It’s almost upon us once more, the Six Nations Championship, just 26 days to go until the competition kicks off. It feels as if the following statement is said every year: “this could be the closest championship yet”, and this year has been no different.
I’m not so sure however, I think there’s a clear split in the championship this year. England by far are the favourites to win, having won 24 of their last 25 games since their disastrous Rugby World Cup campaign in 2015. Ireland, like England, claimed a clean sweep during the autumn internationals and have some very exciting youngsters bubbling up through the ranks. Scotland, who for so long were barely above Italy as the whipping boys of the championship, has steadily evolved into a team packed with pace, power and talent. It is these three teams that I believe will be in with a real chance of claiming the title this year.
Wales, France and Italy, however… well that’s a different story entirely. Wales’ new system, although refreshing, is something that the above have implemented for over two years. There’s plenty of talent amongst the Welsh ranks, but there’s also a host of injuries, and there seems to be a lack of belief amongst the troops of late. France seemed to have regressed a little, and their refusal to select the in-form players, especially in the backs, hinders their hunt for the title. Italy’s domestic sides, Benetton Rugby and Zebre Rugby, have made some real bounding leaps in the Guinness PRO14, especially the former who ran both Toulon and PRO14 champions Scarlets close in the Champions Cup. However, their reliance on their own man mountain, Sergio Parisse, has been too heavy and the number eight was found guilty of taking on far too much in the Azzurri jersey. There still may be an upset on the cards with the likes of Canna, Esposito and McKinley providing some much-needed X-factor.
So, my early prediction for the 2018 Six Nations Championship, having not seen all six squads is:
England will take a historic third title. Although they face a potentially tricky trip to Murrayfield and an unpredictable challenge at Stade de France… Ireland and Wales must travel to Twickenham and I fancy England to defend their HQ against both teams. Ireland, although will be up for a fight and a half on St. Patrick’s day against England, haven’t been quite the dominating presence as they were when they last won the Championship. They have the ability… and it could come down to that final encounter at Twickenham to decide the winners!
Scotland could’ve, and arguably should’ve, defeated the All Blacks last year and then gave Australia a rare thrashing in front of an Edinburgh crowd that bayed for blood. There are passion and self-confidence in the Scottish ranks that can’t be trained into players, and it is those attributes that’ll make the Scots such a danger this year. However, there’s a banana skin right at the start of their campaign against Wales, which has already announced a sold out Principality Stadium and there’s a real daunting trip over to Dublin to face Ireland. I believe Scotland’s fate in this Championship lies in their opening encounter with Wales; if they can silence the Welsh cauldron and come away with a win, Townsend’s men will fear no fixture in the rest of the competition!
Wales’ success or failure will rely on the success of their 10 / 12 pairing. With combination galore available to Gatland, the selection could be the ignition the Welsh backline needs. Biggar, Priestland, Williams, Patchell, Davies, Anscombe are all putting their hand up for selection at the outside half position, with the majority also able to play at inside centre. But will Gatland sacrifice one of his strike runners for an additional playmaker? If he wants his side to be competetive at the next Rugby World Cup, he will have to… and likely at the expense of being a contender at this year’s championship.
France, as we all know, have the ability to beat any team in the world on their day… th problem is it seems as if their day was a long time ago and not much has changed since. Ever since their thrashing at the hands of the All Blacks at the 2015 Rugby World Cup in Cardiff, Les Bleus haven’t looked like their former selves. Whether it’s the coaching team or the on field team, France doesn’t invoke the same fear in opposition as they once did. With plenty of speedster available to them, and a potential enormous pack to dominate… I may find myself eating my words by the end of the tournament! However, I can only see them competing with Wales to avoid 5th place.
Italy, perhaps slightly shown up by Georgia’s defiant display against Wales over the autumn period, will have a point to prove. Unfortunately for them, they lack the strength in depth still to put forward a convincing challenge. I don’t see a winnable game for the Italians and the case for introducing the Lelos into the Six Nations will only grow by the end of the championship.
As we get nearer to the Six Nations, and as the squads and teams are announced, come back for more predictions and my personal team-by-team dissection! Thanks for reading!