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Tom Johnson: French pose major threat to English hopes

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: January 30, 2013

Chris Robshaw will again captain England in their RBS 6 Nations opening match against Scotland on Saturday picture: David Davies/PA

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Here we are on the eve of another Six Nations and once again it's so hard to call one way or the other – so I'm not going to.

What I will say is that I'm gutted to not be involved with England following my injury, but don't expect to see my face in the crowd.

I must admit I probably won't be going along to watch any of the England games in the flesh. My brother invited me along to the France game, but I had to decline.

I'll watch it on the TV, sure, but I'm one of those players who is just not a good spectator.

The pundits are all having their say before it kicks off, and the general feeling seems to be that England and France are the teams to beat.

Because we had such a momentous win against New Zealand at the end of the autumn series people are looking to England and everyone's talking about that, but you can't write off the French.

I do think England will go well, but what the French did in the autumn was very impressive you have to say.

It's certainly a good thing that we're playing Les Bleus at Twickenham, which is going to be a momentous game, as it might just swing the balance.

In the meantime, one thing England currently have to cope with is a few injuries in the run-up to the opening game against Scotland on Saturday.

With Alex Corbisiero and Manu Tuilagi being out it does mean we have some pretty big boots to fill.

It just goes to show you just can't look too far beyond your next game in international rugby, certainly not when it's against Scotland.

They are a dogged, determined side and if you take your eye off them for a moment they will punish you for that.

Everyone raises their game when they play England, not just in the northern hemisphere but around the world, but the Calcutta Cup is something special. Both sides always really give it their all in pursuit of that cup and of all the games we've played against them over the years, the majority have been very tight.

As for the other home nations, as far as Ireland are concerned, they will take some stopping when England travel to Dublin. And with Leinster and Ulster not having got through to the Heineken Cup quarter-finals, they will be disappointed with how they have gone provincially. The upshot is that you can pretty much guarantee a bit of a backlash from their players.

Wales had a disappointing time in the Heineken Cup as well, with none of their regional sides getting out of the groups. One of the major issues they are facing at the moment is their players leaving the regions to play in France. It's hardly a new phenomenon, but it seems to be affecting them a bit right now.

The knock-on effect can be that you just don't get the key partnerships of players playing together at their club sides.

It is worth considering the positive influence playing in Europe can have before the Six Nations gets under way.

With the French sides having done so well in the Heineken Cup a lot of their key players will be coming into this Six Nations firing on all cylinders. And the same could be said of the English teams in Europe – it just helps to breed confidence among your players.

Playing in those big European games is really the next best thing to a test match. Certainly it's as close as you'll get as a club player.

And going from playing Heineken Cup to internationals is not such a step up as going straight from the Premiership.

Even so, the various squads will have spent the past week and a half getting to know each other again, which is a really key element in the preparation for a tournament such as the Six Nations.

It's really hard to go from playing with your club hat on to putting on your England one. You have to switch off before you switch on, in a way.

We all play slightly differently at our clubs, with our own calls and ways of doing things. So getting that right and gelling quickly is what they will have been busy doing since last week. I just hope it pays off for England on Saturday.

As for me, the rehab starts now.

I've had my first appointment with our club physio Jamie this week. I've done all the recovery in terms of icing the knee, so now's it's a question of starting the physical work.

I'll still be using my ice machine for the next couple of weeks, though, because the knee will probably swell up a bit as I start to exercise it.

We'll be starting off by trying to move the knee a little bit and rubbing the ligaments to try to stir them up so they mend better and mesh quicker.

Then I'll be with the conditioners, Coxy and Twiggsy, when we'll try to set some goals as to what we want to achieve over the coming weeks.

It's going to be a bit like pre-season for me for a while.

At least I know I can go hard at it, beast myself all week and then have the weekend off, which will be a little odd, but nice. It'll certainly make a change to be able to put my feet up on a Saturday.

And at least I know there will be something good on the telly.

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