The Six Nations parade rolls into town tomorrow, and with the opening fixtures under two weeks away, it’s time for all the fantasy managers out there to pick their teams again. If you’re looking for a few tips on who to pick and who to avoid, you could do worse (probably) than read on…
When picking front row forwards it is worth being canny. There are no points awarded for winning penalties in the scrum, or hitting your jumper in the lineout – in fact, you don’t even need a hooker, since the rules bizarrely state that you just need to pick 3 front row forwards. So, it is best to consider who is likely to stay on the pitch for the full 80 minutes, and if you can think of that rare beast – a front-rower that scores tries – then it’s worth putting him in.
One of the best tight-head props in Europe at the moment has to be Cian Healy, especially with ball in hand. He is as likely as any forward to score a try, and his form is such that he stands a good chance of still being on the pitch at the end of the game. Martin Castrogiovanni has been a popular selection in the past, but I’d be tempted to say he’s a little old to consistently last the full 80 these days. With the news that Richardt Strauss is injured Rory Best is likely to play at least most of all the games, so could be a good shout. Elsewhere Dan Cole is as close to indispensable as it gets for England, and the same can be said of Adam Jones for Wales. The French have some outstanding front row forwards, but the issue with such variety is that no one is guaranteed their place from one week to the next.
Captains are always a good bet, as they are likely to play all of every game they are fit for. As a result Pascal Papé comes highly recommended after an impressive autumn campaign that saw him pull together a raft of French talent to finally play like a team. Stuart Lancaster is a huge admirer of Geoff Parling, and like his Tigers teammate Dan Cole he has become a vital member of the national set-up in a relatively short space of time. His likely-partner in the engine room, Joe Launchbury, could also be a good one to pick as he has the pace of a back, and likes to score tries. With Courtney Lawes to provide impact off the bench, however, he is unlikely to play a full game too often.
The Welsh are really struggling with injuries in this area, so if you’re feeling bold you could take a punt on one of their untested locks. A safer bet would perhaps be Richie Gray of Scotland, another man who pops up on the score sheet fairly often – although his form this season for Sale has been less than impressive.
This is the area with easily the deepest strength in depth for most nations. You could pretty much go for a lucky-dip and come out with 3 high-quality players. That doesn’t mean, however, that they are going to be scoring points week in, week out. Thierry Dusautoir of France, despite losing the captaincy, is always worth a pick as he has a healthy knack of picking up MOTM awards. Another Frenchman, Louis Picamoles, scores plenty of tries from the base of scrums as his leg-drive and lower body strength make him nigh on impossible to stop from close-range.
The indomitable Sergio Parisse will make most people’s teams, being as he is the one truly world-class operator that Italy possess. Again, a man who makes a habit of being MOTM, even when Italy lose. When it comes to Wales, however, it is tough to pinpoint who will be playing, let alone scoring the points. Justin Tipuric is in the form of his life, but the great selection debate between him and captain Sam Warburton means neither are likely to be playing all of every game. The giant Zimbabwean-come-Scot, Dave Denton, could be worth a punt, as could newly-confirmed captain Chris Robshaw, if only for the fact that he is guaranteed to be on the pitch most of the time.
Again it is difficult to look past France for a scrum-half, with Morgan Parra likely to fight off pressure from Freddie Michalak and Maxime Machenaud for the starting shirt. Danny Care of England is in such form that he will probably get the starting nod over Ben Youngs, and is a proven try-scorer. Conor Murray is another sound bet, having pretty much confirmed himself the no.1 choice at 9 for Ireland.
Fly-half is always a tough one to call. Seeing as he is likely to be your designated goal-kicker, it is worth picking someone from a nation that will spend most of their time on the front foot (i.e. not Scotland or Italy), and thus score plenty of points. With this in mind, it is hard to ignore Jonny Sexton, who is about as nailed-on as you can be to start for Ireland. With Rhys Priestland sidelined through injury, Dan Biggar looks set to be the main man for Wales, although James Hook could provide valuable spark off the bench. For week one, however, Owen Farrell could be the most sensible choice. With England at home against Scotland, in front of a packed-out Twickenham expecting great things after the NZ game, there are bound to be points aplenty on offer for the young man.
The centres have the potential to score plenty of points for you, so it is best to look at attack-minded individuals rather than defensive stalwarts. With that in mind, assuming he overcomes a niggling ankle injury, Manu Tuilagi will surely make most people’s team. Wesley Fofana, of France, is the form centre in the Northern Hemisphere, and also crosses the whitewash quite often. Annoyingly, he has been put in the outside backs category, but may still be worthy of selection.
For Wales, Jon Davies and Jamie Roberts will be the likely combination – but neither score a great deal of tries, so could be a bit of a risk. Scotland’s centre partnership is anyone’s guess, although Max Evans has the potential to light up even the most dour of back-lines. Ireland’s D’Arcy and O’Driscoll are established but ageing, and are also susceptible to injuries.
The final category is where there is the biggest potential for points, with all the try-scoring firepower that can be found in the back three. With that in mind, players such as Chris Ashton and Vincent Clerc have a proven record of scoring tries in this competition, and will feature heavily in a lot of people’s team. A good outside bet could be new kid (well, man) on the block Tim ‘The Flying Dutchman’ Visser. Granted, Scotland don’t score many tries, but when they do they have tended to come from him of late. Anyone who can grab a brace against the All Blacks is surely worth a shot. Exciting new Welshman Eli Walker could be one to back if you’re feeling adventurous, if not the giant pair of Alex Cuthbert and George North are bound to feature at some stage.
Once again, it’s important to remember that you don’t need two wingers and a full-back. Three wingers may well be the way to go in terms of try-scoring potential.
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