Gloucester and France defence coach Dave Ellis offers his views on the current week, including the Club's visit to Quins and France's opening Six Nations encounter against Scotland.
Ellis has a column in the weekly newspaper Rugby Times. This article as well as loads of other rugby news from around the game will be in this week's Rugby Times.
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Dave Ellis - Week of the start of the Six Nations
The RBS Six Nations is almost upon us and it will be one of the most competitive tournaments in years, with both Ireland and Wales providing a realistic challenge to France and England.
It's also a critical part of the domestic season with so many players away on international duty, but the recent England selections might just work in Gloucester's favour.
I have mixed emotions on Andy Robinson's team. I'm personally disappointed for Andy Gomarsall and Henry Paul, but equally delighted for Andy Hazell and James Forrester.
It's a tough call on Andy Gomarsall, one minute, first choice scrum half and the next minute third choice. The same applies to Henry Paul who in my opinion has been treated poorly by the England coaching team.
Henry performed superbly against Canada and South Africa, was taken off after only 26 minutes against Australia and now finds himself in the international wilderness behind the new midfield combination Jamie Noon and Mathew Tait, and Bath's Ollie Barkley who is preferred on the bench.
Putting my Gloucester hat on for a minute, I know the coaching staff at Kingsholm are delighted to have two influential performers in Gomarsall and Paul in our colours. Both players will have something to prove to Robinson and Gloucester's push for third spot in the Premiership can only benefit from this.
The selection of Noon and Tait in the centre positions is a bold decision by Robinson, both are good players who are currently in excellent form, but neither have experience at this level. It will be interesting to see how they perform, and I am sure the Welsh duo of Gavin Henson and Tom Shanklin will be targeting the new England midfield has a potential weakness.
This week has been the start of a very demanding schedule for me personally, after Sunday's analysis session at Kingsholm in the morning, I flew to Paris at lunchtime to meet Bernard Laporte, Jo Maso and the French management. We had a four-hour meeting before welcoming the players at around 5.00pm.
On Monday I ran a squad session, before working with individual players developing defence techniques. Fred Michalak is a player who is an extraordinary talented creative player, but is also an exceptional defender. At only 78kg, he destroys the theory that you have to be big to be effective in defence and has developed an exceptional technique to counter his lack of bulk.
During Monday's session the formidable Sale back row forward Sebastien Chabal came on to the ball two passes out from a ruck, he'd run from deep and was at full speed when he was intercepted by Michalak and unceremoniously dumped to the floor. He is pound for pound one of the finest defenders in international rugby and a pleasure to work with.
I arrived back at Birmingham Airport on Tuesday evening and travelled back to my flat in Gloucester to prepare for training with Gloucester on the Wednesday. One to one defensive work is as equally rewarding as team sessions and I've spent a fair amount of time working with Jon Goodridge and our quartet of wingers.
The aim is to attempt to replicate match day situations, putting players under extreme pressure - whether fielding the high ball, turning and collecting low kicks or working as a defensive trio. It is an area that we have improved enormously over the season and we were almost faultless against Worcester at the weekend.
My air miles rewards are further increased as I jet back to meet up with the French squad on Wednesday evening to prepare for the opener against Scotland in Paris.
Speaking to the local media this week, Richard Hibbard expressed his excitement ahead of the West Country derby and that there is an extra spring in the step of the Cherry and Whites ahead of the tough challenge.
With such a short turnaround between the two games, and Gloucester looking to reintegrate several players into the line-up after the Autumn international series, Tom Savage told GRTV that the Cherry and Whites will keep changes to a minimum for the European Rugby Challenge Cup game in Zebre on Saturday.
Gloucester travel to Italy this weekend to take on Zebre in Round Four of the European Rugby Challenge Cup. The Cherry and Whites defeated the Italian side 35-10 last Sunday, but Director of Rugby David Humphreys is looking for an improved performance in the return fixture.
Skipper Billy Twelvetrees, speaking to GRTV after the 35-10 over Zebre, was happy with the bonus point win over the Italian side but admitted Gloucester will need to tighten up for the return fixture in Parma.
Gloucester Rugby welcome Sione Kalamafoni, Greig Laidlaw and Tom Palmer back to the starting line up and feature David Halaifonua in a matchday squad for the first time, as they resume Aviva Premiership action against Bath Rugby at Kingsholm on Saturday (kick off 5:30pm).