Is it really that time of the year again? Six Nations Rugby is back after what seems only 5 minutes ago that a resurgent England side held the trophy aloft after a pulsating tournament!
Europe’s premier international rugby is a testament to the popularity of the sport. Not only is it now huge in the British Isles but further afield in France and Italy too. This year sees the intensity revved up even further with the introduction of a bonus points system all aimed at rewarding teams for scoring tries and entertaining the thousands of screaming fans in attendance.
Since the end of the last campaign England, Wales, Ireland, Scotland, France and Italy have all been in action in the Autumn Internationals, with varying degrees of success. Ireland managed to notch up a famous win versus the All Blacks over in America. England ended 2016 unbeaten and full of confidence. Scotland impressed whilst France floundered. Italy managed to famously topple South Africa whilst Wales were less than convincing in victories against Japan and Argentina.
Here at Net World Sports we can’t wait for the action to start! Expectations are high, rivalries are set to be reignited and as soon as the opening whistle blows we can guarantee 80 minutes of full throttle entertainment! With all that being said lets now take a look at how each team will fare this tournament – hopefully the tries will flow like this memorable final round of matches from 2015!
Coach – Eddie Jones
Captain – Dylan Hartley
2016 Tournament – 1st
Defending champions England have been in fine form recently and this can be put down to the sterling work undertaken by head coach Eddie Jones. However to defend their Six Nations crown would probably be his best achievement for the Red Rose to date.
England went 4 wins out of 4 in the Autumn Internationals and ended 2016 unbeaten. However this tournament throws up two very tricky away trips to Cardiff and Dublin to face Wales and Ireland respectively.
England have some key players absent through injury in the shape of Chris Robshaw and Billy Vunipola but are buoyed by the returns of James Haskell and up and coming superstar of world rugby Maro Itoje.
It will be a huge task for England to retain the crown but with Eddie Jones at the helm who says they can’t? Their opening two fixtures against France and Wales will go a long way to deciding their fate.
Coach – Rob Howley
Captain – Alun Wyn Jones
2016 Tournament – 2nd
Wales find themselves in a real period of transition at the moment. New acting head coach Rob Howley has been given the mammoth task of turning a team with such potential into a team that can consistently deliver on the big stage. The fresh leadership of Alun Wyn Jones will almost certainly give the whole squad a huge lift.
Wales’ form in the Autumn Internationals was inconsistent to say the least. They were very unconvincing in wins against Argentina and Japan but managed to salvage some national pride with a hard fought victory against a much fancied South African side.
Howley clearly isn’t scared to ruffle some feathers within the camp as he has introduced 7 uncapped players into the squad. That being said look to the likes of AWJ, Jamie Roberts, George North and Leigh Halfpenny to reignite Welsh passion out on the pitch.
The worst thing that any opposing team could do is to underestimate a sleeping giant, or in this case a sleeping dragon. Wales always produce the goods when the rest of the rugby world has seemed to have written them off. Look for them to seek out immediate improvements in this tournament.
Coach – Joe Schmidt
Captain – Rory Best
2016 Tournament – 3rd
Ireland are on the brink of something special and this tournament could really see them set the standard as the team to beat in the Northern Hemisphere. Mixing a wealth of experience with exciting emerging talent, look for the men in green to make a big impression this time around.
Ireland capped off 2016 with a fantastic Autumn International series amassing famous wins against Australia and ending the All Blacks record run of 18 consecutive victories.
Ireland play best when Jonathan Sexton is flying. A recent injury scare may have worried a few in the camp but he seems fit and raring to go for their opening fixture versus Scotland.
With all the talk seemingly around defending champions England, look for Ireland to capitalise on a solid Autumn and put pressure on from the outset. Could we be all set for a championship showdown when England travel to the Aviva Stadium for the final weekend of the tournament?
Coach – Vern Cotter
Captain – Greig Laidlaw
2016 Tournament – 4th
Vern Cotter bids farewell to this dynamic Scotland side at the end of this tournament so look for his players to send him off on a high! If ever there was a underdog who may surprise a few this tournament Scotland could quite well be that team.
Scotland managed an impressive 2 wins from 3 in the Autumn Internationals and their one loss was a narrow defeat to the Wallabies. This Scottish side is full of promise and recent results show they are a rugby nation on the rise.
There is a certain buzz around rugby north of the border at the moment with the emergence of the Glasgow Warriors in the European Champions Cup. If the national side can replicate the scintillating form of the Warriors then look for them to fire themselves to the forefront of European rugby.
It’s fair to say if you were a Scotland fan going into this tournament you’d have a real sense of optimism. The first game of their campaign at home to Ireland is key. Win this and who knows what may happen?
Coach – Guy Noves
Captain – Guilhem Guirado
2016 Tournament – 5th
Injuries have decimated France’s squad in the build up to this tournament. Struggling for form and a side with a lost identity, French rugby fans will be pleased to see the return of Mathieu Bastareaud to wreak havoc in the centres.
Les Bleus struggled in the Autumn Internationals claiming 1 single victory from their 3 matches. However they did come close to beating both Australia and New Zealand. Morale may be low in camp but this is a French side used to winning big games and will be looking to make amends right away.
Head coach Guy Noves has a stellar reputation in his club career. He’s been crowned a Top 14 winning coach 9 times and a 4 time Heineken Cup winner, but he knows it’s a different kettle of fish coaching a side where the fans are so vocal about every aspect of the teams play.
If there’s one thing we can be sure of it’s that the French will be consistently inconsistent! They are a mixed bag to say the least and a tough opening match away to England at Twickenham may set the tone for the rest of their campaign.
Head Coach – Conor O’Shea
Captain – Sergio Parisse
2016 Tournament – 6th
Conor O’Shea is under no illusions about the size of the task he has taken on with the Italian national side. There is definite potential in the camp but results throughout their previous campaigns have been less than satisfactory.
The Autumn Internationals epitomised the scale of the task O’Shea has on his hands. Italy recorded a huge victory against South Africa then went on to lose against Tonga! Consistency is key at the top level of international rugby.
One thing the Italians will look to capitalise on is home field advantage. Their opening two games of the tournament take place at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome and I could see an upset or two that would really set the tone for their campaign.
Victory over Wales in their opening fixture could be the catalyst to real improved success for the Azzurri. The fact that there is only 1 uncapped player in their whole squad makes you think they are determined to use their past experiences as a positive moving forward.
So when we analyse all the facts I believe this Six Nations tournament is far too close to call! As ever injuries will play a huge part in deciding the outcome, as will the form of each nation’s top players. Throw into the mix new coaches and a bonus system that encourages try scoring and we will be in for another treat this year!
Even though I would suggest the tournament is too close to call what kind of preview would this be without a final table prediction! So here goes…