French pride will be very much at stake at the Stade de France. Finishing last in the 2013 Six Nations hurt them badly – so badly that any attempt to tag them as ‘Wooden Spoonists’ is shouted down by French players keen to make a minor semantic distinction – and losing every game on the summer tour of New Zealand didn’t help morale, either.
What better way to start the tournament, then, than with a game against the oldest of French enemies, England. That, if nothing else, should provide some inspiration. Personnel wise, the French did not change much during the autumn, but the style of play was much improved and the very un-French step of playing the same players in the same position for more than one game at a time seemed to do wonders for their cohesion!
The French will also be improved by the loss of Thierry Dusautoir, their captain, whose leadership will be missed (although Pascal Pape is not a bad alternative) but whose play really dropped off last year. And if they finally summon up the courage to play both Wesley Fofana and Gael Fickou in the center, they could surprise everyone in this tournament.
England’s problem is twofold. They don’t know their best combination of players and they don’t know their best style of play. They have just missed out on Grand Slams in each of the last two seasons but the way that they froze in Cardiff in last season’s decider showed that this is a side going backwards, not forwards, and nothing in the games last autumn changes that.
For these reasons, back a narrow home win in your sports betting picks. The best odds are only 1.66 with Betfair, but Bet365 will give you a generous 2.5 on that win being between 1-12 points. If you are playing the points margin, though, you should bear in mind that this is a game being played outdoors on the first evening of February on a ground with no undersoil heating. If the temperature drops significantly during the game you might want to narrow the margin you are betting on, because the error count will start to rise and there will be fewer scoring plays.