The UK readies itself for Six Nation kick off!

As the UK prepares to celebrate the Six Nations commencing tonight we look at this years competition.

Every year battle lines are drawn around the UK along the lines of national borders.  In a hark back to the early days when war raged around the Borders as everyone fought each other, the recommencement of the Six Nations means that once again its Nation Vs Nation, although this time it isn’t for land, it’s for bragging rights for the following  12 months!

Who will walk away with the trophy this year?

This Friday evening many in England and Wales will be watching the age old rivalry spark the Six Nations 2011 into life in the Dragon’s Cauldron that’s known as the Millennium Stadium. Well known by Rugby fans around the world, it is fast establishing a reputation similar to that of Twickenham as a stadium where Rugby is not taken lightly! This is then followed by Italy Vs Ireland and France Vs Scotland on the Saturday.

The Six Nations has a bigger television drawing then even the Rugby World cup, with many supporters not regular rugby fans, but happy to watch and support their National team to the point of religious fervour between the 4th February and the 19th March, often in Pubs offering the matches, like the Stags Head, where huge crowds can often accumulate to enjoy the occasion and get drunk together!

In the run up to this huge national sporting event here are the Teams involved and their Chances in the competition!


Could 2011 see this man raising the Trophy high again?

With a manager as renowned and successful as Martin Johnson (unfortunately so far only as a player) England can never be written off, especially after a series of Autumn Internationals that showed some encouraging shoots of recovery, with a crushing victory against Australia and the best display against the All Blacks in recent years.

As such it isn’t surprising that several pundits have England as favourites. However many an England fan knows that this means nothing in international sport, if the talent doesn’t function as they should then it is likely that they will be returning to Twickenham at the end of the Tournament with their tails between their legs once again.

An opening match against Wales will set the tone of the Tournament. A good win followed by 3 matches at Twickenham could allow England fans to celebrate for the first time since Johnson himself lifted the Trophy in 2003.


O'Driscoll will once agin hope to be a star player in the Six Nations Tournament

With some hugely talented players like Brian O’Driscoll, Ronan O’Gara and Paul O’Connell Ireland always look like a team to back in the Six Nations.

After an Autumn Internationals series filled with mixed results, it is once again time for the Irish to prove they have the form to win the Six Nations back from the French and give themselves a huge boost in this a World Cup year.

Ireland opens up this campaign in Italy and need a good display to give themselves confidence and momentum, all important in this competition. Games against France and England at home must be approached in the right attitude and they could be in with a chance. History could even repeat itself with England and Ireland playing for the championship at Aviva Stadium as in 2003!


Can Paterson still use his boot to keep Scotland in the hunt?

Although packed with renowned players such as Max Evans, Scotland have recently struggled to score tries in International matches having only managed 7 in the last 13 games, relying on the boot of players like Dan Parks to get them into the position of winning matches.

However, a very successful Autumn International period where they beat South Africa and Samoa means they cannot be taken lightly, with a little of the underdog about themselves they are definitely ones to watch!

Their campaign opens against France away before returning to Murryfield for games against Ireland, Wales and Italy, with a quick visit to Twickenham in-between. Although unlikely to challenge for honours they could well surprise some teams and finish high in the table.


Can Gatland steer Wales to another Championship victory?

Wales are a conundrum. Filled with players like Hook, Davies and Rees are well known through their performances in the domestic leagues. However they are currently in a horrendous run of form having failed to win a game since they beat Italy in last year’s Six Nations with stats of 6 losses and 1 draw in their last 7, which wouldn’t fill the welsh with a lot of confidence, especially missing several key stars due to injury.

However a game against the main enemy, at home, to open this year’s tournament means that nothing can be said to be unachievable. The 16th man principle definitely applies in Six Nations rugby and Friday night will be no exception.

The management of Warren Gatland has yielded the Welsh a Grand Slam (2008) since he took over and a win against the English could spur them on towards a possible win again, although it does require several wins away from home to achieve!


The French are trying to retain the Trophy

It seems sometimes that watching France in international rugby is dependent on the flip of a coin as to which team come out and play, sometimes brilliant, sometimes atrocious. The French team are currently in all sorts of disarray after a horrendous second half against Australia where they went from 13-13 to 16-59.

The squad resembles that which won the Grand Slam in 2010 with around ¾ of the same players, but the mood inside the squad seems much more sombre then in previous years.

With difficult trips to Twickenham and Aviva Stadium in their path, it will be interesting to see how they play. Shake off the autumn hangover and play like they can and the championship is theirs, if not they could possibly contest the lower positions with Scotland and Italy.


Can Italy shock anyone in this years tournament?

In this campaign as in many in the past ten years Italy are probably going to be contesting for the Wooden Spoon. However a recent upsurge in playing ability means that they may now give more of a fight to the other five nations and potentially even win a couple of games this tournament which would be welcomed by many a fan in the interest of an exciting tournament.

There is also the potential explosion of Edouardo Gori, a 20 year old scrum half, onto the international scene and his national coach Nick Mallet believes ‘he has the ability to be comparable to anyone in Europe’.

With visits from Ireland, Wales and France to contend with and trips to Twickenham and Murryfield it will be a great chance for the Italian team to remind everyone why they are in the Tournament.

I believe that this year’s tournament will be very close and doubt the ability of any one team to achieve a Grand Slam this year; especially with all teams wanting to maintain a strong vein of form and performance in some of their last international matches prior to the World Cup. However I reckon that the displays shown in autumn give England a great chance, but Ireland and even France are also in the mix.

I would predict that (bearing in mind I am an Englishman…):

England: 1st

Ireland: 2nd

France: 3rd

Wales: 4th

Italy: 5th

Scotland: 6th

But whatever happens I am looking forward to watching it unfold and of two months of fantastic international rugby.