Six Nations 2016 preview
The 17th Six Nations kicks off with France vs Italy on Saturday. After an appalling World Cup by the Northern Hemisphere, the upcoming tournament will surely be an exciting one, as teams attempt to heal their broken pride. Jack Hsuan assesses each team, their chances, and the players to watch.
After high expectations, the most disappointing performers of the World Cup were without doubt the home nation. Never before has the host not managed to get through the group stages. The aftermath of this was the abdication of Head Coach Stuart Lancaster, replaced by Australian Eddie Jones, ex-coach of both Japan and Australia. Pressure is on the first foreign coach England has ever had, and with the controversial appointment of Dylan Hartley as captain, he is certainly not playing it safe. The New-Zealand born hooker has had a grand total of fifty-four weeks’ worth of suspension, yet this confrontational nature seems to be what Jones is attempting to restore in the England pack. Hartley’s experience is contrasted against the inclusion of seven uncapped players in the thirty-three-man squad. Yet expectation is as high as always for the England team, even with its newlook. With English club’s in fine form in the European cup, and an encouraging draw, it wouldn’t be the biggest surprise to see England perform well. Keep eyes on Jonathan Joseph, as his quick feet and ability to exploit the smallest gaps may be the key to unlocking England’s opponents.
Predicted position: 2nd
The days in which France were constant favourites to win the Six Nations are held only in distant memory. Sadly, for the other squads, those days may be returning, as, like England, a new coach takes the helm. After the catastrophic reign of Philippe Saint-Andre, Guy Noves will be looking to take France back to the glory days of old. Although perhaps past his prime, the charismatic 62-year-old may be exactly what Les Bleus need to restore the free-flowing attacking style which made them such fierce competitors. Again, like England, the squad has had an injection of new blood, with eight uncapped players named in the squad. The omission of hard-hitting but sometimes sloppy centre Mathieu Bastareaud is an omen of the rugby France will try to play. Yet the loss of talisman and captain Thierry Dusautoir will be a major blow to the team, and it will be surprising if Noves can fully restore France from a consistent bottom-half team to a title challenger in such a short period. With Scotland on the rise, it may be another disappointing year for France.
Predicted position: 5th
After winning the last two Six Nation titles, Ireland will be hunting to become the first team to win three in a row, but their chances are hampered by injury. With the retirement of Paul O’Connell, and the injuries of Moore, Henderson and O’Mahony, and worries over O’Brien, there is a large hole which Ireland must seal if they hope to win the title again. Their kick-chase strategy has served them well, but with ongoing concussion problems of star-man Sexton, now may be the time when Coach Joe Schmidt decides to experiment with tactics. It is little surprise that Rory Best was named captain, and, with 89 caps his name, his experience would be a welcome asset to any team. With a strong set of backs, including Payne and inform centre McCloskey, Ireland’s attacking prowess will be as strong as ever, but their injuries may be too much to overcome. A disappointing tournament may well be ahead of them.
Predicted position: 3rd
Italy may be looking at a sour two months ahead of them. As two coaches face their first Six Nations, Italian coach Jacques Brunel heads into his last. Yet his approach is not that of a last effort, a graceful bowing out. Instead, he has brought in 10 new players. Perhaps necessary, considering the ageing nature of the squad that played in the World Cup. After missing the World Cup due to injury, Captain fantastic Sergio Parisse returns to the Italy squad, bringing with him a wealth of experience in his 114 caps. Yet at the age of 32, his best days are perhaps behind him, and you have to wonder how much longer he can lead his squad. Questions remain over who can fill the vital role of fly-half, after Allan’s disappointing World Cup and current injury, the battle will be between Haimona and Canna to prove themselves. Italy will have to hope that the addition of fresh faces will change their stars, or they face a long future of holding the unenviable wooden spoon. If they can maintain their intensity throughout the whole 80 minutes rather than dying down in the last 20, they may yet prove a problem.
Predicted position: 6th
If one Six Nations team could walk away from the World Cup with their head held high, it was the Scots. After being beaten by Australia due to a controversial last-minute penalty, Scotland will be looking to replicate their form in the Six Nations. There is no doubt that Vern Cotter has created a team of real steel, capable of challenging any team in the tournament. Yet the age old problem of Scotland is turning positive performance into positive result. Last Six Nations, despite playing some of their best rugby in years, they didn’t win a single match. Key men Stuart Hogg and captain Greg Laidlaw may well help their team into threatening the top half of the table. Playing the French at home will make many Scots favour their chances for a solid fourth place. That is, if they can shore up their defence, and concede less tries.
Predicted position: 4th
After a heart-breaking streak of injuries that saw them crash out of the World Cup, Wales return with a vengeance. Along with Scotland, Wales have the comfortable position of having very few obstacles to overcome, with Halfpenny’s injury and Warburton’s lack of games the only ones of real note. Yet with a phenomenal kicker in Dan Biggar and a tremendous forward pack capable of winning penalties from nothing, it would take a braver man than I to bet against Wales going into the tournament. Alun Wyn Jones may be the player of the tournament if he keeps up his recent form, and flankers Warburton and Tipuric will be dangerous in the breakdown. Expect a number of penalties going their way. If they can stave off any major injury problems, the title is theirs to take. Yet this is the Six Nations, and there will always be upsets and surprises. Whilst no team will be going in comfortable favourites, Wales are perhaps closest.
Predicted position: 1st