All the Talent in the World won’t take you Anywhere Without your Teammates

Rugby World Cup 2019 starts with this year’s 6 Nations Championship 

Analysis by Andy Barnham

Here we go, this 6 Nations kicks off 2019’s rugby calendar which peaks at Rugby World Cup in Japan starting on Friday 20th September (Japan vs Russia, 19:45hrs local time). Barring injuries and last minute bolters, these 6 Nations Championship squads should be 99 per cent of the squads taken forwards to Japan. And whilst no one wants to lose a game now, I’m sure all teams would prefer to take a loss now if it meant a better RWC run, even if all the coaches claim they’re not looking past the first Championship match. Indeed three of the four Home Nations’ coaches are stepping down after the RWC, the only staying being Scotland coach Gregor Townsend, which potentially adds even more spice and emotion into the Championship.

Whilst the Celtic nations converge on central contracts England, typically, goes it alone with players continued to be ruled by their clubs who recently sold a minority stake to CVC Capital Partners. Remember them? Yes, the same people who were quoted to have “raped” F1 and extracted as much as possible from the sport. Central contracts, and concentration of the Celtic players  in a small number of clubs, has allowed for player rotation and familiarity while their English counterparts are thrown into the ever increasing attritional Gallagher Premiership, constantly requiring fresh meat with the aim of avoiding relegation.

England

Odds of winning Grand Slam: 7/1

Odds of winning 6 Nations: 10/3

World ranking: 4th

Fixtures:  Ireland 2nd February (A), France 10th February (H), Wales 23rd February (A), Italy March 9th (H), Scotland March 16th (H)

England’s 2018 results do not make for happy reading; P12 W6 L6 and fans will be looking for a far better table this, RWC, year.

Injury to Dylan Hartley, coach Eddie Jones’ first choice captain since taking over the reins, allows fly half Owen Farrell the chance to set up having been co- captain. A short injury list has allowed Jones the chance to select, arguably, his best squad ever. However, due to past injuries, some players and combinations have never played together. Scrum half remains a talking point with no clear pecking order established due to regular chops and changes by Jones replacing England regular ‘Finisher’ Danny Care with uncapped Wasps player Dan Robson.

Look out for the performance at the breakdown; England were way off the pace during the last Championship due to how the domestic club game is ref’d. This was improved upon during the Autumn Internationals, yet it remains a weakness. As is selecting players out of position; one can only hope Jones was joking when he suggested playing super utility back Jack Nowell at flanker.

However first things first and England kick off away to Ireland, having only won there once since 2003 and seeking to do better overall than the lower fourth they found themselves at in 2018.

Ireland

Odds of winning Grand Slam: 9/4

Odds of winning 6 Nations: 4/5

World ranking: 2nd

Fixtures: England 2nd February (H), Scotland 9th February (A), Italy 24th February (A), France March 10th (H), Wales March 16th (A)

The favourites’ tag never sits comfortably with Ireland who enter the Championship with the chance to potentially claim back to back Grand Slams. The team who beat the All Blacks in the autumn contained over 650 caps, regarded as the magic number to win the RWC, and the squad as a whole has close to 1,200. Strength in depth is clear.

If there is a potential weakness it is the scheduling. Traditional slow starters, winning their opening game last year with an injury time drop goal over France, they face England at home for the opening game with an away trip to Wales to bookend the Championship. Momentum needs to be generated from somewhere if they hope to win and if they do need any extra encouragement, this will be coach Joe Schmidt’s last Championship with retirement from the game completely looming at the end of the RWC. Having established exceptionally high standards, Schmidt is being succeeded by the current defence coach Andy Farrell.

Scotland

Odds of winning Grand Slam: 25/1

Odds of winning 6 Nations: 12/1

World ranking: 7th

Fixtures: Italy 2nd February (H), Ireland 19th February (H), France 23rd February (A), Wales March 9th (H), England March 16th (A)

This year sees both Scottish clubs, Edinburgh and Glasgow, progress to the knock out stages of the European Cup for the first time ever. This will undoubtedly offer heart to supporters, as their players go into international camp sky high on confidence. Given the limited resources Scotland has, it is imperative for both domestic clubs to function to give the national team the best chance of success, and from the outside it looks like Scotland is now ensuring riches are shared between the two clubs and not concentrated in Glasgow. Edinburgh’s achievements, coming top of their pool in Europe against two high spending French teams with monster forwards, can’t be overstated. So much so that the man behind the rudder, Englishman and Leicester stalwart Richard Cockerill, is being talked about as replacement to Eddie Jones on the retirement of the later.

However confidence will need to be tempered by a quick look at the injury list, sitting at close to 20 players which has decimated the back row options (eight injuries alone between No.s 6- 8) and a squad containing only one capped hooker.

Whilst, as some predict, a Grand Slam decider could come down to Wales vs Ireland on the last weekend, the final game of this year’s Championship sees Twickenham host the Calcutta Cup. No dead rubber game for either side.

Wales

Odds of winning Grand Slam: 10/1

Odds of winning 6 Nations: 9/2

World ranking: 3rd

Fixtures: France 1st February (A), Italy 9th February (A), England 23rd February (H), Scotland March 9th (A), Ireland March 16th (H)

Their first Autumn International clean sweep as well as coach Warren Gatland’s last 6 Nations sees Wales in good stead. An abundance of riches at back row is combined with the selection of four No.10s. The enlarged squad of 39 players included injured or nursing injuries such as fullback Leigh Halfpenny and fly half Dan Biggar, and now the opening weekend looms large only three are still unavailable. They have also won their last nine tests, two shy of their record set in 1910. Wales face off against France, having won six of the last seven against Les Bleus, that defeat away in France, losing 20minutes after the end of regulation time following a series of controversial reset scrums and HIA replacements.

Another team destined to lose their head coach after the RWC, this will be Warren Gatland’s twelfth and final 6 Nations. With 153 Tests under his belt some may forget he won his first ever Welsh outing in 2008, and fans will no doubt be hoping he ends his tenure also as a Championship winner. riddle_stop 2

 

Odds taken from William Hill on 28th January 2019

 

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