Six Nations Preview
Conor Horgan gives the low-down on this year’s opening weekend in the Six Nations. How patriotic are you feeling?
Huzzah! After a month of snow and ice causing repeated fixture cancellations, we can finally turn our energy to something – The Six Nations.
It’s that time of the year when the English get pompous and on their high horse about their inevitable Grand Slam they are due; where girls you didn’t know were even Welsh start becoming more patriotic than Brits in the Blitz; where all the Scottish people’s accents become stronger and their anti-English resentment reaches all time highs as if Sean Lamont was William Wallace’s second coming; and the Irish expect an inevitable disappointment akin to most people’s sexual performance after Loveshack Wednesdays.
Why do we care so much about the Six Nations? Well it gives us a sense of pride in our nationality that is usually limited to the spontaneous newsflashes such as when Prince Harry is pictured naked in a hotel room on a mad one, or when Barack Obama visits his eighth cousin in Monegal, Ireland, for a pint of Guinness. For us in Durham, the stakes are often high for first and second years as many future livers-out choose the Six Nations to decide the room allocations for next year’s house. Who will get the dreaded Italy or Scotland pick?
This weekend’s preview
Wales are the reigning Grand Slam champions. They enter this year’s competition nursing a similarly horrific injury list to last year, when not many people gave them a chance of finishing above Scotland, never mind end up beating every team. However, they are missing a commanding fly-half after Stephen Jones’ retirement and Rhys Priestland’s injury. I am completely unconvinced by Dan Biggar and how long can they hope that James Hook ‘comes good’ after already amassing 67 international caps? Many of their players are playing in losing teams at the moment, but they do carry huge threat on their wings.
Ireland are similar to the French in that they are entirely unpredictable. Based on their club form and their individual ability, they should win championships as regularly as Wales. However, for some reason, some days they just don’t turn up. Some days they can’t string three passes together without someone dropping it or conceding a penalty. They have immense talent coming through in the form of Peter O’Mahony, Simon Zebo. Craig Gilroy and David Kilcoyne, in addition to the stellar names such as the returning Brian O’Driscoll, Rob Kearney, Jonny Sexton, Sean O’Brien and Cian Healy. Welsh teams have become bogey sides for the Irish in recent years, but if they concede fewer penalties than Wales then I believe they should win.
Prediction – Wales 18-24 Ireland
England vs. Scotland
After an emphatic win against New Zealand that followed strong losing performances in the Autumn Internationals, England are considered favourites for the title this year. Harlequins and Saracens are riding high in the Heineken Cup and you get the feeling that the squad is more united that it has ever been. Manu Tualigi’s injury is a big concern, but the Brad Barritt and the back three are in superb form. The scrum is as strong as always and Dylan Hartley’s arrow throwing has been Phil Taylor-esque of late. Indiscipline at the breakdown is often how teams lose to Scotland. In addition, Ben Youngs, Courtney Lawes, Chris Ashton and Dylan Hartley have a history of seeing the red-mist and costing their teams games, such as in England’s loss to Ireland in 2009. Expect England to score tries and win comfortably if they restrict Scotland to 3/4 kick-able penalties.
Shorn of the iconic fans favourite and recently retired, Alan Jacobsen, the Scottish fans are looking to other players such as the reinstated number eight, Jonny Beattie, to inspire them in this championship. Scotland deserved far more than what they got in last year’s Six Nations but have an inability to close games out. Do not be surprised if Scotland score more tries this year than previous years – their back three are of international class and will punish loose kicking. However, their scrum looks weaker than previous years and after recent results, they are a squad bereft of confidence. I think it will all go down to the Italy game once again for them…
Prediciton: England 28-12 Scotland
Italy vs. France
Italy came very close to beating England if it were not for a fortuitous charge down by Charlie Hodgson and they gained a deserved win against Scotland. Benetton Treviso have performed admirably in this year’s Heineken Cup, beating the Ospreys and running Leicester very close on both occasions. As always, they will arrive to the Six Nations with an unparalleled pride in their jersey, led by one of the most iconic players in world rugby, Sergio Parisse. Can they win two games in this year’s championship? If Wales lose to Ireland and France, I would back them to beat the Welsh in the third round of the championship after seeing Samoa defeat Wales in the Autumn, but the Wooden Spoon is probably more likely for Italy. A win against the French is possible, but no-one with a sane mind would predict it.
Not only do France have the best squad in the championship, but Toulon, Montpellier and Clermont Auvergne are the hottest property in the Heineken Cup at the moment. Why should we question their chances? Well they have a history of slipping up and believing in their own hype. This is why a shock loss to Italy is definitely not out of the equation. If they play to their potential, they will win the Grand Slam. However, they rarely do. Their national team are crying out for a decent, sane coach. Coaches from yesteryear to now have this knack of making the most bizarre team selections such as playing Traille at 15, dropping Harinordoquy, constantly changing Parra and Yachvilli at scrum half or even choosing someone completely left-field even though they are recognised as the two best scrum halves in European rugby. Look out for Wesley Fofana to rack up the tries in this year’s competition – the form centre in European rugby. All the other teams need France to have an off day to beat them. Will they beat Italy? Probably. If they do, I predict it to be by a large margin.
Prediction: Italy 6-29 France
So, what are your thoughts? Do you agree or disagree with me? Am I too critical of some teams? Who do you think will win this weekend?
For those who are signed up to the ESPN Six Nations Fantasy League, follow ’15 Shades of Gray’: http://espnscrum.fantasyleague.com/Team.aspx?p=169186
Finally, for those who fancy a tipple this weekend…