England the chief threat to France’s title defence

But don’t expect another grand slam, says former England scrum-half

FOR RUGBY fans February means one thing, and that’s the mouth-watering prospect of another RBS 6 Nations Championship. It’s shaping up to be a two-horse race, but don’t expect to see yet another grand slam.

England go into this year’s competition as favourites, a status I don’t think is fair or does them any favours. I think expectations are too high on the back of glimpses in the summer and autumn, and it’s a bit harsh to be expecting them to win the tournament. We haven’t won it since 2003 and suddenly everyone thinks we’re going to win. It’s far too much.

The Rugby Football Union have set England boss Martin Johnson a target of finishing in the top two – that’s meaningless; you set out to win it anyway.

Let’s see what happens but the most important thing is they show they’re improving and will be able to perform well at the World Cup.

England have got a really tough start against Wales who are very strong in the back-line, with the likes of James Hook and Mike Phillips – great players. There’s a lot of firepower there but they have injuries in the front row and probably don’t have the pack to fear.

Scotland are looking a lot better; they have really improved under Andy Robinson. They are still very one-dimensional and don’t look like scoring many tries. Yes, they are extremely well drilled in their set piece, but they don’t have that cutting edge. I think it’ll take time but they’re definitely a team to watch.

If France turn up, there is no reason why they can’t repeat last year’s RBS 6 Nations success. They are an extremely dangerous team when vaguely in form, with incredibly talented individuals. They are certainly a team to fear but don’t seem to travel well, which makes their trip to Twickenham crucial.

Ireland won the grand slam just two years ago but still lack consistency to compete all the time. They are very good at home but didn’t do so well in the autumn. They have lots of seasoned players but often seem to be trying to find their feet, and rely heavily on captain Brian O’Driscoll playing well.

It looks like another wooden spoon for Italy. They are getting better and I’m a big fan of their coach, Nick Mallett, but they are still developing and at the moment are still just not good enough.

In the end I think it will be between France and England, and if pushed I’d plump for Les Bleus just shading it on points difference.

Kyran Bracken was speaking in association with GamePlan Solutions – Managing high profile and popular sport stars – Speakers, Leaders, Motivators, Ambassadors – www.gameplansolutions.co.uk

THROUGHOUT the championship City A.M. will feature incisive analysis from some of the biggest names in international rugby, in association with RBS RugbyForce.

RBS RugbyForce is a nationwide community volunteer programme which helps local rugby clubs to improve their facilities. It is an opportunity for clubs to gather members, supporters, friends and family for a weekend of fun-filled DIY. Registered clubs are provided with on-line guidance and tools to help them co-ordinate a community-wide effort to give the club a makeover in advance of the season ahead.

Former Wales international and RBS RugbyForce supporter Ieuan Evans said: “This is a fantastic programme. It’s just what rugby clubs all over the nation need. By working with the communities and giving them the support and guidance to improve the facilities, RBS RugbyForce acts as a catalyst to help clubs help themselves. I’ve visited several RugbyForce events and they’re always inspiring and good fun too.”

RBS RugbyForce Weekend happens throughout Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales on June 11 & 12 2011. To be eligible for the enhanced support package, clubs should submit 500 words or less on why their club is deserving of the reward. For more info or to register your club, visit www.rbs.co.uk/rugbyforce