6 Nations Preview – Build-up to the Biggest Rugby Event of the Year

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6 Nations Preview – Build-up to the Biggest Rugby Event of the Year

February marks the arrival of one of the most anticipated sporting events of the year – the Rugby Union 6 Nations. To celebrate the occasion, Impactsport got in touch with our resident Bath ‘Pundits’ to hear their thoughts and predictions for the upcoming tournament.

Country: England

Pundit: Nicholas Scott

England come into this tournament as hot favourites after a disastrous world cup on home soil in 2015 the setup was overhauled and head coach Eddie Jones led England to their first grand slam victory since the world cup winning side of 2003. This isn’t the only stat in their favour as they enter the tournament equalling the same unbeaten run that Clive Woodward’s side set over a decade ago. With the wind in their sails England have a lot to live up to but certainly have the squad to pull it off.

Elliot Daly has been forging a name for himself recently and has deserved his call up to the starting lineup despite a mistake that earns him a red card against Argentina. His versatility allows him to play anywhere in the backs and his enormous left boot means that if the opposition concede a penalty in their own half England have a good chance of taking three points.

Arguably the strongest squad in the tournament, their strength in depth has been one of their greatest assets with substitutions bringing a change in pace and tactic rather than playing second fiddle to their starting counterparts. This however, does not mean England will simply walk to 6 Nations victory and they only just overcame a French side who frustrated and led them for large parts of the game and if they want to win the tournament they will have to put in a far better performance against Wales.

Despite a poor performance at Twickenham last weekend England displayed a grit and determination that saw them come out as winners after 80 minutes – a true mark of champions. Ireland may not have been at their best and Scotland certainly showed that they are here to play but this tournament should still be decided in Dublin on the final weekend if both England and Ireland perform up to their potential.

this tournament should still be decided in Dublin on the final weekend if both England and Ireland perform up to their potential.

Pundit’s Prediction

  1. England
  2. Ireland
  3. France
  4. Wales
  5. Scotland
  6. Italy

 

Country: France

Pundit: Simon Carmichael

What can we expect to see this year? The flair and champagne rugby of old or the lacklustre and retreating performances that we have grown accustomed to throughout the last few seasons. In spite of their positive performance against the All Blacks in the autumn, the team is expected to have a series of resounding defeats this spring. The Stade de France which used to be a fortress for them renowned for the resounding chorus of “Allez les Bleus”, has recently turned into a ground that is known to “boo” its own side during any prolonged occupation of their own 22m.

Throughout the last few years, the French rugby side has become predictably unpredictable. This can be down to the bizarre selection policy of French coaches involving endlessly rotating the squad. The policy has been likened to an advert for a second-hand french rifle. The rifle has never been used but dropped once whereas the players are used once and dropped once.

This season the side is missing a match winner in the shape of Wesley Fofana as well as their human battering-ram Mathieu Bastareaud. This will require their main attacking weapons of Picamoles, Vakatawa and Guirado to lead their side through the battles that will ensue. Selection at number 10 has long been a headache often attributed to the wealth of foreign players in the Top 14. This was apparent when, in 2013, we witnessed a remarkable period of only 1 out of 14 teams having a Frenchman at outside half.

Let us not hope for a surrender of form but rather an ambush of quality that has the potential to break up the “Big 2” of Scotland and Ireland are likely to run riot over the other nations of a lower rugby pedigree.

Pundit’s Prediction

  1. Scotland
  2. Ireland
  3. England
  4. Wales
  5. Italy
  6. France

 

Country: Ireland

Pundit: Henry Wilkinson

Ireland will go into this year’s two horse race with confidence on the back of an outstanding win over World Number 1 opposition, New Zealand, in Chicago. Opening the tournament with a game against a wooden spoon chasing Scottish side that annually looks to make up the numbers clearly provided a surprisingly tough test for the Irish. The Scots will talk of this victory for the many decades until their next win in the tournament or until they get over their World Cup heartbreak.

The Irish however will follow this shock defeat to 6 nations minnows Scotland, with a game against similar opposition – the Italians, with Irishman Conor O’Shea at the helm. His revitalized Italian side is sure to give Scotland a free lesson, yet is unlikely to waver the Irish defences.

England will be favourites alongside the Irish and start the competition with an incredible 100% success rate under the Sir Alex Ferguson leadership provided by Eddie Jones. The March clash in Dublin is sure to be the tournament decider.

The French side will be sore from a sustained period of disappointing results in the competition. With this fixture being played at home, Ireland will hopefully have the firepower to force the French into surrender.

Wales will fight the French for the third spot, despite serious weaknesses in their front 5, back 3, half backs, and the rest of the back line.

If Irish powerhouses, O’Brien and Heaslip, can continue to dominate contact situations, they will provide clean ball to be shipped out to the likes of Zebo, who is known to be able to finish in a room full of nuns.

Under the leadership of Rory “Simply The” Best, the Irish team will surely bounce back from the opening day defeat and regain the title they last held in 2015.

Pundit’s Prediction

  1. England
  2. Ireland
  3. Wales
  4. France
  5. Italy
  6. Scotland

 

Country: Italy

Pundit: Roisin Haigh

Italy head into this year’s tournament carrying the heavy burden of last year’s wooden spoon. To rub salt in the wound they are further weighed down by their record of finishing last 11 times out of their 17 years in the competition since their entry in the year 2000. With much discussion around the prospect of the introduction of promotion and relegation in the 6 nations, and rising rugby nations such as Georgia and Romania chomping at the bit for the opportunity to prove themselves, it is more crucial than ever before that Italy prove themselves to be a top-tier team.

However, the team entering the competition this year is not the same as previous. New coach Conor O’Shea hopes to make his mark following an impressive record with Harlequins. With an incredible victory over South Africa during the Autumn Internationals, we are hopeful this marks the start of a side that will evolve and improve over the coming years.

Ever present Sergio Parisse will no doubt be key to any Italian success. However, at the age of 33 and retirement creeping ever closer, focus will be on upcoming players such as Edoardo Padovani and Giulio Bisegni to incite and rejuvenate this tired Italian side.

With Scotland having cemented themselves as title-contenders, removing themselves from the wooden spoon competition, we can expect the Italy vs France game for the Giuseppe Garibaldi Trophy to be the Italian focus. On the 11th of March we hope to see the full effect of O’Shea’s coaching as the Italians dominate the Stadio Olympico.

The introduction of bonus points will add an element of unpredictability that this Italy side will hopefully be able to capitalise on as sides are more likely to risk 3-point penalties for a coveted try. With the competition more open than any previous, this could finally be the year we see some of that Italian flare we all know is in there somewhere.

Pundit’s Prediction

  1. England
  2. Scotland
  3. Ireland
  4. Wales
  5. Italy
  6. France

 

Country: Scotland

Pundit: James Spalding

Scotland are long time powerhouses in European rugby. With a history of performing well at the highest level it’s easy to understand why they are the most exciting developing team in the competition. Reigning 5 Nations champions they offer thrilling attacking play intertwined with rock solid defensive performances. The greats of old such as Allan Jacobson have now stepped aside to let young talent thrive -such as Glasgow’s Zander Fagerson- in the melting pot of international rugby. Undoubtedly his barnstorming runs will unlock defences, subsequently allowing the mercurial genius of Finn Russell to steer the Scottish ship to resounding triumphs.

There can be no doubt that this Scotland side is on the up, and stats that were previously thought unbeatable (Chris Patterson’s record 36 consecutive goal kicks in the 07-08 season) are now up in the air. Looking forward to the few months ahead, it is certainly the most open 6 Nations tournament to date. With England on a lucky run under new head coach Eddie Jones and Celtic cousins Ireland fresh from beating the Kiwis in Chicago,

their respective fans certainly back them as favourites. However with a more rational viewpoint it’s hard to look past the world class Scotland back three and not see Scotland as title contenders.

In addition to Grand Slam prospects, this is a British and Irish Lions year. Scotland players will have to show Warren Gatland that they can play in a repetitive one-dimensional manner to face any hope of Lions selection. Luckily the Gray brothers in the engine room tend to dominate all opposition, putting Vern Cotter’s side on the front foot from the get go. There is no doubt that this is going to be a fascinating competition, and with the new bonus point system Scotland are finally going to be rewarded for their try scoring brand of rugby. Let’s just hope that Craig Joubert isn’t the ref.

Pundit’s Prediction

  1. Scotland
  2. France
  3. Ireland
  4. Wales
  5. England
  6. Italy

 

Country: Wales

Pundit: Daniel Roberts

At this point in the year a certain excitement starts to build around Wales as the six nations approaches and this year is no exception. There’s a belief every year that we can achieve the Grand Slam, however expectations this year are lower than usual. With the quality of the other teams in the tournament and Wales’ performances in the autumn, it will be a tough ask for our boys in red to come away with silverware.

Of course, there is added spice this time around, with it of course being a Lions year, which means players are under pressure to impress Warren Gatland. Since Gatland’s appointment Howley has taken the reigns and the team have continued to lack the flair we have come to know.

It is not only Howley that needs to step up, but the players too – none more so than Sam Warburton, who recently relinquished the captaincy to Alun-Wyn Jones. Without the shackles of the captaincy we may see him raise his game to new heights – an exciting prospect for the fans. Also, young fly-half Sam Davies, possibly unknown to those outside of Wales, will hopefully get the chance to showcase the talent that earned him the World Rugby Young Player of the Year award in 2013. The team selection has been consistent in recent years but a hot topic has been who to play at fullback; Liam Williams or Leigh Halfpenny? Halfpenny has been given the nod first up against Italy, but many think that Williams poses more attacking threat. We will be eager to have Taulupe Faletau back for the mouth-watering clash in Cardiff on the 11th of February against England, which is definitely the most anticipated match for any Welsh rugby fan.

Pundit’s Prediction

  1. England
  2. Ireland
  3. Wales
  4. Scotland
  5. France
  6. Italy

 

 

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