So…it’s almost upon us. The Autumn series is now history, Christmas has passed and now all focus is on the of the 6 Nations and probably one of the most thrilling opening matches in the last few years, namely Ireland vs England.
Both teams flying high in the world rankings face off in the opening match that neither side will want to lose. Win and you have the 6 Nations open up before you, lose and that team might struggle to recover.
The tournament is expected to be the most brutal and hard fought in recent years. With the World Cup only months away, players will be fighting for seats on the plane to Tokyo, coaches will be fine tuning squads and the likely roll call of injuries will certainly rob seasoned players of a trip to a Japan. As one door closes fringe players will also have the opportunity to make a name for themselves at their first world cup. The dice of fate is about to be rolled and no one really knows how it will end up.
Eddie Jones has named his 35-man England squad ahead of the upcoming Six Nations, with recalls for Mako and Billy Vunipola as well as Ellis Genge (potential star in Japan) and Joe Launchbury who all return from injury having not played since the South Africa tour last summer.
There are also call-ups for four uncapped players Ollie Thorley (Gloucester), Ben Earl (Saracens), Dan Robson (Wasps) and Jack Singleton (Worcester Warriors). Full-back Mike Brown, who is having an outstanding season with Quins and prop Dan Cole have earned recalls following their omission in the autumn internationals….but there is no room for scrum-half Danny Care. Jones trusted Scrum-Half finisher, who has often come on in the last 30-20 minutes to run a tired opposition ragged and putting fire into the backs to snatch a win, has been dropped and I personally feel this is a big mistake. I sincerely hope he’s recalled shortly, to cement his place in the squad and earn a well deserved world cup swan song.
Yes, I’m a Quins fan, but I try to be fair and when Brown wasn’t firing, it was right to see him rested, but watching Brown in action against Grenoble last weekend, I was delighted to see the raw Brown back with his silky skills, fine running and playing on the edge. How did Care perform against Grenoble and Agen…once again, he was exciting to watch, using the hand and boot to great effect to push Quins to two well deserved wins.
England has two incredibly tough games to face this year, Dublin and Cardiff away. Team selection and injuries will play a tremendous part in whether England, Wales, Ireland or even France take the title.
The crucial match is surely the first one in Dublin with England…start of in the correct way, offering no quarter to the Irish pack, whilst running the Irish backs ragged, will leave a massive English marker not just for the 6 Nations, but also the World Cup. But here it is…that’s the heart talking and my head is saying Ireland at home, on a crest of some fantastic results and self-belief, will be an incredibly tough time to beat. If Jones mixes up the squad and experiments in Dublin, I fear the Irish will run in try after try. However play it with a straight bat, trusted players, then it could be closer than anyone could imagine. I feel with Care out of the squad, those last 20 minutes could miss the brilliance of Care when needed most.
France and Wales will certainly be looking to win the prestigious title as well, however I cannot see how Gatland’s side will bring enough power in the front 5, whilst France are still developing as a team. With some fantastic results recently and the coaching team finally making an impact, the team has been marred with shocking performances that dented French confidence.
Scotland have been developing well, and their domestic teams, Edinburgh and Glasgow, have been performing well in Europe. However with Ireland and England playing so well, it will be a bridge too far for the Scots.
Looking ahead with Italy, the Azzuri will be hoping to keep the scores down and maybe scalp one of the big boys to dampen down the noise about their inclusion in the tournament. They have played some fascinating rugby in the last 2 years, however with no real depth in the team, the Azzuri rely on passion and guts to win over the opposition. I truly hope this year we see Italy step it up another level.
Whatever the results and whoever takes the title…its going to be a one of the most exciting tournaments in recent years.
Predicted table at the end of the tournament (using my heart..)
Predicted table at the end of the 6 Nations (using my head…)
Leave a comment with your predicted final table…