Here we go then, Six Nations eve and the excitement is mounting. It’s a slight shame for England to be facing Italy first up, and on a Sunday to boot, but hopefully it’s a better game than last year, and that we see England starting with a bang.
The other two games could be the most exciting though, with injury-hit Wales hosting a confident Scotland before the somewhat travel-shy Ireland head to Paris where their record is poor.
Here are my predictions for this weekend’s matches, along with some nostalgic videos from previous meetings.
Wales v Scotland
Having beaten Wales fairly convincingly last year, some people are expecting Scotland to win at the Millennium Stadium, where everyone knows the crowd is somewhat partisan and passionate, and it’s an incredibly difficult place to win. Prior to that win at Murrayfield last year, the Scots had lost nine in a row to the Welsh, so the home side are unlikely to be trembling too much psychologically.
Looking at the team selections though, Wales are without a host of big players such as Sam Warburton, Toby Faletau, Jonathan Davies and Liam Williams to name a few, and the talent pool is famously shallow. Or so we are led to believe. I actually think those absentees may do Wales a favour, forcing them to play like the Scarlets with so many of them in the side, and moving further away from Warren Gatland’s much criticised tactics.
And speaking of selection, the Scottish front five looks particularly underpowered, and their pack in general is second best in my opinion. Whilst the backs are exciting, everyone knows that the match is usually won up front, and for that reason – plus home advantage – I’m going for a Welsh win.
Wales by 7
France v Ireland
The bookies seem to be giving France a 6-point headstart in this one, such is the trend to back Ireland in this year’s tournament. But they’ve only won twice in Paris in the Six Nations, one of which was way back in 2000, and as Jack mentioned in a comment this week, Ireland’s away form has hardly been emphatic over the last couple of years.
The team looks strong on paper, with several Lions amongst their number, and against the unknown entity of the French, you can see why they are favourites. But I feel like Ireland play their best Rugby against teams they can work out easily, such as England and South Africa, and to some extent New Zealand – they can formulate a gameplan around what they know is coming at them.
What is coming at them this weekend? A big French pack as always, a few livewires in the backline, and an unproven entity at fly-half in Matthieu Jalibert. But People are excited about the young Jalibert, and if France finally finds a way to a cohesive gameplan, every other nation could be in trouble. Let’s see if they can do it this weekend.
France by 3
Italy v England
For all the foxing by Italy at Twickenham last year, they still got soundly beaten by 21 points. People are expecting some more wily tactics from Conor O’Shea and Brendan Venter in charge of Italy, and playing at home should help them a touch, but I can’t see them getting close.
Eddie Jones has picked a first-choice team from those available, opting for experience over experimentation as England seeks a hat-trick of Six Nations titles. I try to avoid cliches, but this could be a tight game for 60 minutes, until England blow Italy away in the last quarter, with their ‘finishers’ taking Italy apart. Or it could be a drubbing from start to finish.
Either way, I don’t think it will be as close as Jacob has predicted. England has experimented a little in the autumn, and now it looks like it’s back to Plan A, with a few more ball-carriers allied with some speedsters out wide. To my mind, Jones will be looking for another Grand Slam, a 3-0 series win in South Africa, and then an unbeaten November series against all the big guns. He does look short of options in some positions like scrum-half, but what confidence that would deliver ahead of World Cup year in 2019.
England by 43
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