Train Insane or Remain the Same 

Riddle takes a look at the home nations in the upcoming 6 Nations Championship

Analysis by Andy Barnham

Let’s face facts; it’s very easy to be romantic about the northern hemisphere’s jewel in the crown rugby competition. However for all it’s marvellous tribalism, matches can descend into arm wrestles as teams try not to lose rather than try to win; such is the nature of one off home or away matches where momentum is key. Also, let’s not beat around the bush and spout the same old clichés; Italy remain unable to compete with regularity and France are in disarray. This is not a euphemism for ‘dangerous’; Les Bleus will have had just two weeks under new coach Jacques Brunel, added to which disciplinary issues to centre Bastareaud and a police raid on the HQ of the French Rugby Federation. Foreign players and dominant club owners have eviscerated French rugby and even if changed today, it will take a generation to see the results. Whilst all countries are missing players through injury, England have been hammered, though are the best equipped to deal with the number of walking wounded, and Wales’ coaching staff have grown stale; Rob Howley the coach is not the same standard Rob Howley the player was. Scotland have found pace on the wings and started to string wins together, but questions remain about strength in depth, which leaves the tournament in Irish hands. A Grand Slam is not on the cards; this year will come down to bonus points and the final weekend. 2018 is going to be brutal.

 

England

Odds of winning Grand Slam: 9/4

Odds of winning 6 Nations: 10/11

World ranking: 2nd

Record: 2017: 1st, 2016: 1st, 2015: 2nd, 2014: 2nd

Fixtures:  Italy 4th February (A), Wales 10th February (H), Scotland 24th February (A), France March 10th (A), Ireland March 17th (H)

With a record under Eddie Jones of 22 wins out of 23 games and currently ranked 2nd in the world England will be desperate to maintain their record. With 18 (yes, count them) players out for the start of the tournament due to injury and disciplinary issues, ‘tough’ is an understatement, but England fans expect to win. Of the British & Irish Lions, it is English players who have played more minutes for their clubs than any other nation. New laws, non -centralised contracts, lack of promotion in Premiership Rugby, wage caps and squad size; take your pick which is to blame. A glass half full view is that it is a great chance to offer younger and fringe squad players experience leading to Japan 2019. A glass half empty view is that England are callow in key positions such as back row, prop and centre. Avoid the Italian banana skin, win away against a resurgent Scotland (who haven’t beaten England since 2008) and the tournament could be theirs, but history shows no team has ever won the tournament three times in a row.

 

Ireland

Odds of winning Grand Slam: 4/1

Odds of winning 6 Nations: 2/1

World ranking: 3rd

Record: 2017: 2nd, 2016: 3rd, 2015: 1st, 2014: 1st,

Fixtures: France 3rd February (A), Italy 10th February (H), Wales 24th February (H), Scotland March 10th (H), England March 17th (A)

Three from three in the autumn and two Pro14 teams past the knock out stages of the Champions Cup, with Leinster going unbeaten in the pool stages, see Ireland in a healthy position going into the tournament. Having been successful in Europe, so much so key players were rested in the final round, leading to a squad fit and raring to go and Ireland have the benefit of a relatively easy start allowing them the chance to build early momentum. Though Ireland kick off away to France,  France are in chaos before Ireland face Italy at home. With two more home games follow before a potential decider at Twickenham, the fixture list is advantageous to the Emerald Isles.

 

Scotland

Odds of winning Grand Slam: 18/1

Odds of winning 6 Nations: 15/2

World ranking: 5th

Record: 2017: 4th, 2016: 4th, 2015: 6th, 2014: 5th

Fixtures: Wales 3rd February (A), France 10th February (H), England 24th February (H), Ireland March 10th (A), Italy March 17th (A)

This will be Gregor Townsend’s first 6 Nations as coach. Having run New Zealand close and smashed Australia in the autumn, expectations are high especially with the Auld Enemy England travelling north to Murrayfield. Scotland not only have pace and vision outside, but also the hard men to compete for the ball close up. Win the first game (away) and Scotland will fancy their chances, though they’ll need to bring their best away to the Aviva Stadium which has a habit of squeezing the life out of opponents before a final, presumably festive weekend in Rome.

 

Wales

Odds of winning Grand Slam: 33/1

Odds of winning 6 Nations: 14/1

World ranking: 7th

Record: 2017: 5th, 2016: 2nd, 2015: 3rd, 2014: 3rd

Fixtures: Scotland 3rd February (H), England 10th February (A), Ireland 24th February (A), Italy March 11th (H), France March 17th (H)

All Welsh fans will be asking has Gatland, who started with Wales in 2007, stayed past his best before date ? Despite underwhelming results in the autumn, the national team showed glimpses of life away from WarrenBall and with Scarlets becoming the first Welsh team to progress through to the quarter- finals of the Champions Cup in six years, there is hope for a more expansive game. A victim of Gatland’s early success which set the bar high for expectations, Wales go into the tournament, missing their two leading fly halves, a scrum half and their No.8, as underdogs. Away to both England and then Ireland, Wales will do well to win both away games. If they do, the underdog could come good. riddle_stop 2

 

Odds taken from William Hill on 23rd January 2018

 

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