Six Nations 2018
- February 1st, 2018
- Charlie Bull
The Championship Trophy, Grand Slam, Triple Crown, Calcutta Cup, Millennium Trophy, Centenary Quaich and Giuseppe Garibaldi Trophy are all on offer over the next six weeks of action. Who are you backing?
The English have roared the past two years and they are sure to be gunning for the hat-trick. England are the bookmakers' favourites this time around, helped by their 100% record in the Autumn Internationals which included a 30-6 victory over Australia. However, amid many injury problems for England, many see this tournament as wide open. Head Coach Eddie Jones even described his team as having "no hope" and "might as well not turn up", albeit jokingly of course - as 18 players are out of short or long term action. Eight uncapped players have made the squad, headed by 20 year-old Zach Mercer. Billy Vunipola's absence from the tournament paves the way for the young Bath number eight. If England can find their form, they should come out on top.
Ireland are considered to be second-favourite, having also won each of their three games back in November - overcoming South Africa, Fiji and Argentina. They kick off their Six Nations away in Paris. The Irish are a well-drilled outfit; they work hard for each other, for the team gain. You don't really see any stars in the starting fifteen that dazzle you with skills. Granted, Jonny Sexton is outstanding in his role; but he's a grafter, he puts in an incredible shift and sets the tempo with effort levels rather than flair. If the Greens can put in consistent performances, they will be right up there.
Scotland could be the big story at this year's tournament. Their epic 44-38 win against Samoa drew attention, which they then followed up with a valiant effort against the All Blacks. A loss nonetheless but a sterling performance against the world's best. Scotland then went on to smash past Australia in their final test of the autumn. All heads turned. The Scots have given us a teaser, but can they live up to the hype in a tournament? Talisman Stuart Hogg is fit again and raring to go, claiming the team "can do some damage". We'll see!
Wales, like the other five nations have injury issues. Dan Biggar with a shoulder injury is ruled out of the first three rounds at least, and Liam Williams has joined him on the sideline for the Scotland opener. Welsh club side Scarlets have been playing some great rugby of late, making it to the European Champions Cup quarter-final. Logically then, you would think Gatland should pick Scarlets players, but that means a change of setup and game plan. Although it is looking likely that Welsh-based players will get the nod at fly-half over creative spark Owen Williams (Gloucester). It's been 5 years since their last Six Nations crown, and that gap looks set to increase for the time being.
France are in quite a poor vein of form. They had a relatively successful 2017 Six Nations, finishing third but since then it has been a downward spiral - no wins in seven matches. Even the one draw in those games was 23-23 against minnows Japan, when Japan were one kick from taking the victory at the end. Things aren't helped, Les Bleus are without Mathieu Bastareud (suspension) and Morgan Parra (injury) for the first game versus Ireland. It would be some upset for new Head Coach Jacques Brunel to lead the team to their first title since 2010.
Last, but by no means least - Italy. It's fair to say the Italians had a disappointing tournament last time out, and the Autumn Internationals weren't the best, which included two heavy defeats to Argentina and South Africa. However, captain Sergio Parisse is expecting them to "surprise a few people" in 2018. Parisse has also spoken about the heightened levels of physicality in the side, that has been implemented by club sides Zebre and Benetton. If Italy are to do well at the Six Nations, you feel that they need to have three home matches rather than two; which unfortunately is not the case this time around. There's no point ruling The Azzurri out of an underdog win or two - history is there to be made.