RUGBY | 6 NATIONS
The best of the northern hemisphere get set for battle
After last year's generally poor showing at the World Cup from the teams from the northern hemisphere, the 2016 RBS 6 Nations Championship takes on extra significance.
On Saturday 6 February the 'home nations' of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales along with European neighbours France and Italy will lock horns in another battle for the RBS 6 Nations Championship. At last year's Rugby World Cup, hosted by England, these teams had mixed fortunes with only Scotland managing to exceeed pre-tournament expectations - and that feat still resulted in a quarter final exit. The coming weeks of competition give each of the sides a chance to restate their caliber against familiar foes as a platform to then go on and demonstrate it against the kings of rugby in the southern hemisphere.
Here is a brief overview of those taking part including a number of new faces at the helm:
England (World Ranking – 8th)
Coming into the championships as is often the case as favourites, England will do well to completely forget what happened at last year’s World Cup. But they must. The bitter disappointment of going out in the pool stage, the first team to do so when playing in front of their home crowd, will be pushed to the back of the mind but any early shakes may bring them forward. And, although on paper, a start against the team that finished last in the Six Nations 2015 may sound like the perfect springboard, it’s definitely not just another game. It’s against Scotland. It’s the Calcutta cup. It’s away at Murrayfield. But these days does the intimidating atmosphere that they’ll face when they step onto the turf really matter. The truth is that England haven’t lost to Scotland since 2008 – and haven’t allowed the Scots to score a try against them at Murrayfield since 2004 – so expectations for early points on the board are high. With a new coach in Australian Eddie Jones an early impetus is desired and he’s already proving popular with his more sociable preparation techniques including trusting the boys to go out for a beer or two and get to know each other. After second place finishes in the last four six nations, since winning it in 2011, confidence and team spirit is high and a good win against their opponents from the north could set them on course to the title and improved world ranking.
One to watch: Mike Brown – counter attack threat
Wales (World Ranking – 4th)
After beating England in the pool stage of the 2015 World Cup - effectively knocking them out - the Welsh team will be reminded that the global tournament has been a positive influence in their recent history. In the 6 Nations following the previous two World Cups Wales have gone on to win the grand slam. With an outstanding defence and possibly the most settled and experienced squad in the championship, they will be tough to break down but heading across to Dublin to start their campaign against the reigning title holders will give us a good understanding of what can be expected. Many will be looking to see if the other side of their game has improved though with more effective scrums and the creation of more try-scoring opportunities needed. In their final World Cup match they failed to score a single try against 13-man Australia but manager Warren Gatland is likely to play at a much higher tempo in an aim to dominate the opposition and create these chances.
One to watch: Alun Wyn Jones – heartbeat of the team
Ireland (World Ranking – 6th)
The Irish are aiming to do something that no other team has done in the history of the 6 Nations (or the previous editions, 5 Nations/Home Nations) by winning a third consecutive outright title. When you consider that the championships date back to 1883 this would be some achievement. But they no longer have talisman Brian O’Driscoll or their legendary captain Paul O’Connell (for the first time since 1999) to help them achieve this and open their account at home against a very strong Welsh side followed by away trips to Paris then Twickenham. If they emerge from these three games on top of the table it’s likely that the history book writers will be sharpening their pencils. A few injury concerns, including the latest to back Luke Fitzgerald who has been ruled out for up to eight weeks after a training session injury to his medial ligament, make the task a little harder. But new captain Rory Best along with a spine of experienced players and talented potential new caps could have a very special start to the year.
One to watch: Jonathan Sexton – influential playmaker
France (World Ranking – 7th)
Playing their first two games at home may be welcomed but France are not looking like potential title contenders this year – although may well have a hand in deciding where it does end up. Of course, the customary element of unpredictability that goes with Les Bleus means that anything could happen especially when you add a new manager in Novés who had plenty of success in his time with Toulouse, albeit who still has something to prove after their recent demise. Into the mix also goes new captain Guilhem Guirado, hooker. Memories of the drubbing in the quarter finals last summer at the hands of New Zealand need to be erased if they are to buck their recent trend and challenge the top three but, whenever there’s unpredictability, there’s a chance.
One to watch: Louis Picamoles – powerful ball-carrier
Scotland (World Ranking – 9th)
Although wooden spoon winners in the last campaign – and a team that have only won eight games of the 45 in the previous nine 6 Nations tournaments - Scotland can have an air of confidence going into this year’s battle after an impressive showing in the World Cup. Had it not been for a controversial ending to the quarter final against finalists Australia who knows what would have happened. They start against the Auld Enemy who are favourites to take the trophy and this result could define their tournament. The Scots could certainly surprise a few after such a poor showing 12 months ago but their main goal should be to use this as a building block. A couple of wins would be progress.
One to watch: Greig Laidlaw – awesome kicker
Italy (World Ranking – 12th)
As clear outsiders, the Azzurri have no pressure on them to win a game so there is a chance they may catch others off-guard. In saying this, their likely only chance of getting points on the board are against Scotland when they welcome them to Rome in the third round of fixtures. Driving lineout and forward play are where their strengths lie but 10 uncapped players named in the squad suggest that coach Brunel knows that a shake up is required. Since being added to the previous 5 Nations set-up in 2000 Italy have finished last in 10 of the 16 events and if they are left adrift again this year it may increase the clamor to have a promotion/relegation process with the Six Nations B teams (European Nations Cup) especially with Georgia starting to show dominance there.
One to watch: Simone Favoro – expert at slowing and controlling from the breakdown
Schedule: First Round (time CET)
Teams being announced for the weekend fixtures:
Last year we saw some big hits, great tries and fabulous runs. Here's a quick taster of what could be to come:
Did you know?
- Rugby will again feature at the 2016 Olympics in Brazil...for first time in 92 years!
- For all of you wondering where Spain sit in the world rankings...21st. Just below Uruguay and just ahead of Namibia.
Women’s 6 Nations Championship
Also getting started on Saturday 6 February is the Women’s 6 Nations Championship with Ireland's women - just like their male compatriots - looking to hold onto their title.
For more information please see the Official RBS 6 nations site HERE.