It feels like a long time coming since the Rugby World Cup, but the 2012 RBS 6 Nations finally gets underway this weekend.
It will be good to get back to some international rugby after the World Cup fallout, but at the start of the new four-year cycle, it’s difficult to know how any of the sides will perform.
France look dangerous but will they be organised? Wales have injury issues and are they over-hyped? Ireland seem to be settled, but are they being too cautious? England look young and inexperienced, but will that go against them in a tough competition? Scotland could put a few wins together, but don’t we say that every year? And as for Italy, which scalp will they take this time?
Only time will tell, but here are my predictions for this weekend’s matches.
France v Italy: France by 23
What a famous win it was last year by the Azzurri in Rome, but I can’t see that happening this year. Looking down the respective teamsheets, there’s no way you could back Italy in this one – the French have so much talent that they can afford to leave Imanol Harinordoquy on the bench, whilst the Italians still rely on Sergio Parisse.
Italy are often difficult to break down and not many teams rack up big scores against them, but I still think France will. They have an incredible back row that should provide enough ball for their backs to cut loose, and I’ve gone for a comfortable France victory.
The Paddy Power handicap for this one is France -21, so they seem to agree (I never check handicaps before making predictions by the way, just in case it affects what I really think), and the average SportGuru prediction is France by 16.
Scotland v England: England by 5
Who knows? Murrayfield is a very tough place to play, and the Scots will certainly fancy their chances. They’ve not lost to England there since 2004, and they have selected a side that’s capable of wearing a team down and grinding out a win. Dan Parks has been slated before a game in the past only to completely dominate, so I won’t be doing that, but it is likely he’ll orchestrate a territorial gameplan and try to put pressure on England.
Stuart Lancaster’s young England charges are very much an unknown quantity, but they have a solid pack and by picking the Saracens midfield, they should be able to exert enough control over the game to play it their way. For all his faults in the past, Charlie Hodgson is still an excellent distributor, and with Owen Farrell alongside him, we may just see England trying to play expansively.
I’m not expecting a wonderful spectacle of running rugby – there will be mistakes and Scotland will look to keep it tight to frustrate their opposition (particularly if it chucks it down with rain), but I’m nervously backing a narrow England win.
Ireland v Wales
Didn’t Wales have an incredible World Cup? They almost won it, didn’t they? No, they didn’t. They lost to the Springboks, beat the other lower-ranked nations in their group, then put in one fine performance against Ireland to make it through to the semis before the wheels came off and they lost to France. I was sent a commemorative coffee table book charting Wales’ wonderful World Cup campaign – has any other nation ever produced a commemorative book for coming fourth?
I think Wales are hugely over-hyped. The potential is undeniable, given the age of their squad and the talent in the first-choice line-up, but to say they are world-beaters is over-egging it somewhat. They were joint favourites for the title at one stage, but their recent injury crisis has put paid to that unfortunately, and I think they’ll struggle to win in Dublin this weekend.
Ireland left New Zealand quietly, with their heads held high and will have been observing the hype with thoughts of revenge in their opening Six Nations game. They should have the edge over a Welsh pack decimated by injury, the side is reasonably settled with a blend of youth and experience, and the Irish provinces have been dominant in the Heineken Cup – it all points to an Irish victory for me, and I’ve gone for Ireland by 5.
What are your predictions for this weekend’s matches? Have you joined our SportGuru league yet?