SWALLOW DIVE IS ALLOWED

Stuart Lancaster has told England’s wing sensation Chris Ashton that his ‘swallow dive’ celebration will not be banned. He told the winger that he can continue to use his trademark dive so long as it is not used to wind up England’s opponents.

Lancaster has given his team a stern talking to as to how he expects them to behave in the fall out from their embarrassing World Cup campaign.

Lancaster is said to have had a one on one meeting with Ashton ahead of the Six Nations, instructing him to respect opponents and to go about the game in the right way, whilst still permitting him the enjoyment of his swallow diving.

During the World Cup Martin Johnson forbade Ashton from doing his trademark celebration for fear of injury, but Lancaster clearly feels the risk is minimal enough to permit Ashton this particular bit of fun.

Lancaster’s decision to speak to his team about their on-field attitude comes in light of former England boss, now Scotland head coach, Andy Robinson’s comments regarding English “arrogance”. Robinson’s comments will add fuel to the fire of what is no doubt setting up to be a ferocious encounter between the two arch rivals.

Robinson commented that England had disrespected not only Scotland in the recent World Cup, but also many of their other opponents throughout the tournament. Ashton’s swallow dive could be seen as a boast or a sign of not taking the opposition seriously, but he will no doubt continue to use it as and when he wants.

Lancaster appears to be aiming for a respectful England side, but no doubt a successful one. He will love the thought of seeing Ashton crossing to score with a swallow dive several times in next week’s encounter and he will love the chance to get back at Robinson with a dominant, yet respectful victory. The latest 6 Nations betting online odds show that England are favourites.

It seems England are heading back to the mantra of Rugby being a sport played in the right way, respectful but full blooded.

A YEAR AGO TODAY…

One year ago France were on the wrong end of the biggest upset in Six Nations history. In last year’s trip to Italy, the French were roundly humiliated as Italy outplayed them across the park to come out 22-21 winners in a highly entertaining game.

Many put the result down to French arrogance and them underestimating the Italians, and this was probably the case. It is unlikely that they will underestimate them again this year when the teams meet in Paris on Saturday.

Both sides now have new coaches, with Italy now being led by Frenchman, Jaques Brunel, and France now being coached by one of the world’s best in Philippe Saint-Andre. After the French sides humbling at the hands of Italy, then coach Lievremont declared many of the team would never wear the blue shirt again and those who are left still feel the pain of that day, according to Saint Andre.

The result was typical of Lievremont’s tenure as French boss. A side that so nearly went out of the World Cup at the pool stage that then went on to reach the final and lose by just two points. A side who would lose to Italy but go to Dublin and win as well as giving heavy defeats to Scotland and Wales.

The inconsistency marred Lievremont’s time as French boss and he will never be remembered as a great French coach despite leading them, somehow, to a World Cup Final, a Grand Slam and number two in the World Rankings. Saint Andre will though be hoping for more than that. He will target consistency and will no doubt favour a more conventional approach to Lievremont.

On the Italian side the story is completely different. With Nick Mallet being replaced after the World Cup by Brunel the new Italian coach has a tough act to follow. Mallet is arguably the best coach Italy has ever had, taking them to new levels in the Six Nations and victories over Scotland, Wales and France including winning two of their matches in the 2007 Six Nations, securing a fourth place finish in the Championship. If Brunel is to have even half the successes that Mallet had with the Italian side he will be considered a success by all accounts.

Saturday’s clash will no doubt be a chance to see where both teams are and how much the new coaches have achieved. The result should be a foregone conclusion, but the improvement shown by the Italians in recent years means that nothing should be taken for granted in this year’s championship.