This is the most open Six Nations for many years. All the pundits are scratching their heads , which is wonderful to see!
While the wise consensus favours Wales because of their Lions contingent and their success over the last two years, they do not have a great draw and must go to Twickenham. However they alone of the six understand how to win pressure games and have a number of world class players, so they have to start favourites.
At the other end of the spectrum, Italy apparently enjoy better odds of winning the Championship than France. Dangerous talk, but the French have no half backs and little strategy or stomach for the fight. In addition, coach Philippe Saint-Andre looks to blame everyone but himself for their subterranean performances.
I really like the Irish chances. Joe Schmidt is a smart operator, yet to flex his muscles in the ring of the Six Nations, and all the Irish provinces are on fire. He should be able to harness that, and let’s not forget they were sensational against the All Blacks, far more potent than the English. But can the aged midfield turn it on one more time – BOD deserves a fitting end to his career rather than the bitterness of Lions exclusion.
I suspect that Scotland targets their evening match against England as their best chance for a few years to turn over the auld enemy, because they will be very competitive, especially up front. It is possible that they may just be able to find that line breaker to create tries, in which case Hogg could have a field day as he is real quality. Scotland will however lack confidence and this could be crucial.
At the risk of being partisan, I suggest that the big game this weekend and possibly of the tournament is at the Stade de France. France have that cornered look, hunted down by the unhelpful nature of the Top 14 which is dominated by foreign players, and have declared this watershed match a must win.
England have developed the makings of a world class pack, and now find themselves fielding a callow set of backs. I applaud this hugely. Lancaster has opted for pace and talent in abundance. Some of this is driven by injuries, but I sense a belated realisation that you can’t win games without a cutting edge.
But despite the progress in overall strategy, there is still a lack of specific tactical nous in attack. Last week England Saxons won most of the ball against the Irish Wolfhounds, couldn’t score a try and lost the game.
They persisted in playing the game off 10 and Burns had a shocker, while the backs ran appalling support lines all evening. When will we understand that the 12 has a major part to play – the two top teams in the world, New Zealand and South Africa, have shown us that. Our coaches seem reluctant to learn …
So, the aptly named Billy Twelvetrees has it all before him. Stand Farrell flat, and ask him to distribute straight to Billy the constant flow of ball England are likely to enjoy. Then trust that the likes of Nowell, Burrell and May grow up very quickly and benefit from his tactical play!
It’s an exciting prospect. However, the match is entirely unpredictable because no one has any idea how the French will play. It’s not a question of which French side will turn up – it will be a poor one. But just possibly a modicum of pride will seep into their consciousness. It would be good to see the one or two quality players they do have, like Fofana and Picamoles, come to the fore.
All teams are still finalising their thoughts ahead of the World Cup, so expect one or two unexpected names to come forward this year. The Southern Hemisphere won’t be trembling just yet, but the gap is definitely closing.
Who do I think will win the SIx Nations – absolutely no idea!
Who do you think will win the Six Nations? Comments below…