the tournament....OO


ok, so:



Great match!! We lose but it was a wild game, lots of action, trys on both sides, suspens...A game like I love them! A little deception from my team which loose because of its indiscipline...>.> (we're french, we can't help it but...damned it! Get a grip on yourselves boys!!)



This week we were astonishly 'wise' and disciplined...maybe a little too much...No rush, no real great 'attack phase' (at least Fufu scored but man, it was close to a fault...>.> and the Evans pair did 'shake the coconut palm' a little! XD..Anyway, a little dull but we save the honour...!



Good match. Wales confirm they are the best right now...Next week we're gonna get slaughtered...v.v

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