Similar to last year, the Guinness Six Nations has crept up on me.
The big difference this year is that full crowds are back, at least in the home nations venues. Will that make a difference, especially for Scotland. Last year they missed the home crowds at Murrayfield and lost to Wales and Ireland, but took advantage away from home winning in Paris and London for the first time this Millennium. This means that Scotland have won their last four away games in the Six Nations, with only Dublin being left to conquer. They have not won in the new Lansdowne Road, though they did win in the last game at Croke Park in 2010.
I think this will be the closest Six nations since its advent in 2000. Five of the six teams will think that they will have a chance to win it. Italy are the only ones, who will not feature in the mix up. They will be hoping for a first Six Nations win since they defeated Scotland at Murrayfield in 2015 to avoid the wooden spoon. Since then, the trajectory of both teams have been in polar opposite directions, with Scotland now with a realistic chance of a top two finish. However, that will be the game that Italy will be gunning for in round 4 as they host them in the Stadio Olimpico.
I think that there will not be a Grand Slam this year, possibly a Triple Crown, but not a Grand Slam. For the teams aiming for World Cup glory in France in 2023, and I refer to France and England, this may be a bit of a phoney war, with their coaches blooding new players in preparation for their RWC bid. For the others they will all fancy their chances of a championship win. Ireland as ever will be confident with three home games, while Wales, despite rumblings of discontent from supporters due to their perceived lack of success of their regions, will always be involved at the sharp end of the tournament. Last year, I expected them to finish 5th and they won the whole thing, only just missing out on a Grand Slam in injury time of their final game.
How do I see this finishing? I am going from win-losses rather than points as I feel that try bonus point (TBP) system is not a fair reflection. This is a global dislike of the method used. I prefer the TBP system where you got a point for 4+ tries, if you score 3 more than the opposition, so the opposition can prevent you getting a TBP by scoring tries, but I digress.
England and France will be at the top of the Six Nations winning 4 matches each, with their defeats coming against France and Scotland respectively. Scotland will win 3 against Italy, France and a first victory at the revamp Aviva Stadium as they wrap up their campaign on 19th March. Wales and Ireland will both beat Italy and their other victory for Wales being against Scotland in Cardiff and for Ireland, against Wales in Dublin on the opening weekend.
Unfortunately, Italy will win the Wooden Spoon again.
For the first weekend.
I am going for
Ireland to beat Wales by 10.
England to beat Scotland by 5.
France to beat Italy by 19.
And as normal, I will probably be completely wrong with Scotland winning the Wooden Spoon and Ireland winning the Grand Slam.