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Saturday, 5 February, 2000, 11:09 GMT
Italy set for Six Nations baptism

Italian job: Thousands of Scottish fans are in Rome

Rugby union's European showpiece is underway - with a new look for a new century.

Six Nations Championship
The Five Nations became the Six Nations after the newest members of the sport's big league, Italy, kicked off against Scotland in Rome.

Elsewhere World Cup finalists France travel to Wales, while one of the competition favourites England host Ireland at Twickenham.

The Italians have been invited to join rugby's elite as the game looks to expand beyond its traditional powerbase of France, the UK and Ireland.

John Leslie captains Scotland for the first time
Little is expected of Italy in their first European campaign - and it is thought last year's champions Scotland will be too strong for Alessandro Troncon's team.

But home advantage and a desire to tread on some illustrious toes could inspire the new-boys to a surprise win.

Some 8,000 Scots are reported to have made the first ever Championship journey to Rome and new skipper John Leslie is hoping to send them hope with smiles on their faces.

"It is a great boost for the team and it will be fantastic to hear them enjoying themselves," he said.

"We want to give the Scottish supporters something to cheer about and make sure they have a good weekend."

Millennium match-up

Scotland may be title-holders, but France are the form team in Europe following their stunning victory over New Zealand in the recent World Cup semi-final - rated by many experts as the greatest rugby match of all time.

Bernard Laporte: Another Championship newcomer
In the pick of Saturday's three games, the French visit Cardiff for a mouth-watering clash with Wales.

The Welsh recorded a shock win in Paris last year and France, under new coach Bernard Laporte, will be eager to exact revenge in the Millennium Stadium.

Laporte, for one, knows that reputation counts for nothing in Cardiff and is looking forward to a close contest.

"Welsh rugby has reached a higher level in the last two years, and I think that this will be a 50-50 match," he said.

Turmoil at Twickenham

The Twickenham showpiece brings together two teams desperate to erase memories of their World Cup campaigns.

Debutants: Mike Tindall and Ben Cohen
Ireland were turfed out of the tournament by underdogs Argentina - and England, who were highly fancied to win the cup, slumped to demoralising defeats by New Zealand and South Africa.

England go into the game as hot favourites - but the Irish, renowned as a team who can cause upsets on big occasions, will take great heart from the fact that Clive Woodward's team are suffering a crisis of confidence.

Deprived of key players, including injured captain Martin Johnson and retired centre Jeremy Guscott, coach Woodward has had to patch up his team - giving new caps to young backs Mike Tindall and ben Cohen.

"I am delighted with the number of players and new faces coming through," Woodward said.

"The new talent is very exciting, and it's great to have such a good pool of back-up players."

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Beattie: All change

Butler: Wales lack gas

Inverdale: Ours to win

Anderson: A Munster tale

Rugby goes for a Rome

See also:
04 Feb 00 |  Six Nations
England have point to prove
04 Feb 00 |  Six Nations
France out for Welsh revenge
04 Feb 00 |  Six Nations
Scots to give Italy no respite
02 Feb 00 |  Rugby Union
Castaignede back for France
01 Feb 00 |  Six Nations
England name two new caps
01 Feb 00 |  Six Nations
Ireland resist wholesale changes
31 Jan 00 |  Rugby Union
Jones-Hughes lands Wales spot
03 Feb 00 |  Six Nations
Scots go for Kiwi flavour

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