This year’s 6 Nations has been highly anticipated, not only by your avid rugby fan but by the whole sporting community. As 6 of world rugby’s most prominent nations prepare to do battle, we look at who has the potential to take home a Grand Slam and who may be in the precarious position of claiming the dreaded wooden spoon!
The champions of last year’s tournament; and deservedly so, even if they didn’t meet the magic heights of their more recent Summer and Autumn test performances. Eddie Jones’ introduction has shored up the house, and more, and this England side looked imperious come the end of 2016.
However, they enter this tournament somewhat injury stricken and their squad selection and management could play a key role in who takes the 6 Nations crown this year. The English have (arguably) the most talented squad in the tournament on paper, however pressure will be on the likes of young Nathan Hughes to deliver in Billy Vunipola’s Absence. They should emerge victorious…
E4R Prediction: Winners (Grand Slam)
One to Watch: Maro Itoje – This young buck has all the makings of a future England and Lions captain. He is devastating in both the 2nd and back row!
A dismal 6 Nations campaign last year saw the French hit rock-bottom (only Italy propped them up in the table), yet as everyone should be well aware, the French possess the ability to bounce back; they are rugby’s cats with at least nine lives.
Yet, all was not lost and come the Autumn tests they put in brave performances against both New Zealand and Australia. As ever, it’s a lottery on whether they can produce great rugby. Their first fixture against England, at Twickenham, is a biggy…
E4R Prediction: 4th
One to Watch: TBC
The Irish are many peoples’ favourites to go and steal the title off an in-form but injury troubled, England side. They produced the performance of the Autumn test series when they beat the Allblacks, and ran them very close in the second test – all extremely positive signs for Joe Schmidt and co.
The amazing form of their provincial sides, notably Munster and Leinster, will only boost their confidence more and no one will look forward to playing them. Their squad has a wonderful balance of experience and (fearless) youth but it will face a stern first test as they head to BT Murrayfield…another potential tournament defining fixture!
E4R Prediction: 2nd
One to Watch: CJ Stander – He’s been in quite phenomenal form for Munster this season and will be one of the first names on Schmidt’s team sheet.
What a moment for the Azzuri during the Autumn tests; victory over the Saffas must be up there with their greatest ever victories. They’ll be led quite contrastingly by 6 Nations novice (but rugby genius) Connor O’Shea, as well as by the tournaments very own gladiator, and veteran Sergio Parisse.
Many will predict P.5 L.5 for the Italians, however after beating the French last year, who knows what can happen – especially now, with the inclusion of bonus points! O’Shea has already identified fitness as their biggest weakness, and it is so often the case that they’ll be firmly in a match until the final 20, before everything begins to unravel. Could surprise and cause an upset.
E4R Prediction: 6th Wooden Spoon
One to Watch: Sergio Parisse – Who else!
The pre-tournament dark horses; do Scotland finally have that quality platform on which they can successfully launch a realistic title attack? Well, it’s been said a number of times in recent years, however Vern Cotter has got the Boys in Blue playing great attacking rugby and he’ll want to go out on a high before Gregor Townsend takes over.
In Stuart Hogg and Jonny Gray, they have potential starting Lions, whilst captain Greig Laidlaw provides an assured captain to steer the Scottish ship. Their first match against Ireland will give everyone a clear indication of whether they’re up for the challenge or not but we’d say don’t write them off!
E4R Prediction: 3rd
One to Watch: Huw Jones – Hogg is seen by many as a World Class talent but watch out for Huw Jones who really burst onto the scene during the Autumn tests.
A team who, when approaching the previous Lions tour four years ago, had a number of guaranteed starters; no one more assured than then Lions captain Sam Warburton. Now, he is facing a battle to start for his national side, and has seen his captains’ status relinquished, at the hands of Alun Wyn Jones (first name on the Welsh team sheet).
Although unconvincing in their Autumn Tests, they still got over the line 3 out of 4 times (won three fixtures) and so won’t be too disheartened. Yet, with many teams entering this tournament in good form, they may struggle to assert themselves this year! Dan Biggar will need to expand his game and look to once again be the creative spark that made him shine at the World Cup!
E4R Prediction: 5th
One to Watch: Rhys Webb – a fantastic, zippy, scrum half who has forced his way back into the Welsh starting XV. His delivery to Biggar will be crucial!