Six Nations Live kicks off in super style

Saturday: Six Nations Live; (ITV, 1.30pm & 4.15pm)
Presenter Mark PugatchPresenter Mark Pugatch
Presenter Mark Pugatch

Another milestone in the sporting calendar gets under way, and hopefully the 2021 event will run more smoothly than last year’s Covid-affected calendar – 2020 being the first time multiple Six Nations matches had been postponed since 2001.

The new season’s championship begins at Stadio Olimpico in Rome, where hosts Italy welcome neighbours France (kick-off 2.15pm). The visitors will have a point to prove after missing out on last season’s title so narrowly to England, the tournament being ultimately settled on points difference. Meanwhile the Azzurri desperately need to state their case after having lost 27 consecutive matches in the Guinness Six Nations – their last victory coming when they won away to Scotland in 2015.

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Toulouse scrum-half Antoine Dupont will be one to watch during this match, the 24-year-old having been named the Player of the Championship last year – the first time a member of Les Bleus has earned the honour.

Next up, there’s coverage as England and Scotland contest the Calcutta Cup at Twickenham. England will be hoping for an easier victory than their tense encounter last time around, when a 13-6 scoreline belied the closeness of the two teams. Scotland were still leading 3-0 with 10 minutes left on the clock, until Ellis Genge scored a try which spurred the home side on to a sudden win – earning them the title in the process.

“Maybe we haven’t played as well as we could have – and we want to play better,” England boss Eddie Jones said on the Rugby Union Weekly podcast in the run-up to this opener. “Our goal in the Six Nations is to play better rugby. It doesn’t matter how many times you kick the ball, it’s the quality of rugby you play.”

Simplistic aphorisms aside, Jones will be pitting his side against a Scottish team hungry for a win. The last time the Thistles won in London was in 1983, although an incredible 38-38 draw in 2019 will certainly be in both sides’ minds as they work on their strategies, whetting Scotland’s appetite no doubt.

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In an attempt to boost his attacking options, Jones has brought in Bristol scrum-half Harry Randall and Wasps centre Paolo Odogwu into his 28-man squad, Randall in particular being something of an unknown quantity.

Both Randall and Odogwu are only 23, signalling an intention from Jones to bring young blood into his squad – a particularly important step with the World Cup in France just two years away. What happens on the Twickenham pitch today will go along way towards shaping the England head coach’s future plans.

Tomorrow, Wales v Ireland completes the opening round, with coverage from Principality Stadium showing on BBC1.

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