So, let’s talk Teams and predictions:
England are probably the favourites at the moment, based on recent results in the Autumn Internationals, the depth of the potential squad and the quality of players available for selection. During the Autumn Internationals, England beat France 22-19 in the finals. On the way to the finals, they also beat Italy, Wales and Ireland. The only side they didn’t play was Scotland, but other results would suggest they would have beaten them too.
Since the inception of the Six Nations, England has won the most tournaments and won the most matches (69). However, Wales have won the most Grand Slams winning four. Italy has the worst record, only winning 12 of their 100 matches in the competition.
Players to watch out for are fairly obvious such as; Maro Itoje ( Lock) at the forefront and being touted as the Lions Captain, Jamie George (Hooker) and Luke Cowan-Dickie (Hooker) in the pack, back row such as Tom Curry and Sam Underhill, and pace out wide in Johnny May (Wing), Eliot Daley (Full Back/Wing) etc.
I was surprised not to see Sam Simmonds (No 8) & his brother Joe (Fly Half) also, Marcus Smith (Fly Half) in the shadow squad, however, Harry Randall (Scrum Half) has been selected and will be exciting to watch. It’s a shame Joe Launchbury (Lock) is out injured as he was playing some of his best Rugby – One to watch definitely is Paolo Odogwu ( Wing) – he’s a very special player.
The enigma that is France, one-minute pure genius, the next they just don’t show up. Without a doubt France has the players to beat any team on their day and when they play …. Ooh, la la – Allez Les Bleus…..
France have won the Grand Slam nine times and the overall championship 17 times so never underestimate them and recent results at the Autumn Internationals indicate that they have the capability to win the tournament if not the Grand Slam, England beware.
Players to watch out for, in particular, are Antoine Dupont, he is world-class and possibly the best scrum-half in the world at the moment and he can turn a game in a blink of the eye.
France also has some seriously good players such as Captain Charles Ollivon (Back Row) and Gregory Alldritt (No 8/ Back Row) and Camille Chat (Hooker). However, Romain Ntamack (Fly Half) and Demba Bamba (Prop), are out injured. Racing 92 winger Taofifenua has been rewarded for his eight tries in 11 matches this season and could be a handful. For me Dupont at Scrum Half will be the key for them and whether they can be the France that everyone fears for each game.
Ireland certainly has the capability to put together a decent run of games and once they get a head of steam, they can be almost unplayable. They lost to England and France in the Autumn Internationals but beat Wales, Scotland and Italy. None should pose a threat to them in the Six Nations. They play France at home in the competition which should be an advantage, but face England in the last round – also at home, in what could potentially be a Grand Slam decider for either team.
With Paul O’Connell (POC) coming into the coaching set up, one thing for sure is that Ireland won’t be taking a backward step, POC was a world class player who had a fantastic ability to read and influence the game. He will make them an even tougher team to beat with a real steel edge.
Conor Murray (Scrum Half) and Johnny Sexton (Fly Half) are still probably the two most influential players for Ireland, but they have new blood barking at their heels, whilst players like Cian Healy (Prop), Tadgh Furlong (Prop), Peter O’Mahony (Back Row) & CJ Stander (No. 8), bring the physical edge needed, newer players like Caelan Doris (No.8/Back Row) could also shine. Watch out for Billy Burns (Fly Half), whose game seems to improve every time and James Lowe who is a powerhouse of a winger.
Wales seem to be in a bit of a lull at the moment they don’t seem to have moved forward with their game and seem very reliant on certain players being fit and playing well. They were beaten by France, Scotland, Ireland and England in the Autumn Internationals and weren’t convincing against Georgia and Italy. Wayne Pivac, their head coach needs to find something to bring them back to the glory days and quickly.
They have two of the stronger sides to face at home in the Six Nations in Ireland and England and travel away (assuming travel bans are lifted) to all others. So, this is not going to be an easy competition for them at all.
With players like George North (Wing), Leigh Halfpenny (Full Back) and Liam Williams (Wing) you wonder why they don’t get better results but perhaps they lack the firepower up front and certainly if Alun Wyn-Jones (Lock) isn’t fit they seem to lack a physical edge. Justin Tipuric, Josh Navidi (both Back Row) and Taulupe Faletau (No. 8) are more than capable but have been regularly sidelined with injuries.
They really need a general amongst them to step up – maybe Dan Biggar or Callum Sheedy (both Fly Halves) will do this. For me, the player to watch if given space to move could be Louis Rees-Zammit (Wing) and if fit, Rhys Webb at Scrum Half could be a big influence.
A bit like Wales, Scotland just can’t seem to find a consistent winning formula, although they beat Wales for the first time in 18 years during the final round of the 2020 competition but weren’t convincing against Italy and were beaten by France and Ireland in the Autumn Internationals.
They didn’t play England but results elsewhere would suggest they wouldn’t have beaten them.
They have some great players, not least in the likes of Stuart Hogg who can be world-class and is their current Captain, they also have some wonderful emerging talent in players like Adam Hastings (Fly Half) and Cameron Redpath (Centre) – perhaps they will make the difference.
Jonny Gray (Lock), Blair Cowan & Jamie Ritchie (both Back Row) all are high-class players, but I feel that they also lack enough firepower upfront with perhaps Zander Fagerson (Prop) being the only standout name in their front row, however, the Newcastle Falcons back-rower, Gary Graham could be what they need.
Duhan van der Merwe (Wing) and Finn Russell ( Fly Half) are my players to watch – especially Russell who at his mercurial best can defeat an opposition almost on his own!!
The Italians are improving and can pose a threat to others especially when at home, although without fans that potential advantage might not be as big a factor. Their once-vaunted scrum seems to be less of a weapon now but they have definitely improved basic skills and their overall game.
However, unlike Argentina who beat the All Blacks recently, Italy just doesn’t seem to have the ability to take their game to the next level and to be a real threat.
Italy has not won a Six Nations match since their 22–19 away win against Scotland in Round 3 of the 2015 tournament, losing every game since, equating to a losing run of 22 matches, but they have defeated Ireland, Wales, Scotland and France in the past.
This year could be a real opportunity for them to target the inconsistent sides: Wales, Scotland and Ireland and avoiding yet another Wooden Spoon. The team that finishes at the bottom of the league table is said to have won the Wooden Spoon, although no actual trophy is given to the team.
Since the inaugural Six Nations tournament in 2000, only England and Ireland have avoided the Wooden Spoon award. Italy are the holders of the most Wooden Spoon awards in the Six Nations era with 15!!.
However, with Sergio Parisse retiring who was undoubtedly one of, if not the best No. 8’s in the world, they will need to find another talisman and to play more as a team than relying on super-human efforts of individuals.
Players to watch in my mind are; Tommaso Allan (Fly Half/Centre/Full Back), Carlo Canna (Fly Half) & Matteo Minnozi (Full Back) can all make an impact and Maxim Mbanda (Back Row) also. Hooker Luca Bigi will continue to captain the side and has a big task ahead, hopefully, they will all show us what they are capable of. It’s a shame that Jake Poledri (back row) is injured as he has great potential.
So, here’s my prediction:
England or France to win the competition, but neither with a Grand Slam!!
Ireland and Scotland competing for the third spot.
Wales potentially at the bottom and Italy winning a couple of fixtures.
Sorry, any Welsh men out there but it’s just an opinion.