The International influx could actually work in favour of France
FRANCE have a serious chance in this Six Nations.
They could just as easily have a nightmare as go and win the whole competition.
But I just have a feeling that this could be their time.
Times were when the French would win all their home games but then almost accept away fixtures being a lottery.
I honestly think a combination of the Heineken Cup and the big money on offer at the top French clubs has changed all this.
Top clubs can make the Heineken Cup quarter-finals by winning all their home games and feeding off scraps away.
But in order to win the top European club competition any team must pull off at least one massive result away from home.
The influx of big-name and big-occasion stars from around the world into the French Top 14 will no doubt have helped changed that classic Gallic mindset.
Clermont are a great example of this: they are in fantastic form and are just as hard to break down away as they are at home.
Look at Toulon – Frederic Michalak, Jonny Wilkinson or Matt Giteau to choose from at fly-half. Crazy – but I also think it’s beneficial in the long-run for French rugby.
There is a strong argument that a saturation of foreign players into France will ruin the national side’s future.
I would propose quite the opposite in fact.
Players steeped in winning mentality and first-class skills pass on their vast knowledge, overall mindsets and approaches change at clubs – and that can creep up to the national team.
When England won the World Cup in 2003 at the time I would not have suggested for one minute that the strength of the Premiership played any part.
But in hindsight I think it may have done.
Clearly at the moment the French clubs have the most money to spend on players’ salaries, and ultimately money talks.
In the earlier times of professionalism English clubs were competitive, before the French eclipsed their spending.
So a host of top stars came across to the Premiership, and maybe that had greater effect than has been credited.
Either way, the French have an opportunity – but how many times has that been said over the years?
Billy can bring the best out of Burns in England arena
NO MATTER what happens in the Six Nations hopefully Freddie Burns and Billy Twelvetrees can flourish together in the long-term with England.
The midfield pair work well and link together well, and hopefully that will put them in a good situation moving forward.
Stuart Lancaster obviously likes Billy's style – that was obvious from when he coached both of us in the Saxons.
That's sometimes half the battle, and I hope Billy can make a big impression with England right now – and Freddie moving forward too once he's over his injury. It is great working with a playmaker like Billy as an inside centre.
In the back-three you crave players in the midfield who can create space for you: you want ball in space and you want room to run.
Crash-ball runners can create space well obviously, and the best way to capitalise on that is to run short lines on shoulders to exploit offloads – Chris Ashton does that to great effect.
Personally around powerful runners I will go infield and look to create, like a playmaker, because that's what works for me.
So it's great to have someone like Billy in our side, who can take pressure off Freddie with extra options, has a great boot on him, is very creative but can also cut good lines too. I think he's such an important player for us at Gloucester because increasingly he will be able to get the best out of the pace in our back-three – and he's also a very strong defender.
England start off against Scotland at Twickenham on Saturday – and I think that could be a very tough game.
I would expect it to be close for the most part, but England to edge away.
That said, if things don't go according to plan then England could find themselves in trouble.
Lancaster's men will be desperate to build on that impressive win over New Zealand that closed their autumn run: they can do it, but it will not be easy.
Whisper it quietly but Worcester on agenda
THE home straight is in sight with my injury recovery.
I was told to expect to be ready for the middle of March but I might be able to be back inside a month now – and that’s definitely ahead of schedule.
I’m very pleased with where I’m at now, and I’ve just got to iron out a couple of things.
If I can just get rid of this last bit of niggling pain I can get involved with conditioning games, then I’ll get back involved with the backline – and hopefully before you know it you’re targeting a specific match.
If things go very well I might just be ready for Worcester in late February or Bath at the start of March – but recovery dates are never an exact science.
The great news is things have moved from having no real idea to at least looking at a potential window of matches.
So it’s good news, but I’ve got to make sure I don’t get my hopes up too much too soon because there’s still a lot of hard work ahead.
Intensity of rivalry can never be dimmed
BATH are never taken lightly, whatever the competition, venue or scenario.
We absolutely do not want to lose to Bath any time, especially at home.
And I think it’s a good time to host them at Kingsholm, ahead of our return to the Premiership a week later at Northampton.
Nothing focuses the mind or the motivation like our local derby, and I know the boys cannot wait.