So the 6 Nations starts this weekend. The first round will be instrumental in the way that the tournament will evolve. There are three fascinating ties. First up is in Paris, and as usual what French team will turn up. With new coach, Guy Noves, there may be a new edge to the team, hoping to make amendments for the drubbing they got from New Zealand in the RWC QF. Italy are still trying to develop, and with rumours abound about who the next coach will be, I feel that they will finish bottom with no wins. The French performance will dictate whether they are going to be challengers or also rans.
The other two matches between the home nations are intriguing! I think both of them are two close to call, and the victors may well go on to challenge for the top spot. In Dublin, Wales will be wanting to build on the success of the RWC, where they performed very well considering that they were missing many of their key players. Now that many have returned, it will be interesting how they get on. I have also felt that Warren Gatland had a basic game plan, which he always follows. If he continues to do this I feel Ireland will win as the new coaches on the block are working him out. Also with the bizarre statement that his front row selection was based on the referee, it shows that he is running scared, and is getting his excuses in early. Ireland, on the other hand may be more effected by injuries and retirements, but they now have a knack of fronting up and getting the job done.
As for the Calcutta Cup! Scotland, who were the last Northern Hemisphere team to exit the RWC, will be looking to build on a solid base, with Vern Cotter instilling a stronger mentality in the team. This combined with the success that the Pro-Teams are having, along with the number of players that are playing outside of Scotland, I think that Scotland are finally progressing in the right direction. England however are at the start of a new dawn. After the debacle of becoming the first host nation to exit the World Cup at the group stage, they have enlisted Eddie Jones to lead them through to Japan in 2019.
Looking at the selection of the teams, I can’t see any big differences between them. Where it may be won and lost is in the pack, where Scotland arguably have the edge in the front row, and the back row. It is then what Scotland can do with the ball in the three-quarters which will decide the game. If they can get front foot ball, Scotland have a chance, but if not, England have the wherewithal in the back line to punish Scotland. This is the Achilles heel of Scotland! If Scotland can break the advantage line more often than opposition, they will win more games than they will lose in this year’s 6 Nations. But that is a big ask. Wins for Ireland, Scotland and France.
So my prediction for the championship. Italy for the wooden spoon, and Craig Joubert to find a way to stop Scotland (or help Ireland), when he is touchjudge on the last weekend in Dublin.
Seriously though, Ireland or France to win, Scotland to win at least two matches, and Dylan Hartley not to get a yellow card.