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Six Nations team guide

A snapshot of the countries involved in the premier rugby tournament.

FRANCE

Last year: Grand slam

Key man: Morgan Parra

The graceful scrum-half will breath a little easier in the knowledge the injured Courtney Lawes, who once dislocated his shoulder with a ferocious tackle, will not be around.

Notable absentee: Mathieu Bastareaud

To add to his list of woes, the centre has been exiled from national team duty until he loses a few kilos. "We could regret it, given his enormous potential," said coach Marc Lievremont.

Quote: "We have lost ground since the end of the Six Nations, that makes it eight months we have lost ground." Lievremont, who said he wants to be judged on the World Cup, fears his plans are unravelling.

 

IRELAND

Last year: Second

Key man: Jonathan Sexton

Still not guaranteed his starting place in front of Ronan O'Gara, but Sexton's influence is growing at stand-off for Ireland and is one of the reason's for Leinster's success in Europe.

Notable absentee: Tommy Bowe

Ireland have a sizeable injury list, and the players missing are all important ones. Bowe, the winger, is definitely out of the opener against Italy, and could miss out against France, too.

Quote: "If the tries come grand, but it doesn't really bother me which person in green scores." Ireland's captain, Brian O'Driscoll, needs two tries to equal the championship record of 24.

 

ENGLAND

Last year: Third

Key man: Ben Youngs

Labelled "the best scrum-half in the world" on present form, by his former Leicester and England colleague Ben Kay. A big shout maybe, but he certainly thrills at No 9 for England.

Notable absentee: Delon Armitage

With Lewis Moody, Courtney Lawes and Tom Croft all missing through injury, England could have done with Armitage not shoving a doping official and getting an eight-week ban. Quote: "[England v Wales] defines England's entire season and could define what happens at the World Cup." Lawrence Dallaglio, the former captain, says England need to start building momentum in Cardiff.

 

WALES

Last year: Fourth

Key man: James Hook

Recently announced he will depart the Land of his Fathers next season to start a three-year deal in France. The most eye-catching player in a Welsh backline full of stars.

Notable absentee: Gareth Delve

Delve is fit and eyeing a World Cup berth - yet is preparing for the Super 15 with the new franchise, Melbourne Rebels, rather than lining up with Wales at the Millennium Stadium.

Quote: "I think that a bit of sledging is good for banter on the field, keeps you interested." Jonathan Davies, the former Wales No 10, encourages his compatriots to test England hooker Dylan Hartley's short-fuse.

 

SCOTLAND

Last year: Fifth

Key man: Richie Gray

Gray's mum must have been putting something extra in his porridge. Aged just 21, he is 6ft 10ins, 19st, and blessed with mobility, too, making him a fine second-row prospect.

Notable absentee: Thom Evans

Scottish rugby may be on the up, but a big black cloud will linger for some time yet because of the injury-enforced retirement of their star-in-the-making winger, Thom Evans. Quote: "They have a doggedness about them, and have made themselves a difficult team to beat. On form, they are the team on the up." Brian O'Driscoll, Ireland's captain, on the resurgent Scots.

 

ITALY

Last year: Wooden spoon

Key man: Sergio Parisse

The No 8 always has to shoulder a hefty burden for the Six Nations strugglers. This time he has to contend with a dislocated finger as well, but should be fit for the opening round.

Notable absentee: Mauro Bergamasco

A shoulder injury will keep the flanker, who is one of Italy's few pedigree players, out for the whole of the tournament. The Canada-born Robert Barbieri has big boots to fill.

Quote: "Fortunately the dislocation didn't cause any nerve damage and we're confident he will play against Ireland." You tend to think Italy would pitch Parisse into battle with two broken legs, such is his influence.

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