RBS 6 Nations Preview - Green and Gold Rugby
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RBS 6 Nations Preview

RBS 6 Nations Preview
Chris Robshaw - RBS 6 Nations 2015               Courtesy RBS 6 Nations

Chris Robshaw – RBS 6 Nations 2015 — Courtesy RBS 6 Nations

 

The RBS 6 Nations starts on the weekend and perhaps it will end in the exciting way it did in 2015.

On the last day Ireland, England and Wales were throwing the ball around like lollies at a kids’ party as they chased tries galore to get a better points differential than the other two teams, who were otherwise equal on the ladder.

The 6N teams had a poor group result in the 2015 Rugby World Cup [RWC] but they will put that behind them for this traditional tournament that can have more twists and turns than “Days of our Lives”.

One item of interest is whether or not any team will use this post-RWC competition to remodel their style of play to a higher tempo Southern Hemisphere style, when conditions permit. If so, their blueprint should be Los Pumas: coach Daniel Hourcade has transformed their methodology in a remarkably short time.

Three Kiwis and an Aussie walk into a bar—is this some kind of joke? Maybe, but it could be the coaches of Ireland, Wales, Scotland and England wanting a drink.

Eddie Jones, new England coach – will be a lot more fun

England

Famously, England didn’t progress to the finals of their own RWC and none but the English cared. Their team was not loved.

But after the tenures of Martin Johnson, a deep thinker, and Stuart Lancaster, a decent bloke, England now has a head coach who has achieved at a high level and is not an apprentice learning on the job, as the other two were.

For a decade or more some fine players came and went but not as many England stars emerged as their rugby population suggested it should. And for years they didn’t seize the key moments in the 6N tournament as the side captained by Johnson did.

I don’t know that Eddie Jones can get them out of their second-place rut, but it will be a lot of fun watching him try and listening to his killer remarks. Maybe the England players need to hear a few of Eddie’s barbs to to get them going again.

Yes, Jones can get cranky, and he chose a kindred spirit in Dylan Hartley, who has the shortest fuse in world rugby, to captain his side. Hartley will bring some abrasiveness to a team that needs it, provided he stays on the park.

The new coach would have liked to resolve the dilemma of the England centres but a setback to Manu Tualagi and a broken leg to Henry Slade, a Will Greenwood of a player, may mean that the midfield could be waiting for Godot once more. Meantime in-form Owen Farrell will start at inside centre as a second ball-player.

Hopes of England playing a high tempo game were “scotched” when Danny Cipriani and rising star Elliot Daly were not required for Murrayfield. Anyway, Jones has said his primary goal was to get the forwards on the front foot.

Eddie hasn’t made radical changes to the first England match day team; perhaps he is waiting for the Italy game, or the summer tour, to blood new starting players. There could be one odd selection issue though—reportedly he will move Chris Robshaw to the blindside flank, which is fine, but there is talk that James Haskell will play on the open side, which resolves nothing.

Although England have three games away this year their two home matches are against their closest recent rivals, Ireland and Wales, which will help.

Despite having won Six Nations only once since 2003 when they had one of greatest sides they’ve ever had, the bookies think England will win it this year.

Players to watch: 1. Mike Brown, 2. Owen Farrell, 3. Dylan Hartley

Prediction – 2nd

 New France coach Guy Novès – master of the Gallic shrug

France

France have won more Six Nations titles and Grand Slams than any other country and were tournament heavyweights in the Naughties; but in recent times they have became a shadow of themselves: they finished last in 2013.

In 6N last year they beat only regular cellar-dwellers, Italy and Scotland, and in the RWC they were embarrassed by Ireland in the pool stages and thrashed by New Zealand in the quarter-final.

New helmsman Guy Novès, the master of the Gallic shrug from Toulouse, will struggle to turn SS France around, but he has helped to torpedo the national team as much as anybody has.

The French domestic clubs have the power in French rugby and have crippled their national team; but they don’t seem to care.

Novès recruited many elite overseas players for Toulouse, as did cartoon tycoon Mourad Boudjellal (a cartoon character himself), for Toulon, and others for their clubs. Some years there were few healthy flyhalves in the Top 14 eligible for France, and scrumhalves weren’t in great supply either.

At least Novès is a real coach unlike clueless Philippe Saint-André, his predecessor, though his finishing results at Toulouse were only middling.

France has been either famous, or infamous, for their unpredictability over the years and Novès is making noises that he wants to get away from the dark side of this dilemma by playing with their old flair, but he has had little time with his team to implement that.

As ever, such an expansive purpose must be underwritten by their pack, but they will miss the leadership of Thierry Dusaitour who has retired. New skipper, Guilhem Guirado, is unproven in that capacity but as hooker was in good form in the RWC, as was bruising no. 8 Louis Picamoles.

Boofhead centre Mathieu Bastareaud was overlooked by Novès in his 6N squad but youngster Jonathan Danty, a similar player, looks set for a long future.

I expect a slow game from France until Novès knows his team better and knows who his best players are.

He is rolling the dice choosing ten uncapped players in his training squad for the opener, and if there is risk in that there is also a whiff of excitement about the new guys. But why should a new coach not do that now, coming off a disappointing RWC, and playing Italy?

The halves pairing will be a key selection issue and because of injury to Morgan Parra, tiny debutant scrumhalf Sébastien Bézy is expected to make his bones against the Azzurri, teamed with flyhalf Jules Plisson or hybrid Jean-Marc Doussain.

France benefit from having their two opening games at home, against Italy and a wounded Ireland. If they get a perfect start, their crunch game will be in round three in Cardiff; thence to Murrayfield, and home again against England.

Players to watch: 1. Louis Picamoles, 2. Wesley Fofana, 3. Guilhem Guirado

Prediction: 4th

 

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  • Kevino

    Good preview Lee, going to predict against you.
    1) Ireland, still think Schmidt is able to counter Gatlands tactics.
    2) Wales, think they are now holding onto the same guys to long
    3) Scotland, Darkhorse, best of the Celts at the RWC and will be looking to improve.
    4) England, Eddie needs more time to turn them around.
    5) France, Will only beat Italy, embarrassment to continue for a year at least
    6) Italy, it’s Italy. Say no more.

  • Graeme

    I think England could be the dark horses for this 6 nations. They were not anywhere near as bad as their supporters thought during the world cup. They would have come through the group ahead of Wales if not for cockily turning down the penalty at the death. It’s probably too early for EJ to make much of an imprint on the team, but the have quality players from 1-15 (or 23).

    • Graeme

      Plus the best draw

  • RedSheep1989

    My money’s on the long shot- Scotland as the dark horse winners for 2016!

  • Bardon

    Many an Irish coach has been faced with the dilema of how to get the players to reproduce their provincial form in the green of Ireland. This year however it’s the last thing Schmidt will want.

    Across the three powerhouse provinces their European form has been very poor. No Irish team in the quarter final of the European Cup would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. But now it’s a reality and none of them even came close or can claim they’ve been unlucky. Their pool positions is a fair reflection of their current form and the quality of their respective teams. Each has their own rebuilding task over the next few years.

    Connacht are the one bright spark as they continue their progress in the Pro12. Their improvement has also been recognised by way of more representation in the national squad.

    Overall I think Schmidt will be hoping that his players see national duty as a welcome break from their provincial woes. It would be great to see Ireland be more expansive even at the cost of a lower final position. However given the disappointing way they exited the RWC and the injuries problems I can’t see Schmidt taking the risk.

    As for the other nations.

    My tip would be Wales. They’re not as good as they could potentially be if they played a higher tempo SH style game. But I think they’ll be good enough to top a pretty mediocre field.

    England will be nearly men again. As Lee alluded to Eddie will start the real rebuilding process during their tour of Aus. Unless they somehow manage to win the thing the 6Ns is just a warm up for the real work that will start in ernest at the end of the season.

    God knows what will happen to France. I can’t see them being as inept as under PSA but they no longer hold any fear for Ireland or Wales. Many times I watched my beloved Ireland line up against an “inferior” French team only to be undone by the mental hoodoo they held over us. Wins against Scotland, Italy and one of the other three would be a decent return.

    Scotland still haven’t progressed from the mindset of seeing games against anyone but Italy as a chance to cause an upset. They’ll approach their opener with England in the same manner. Unless Cotter can get them used to winning games avoiding the wooden spoon and possibly knocking over one of the favourites will be the limit of their ambition.

    On paper Italy are weaker than they were going into last year’s tournament. With Parisse on the decline (he’s still their best player, but father time catches up with us all, even the best of us) and injuries in key areas it looks like it will be a tough slog with them targeting the Scotland game as a wooden spoon decider. I’ve been very impressed with Campagnaro. He’s got a natural attacking instinct that allows him to make the most of the smallest of gaps. The rest of the back row is beginning to emerge from Parisse’s shadow and it’s definitely where they are strongest. How many more time can Parisse pull the rest of the team up by their bootlaces though?

    The RWC showed that the 6Ns teams need to evolve their game. However history tells us not to expect much. Those coaches whose teams didn’t do as well as expected will know that an unexpectedly poor showing can cost them their job. While those new to their roles will be assessing the players at their disposal. In a tournament where 1 result can make the difference between being in the mix for the championship and finishing a lowly 4th or 5th don’t expect anyone to throw caution to the wind.

    I’m really looking forward to the start of the tournament and to writting for G&GR again.

  • mxyzptlk

    “reportedly he will move Chris Robshaw to the blindside flank, which is fine, but there is talk that James Haskell will play on the open side, which resolves nothing.”

    Heh. Jones previously criticized Robshaw for being a six-and-a-half, and he replaced him with… a six-and-a-half. Apparently George Smith has been recruited to help get Haskell up to speed at the position, and Haskell’s strong, but he’s not as quick as other 7’s, and he does things like run into goalposts.

    Which is to say take what Eddie Jones says with a grain of salt. It also speaks to the back row ranks in England. Strange that a country with the deepest player pool in the world can’t produce and out-and-out openside flanker, but relatively tiny Scotland, Wales and Ireland manage to. England’s funny like that. Did Jones say why he wasn’t going with Kvesic?

    No one at all seems to give Ireland a hope of anything, beyond beating Italy and maybe Scotland. And this all seems based on the collapse against Argentina and the injuries. But if provincial form was any predictor of 6N performance, Wales never would have one a title. Sexton already faced down Biggar last month in Wales, and Leinster beat Ospreys 22-9. Sure, Sexton will have to keep his head attached to his neck — a difficult task of late — but he’s shown he can direct a team around a Biggar-led side.

    Pundits are claiming Wales-Ireland could determine the championship. Or rather that Wales will win it all if they beat Ireland, but Ireland could still lose it all if they beat Wales, but it could give them the confidence to win the title (but probably not a grand slam). Wales playing two opensides with Warburton and Tipuric shows what some of their intent will be, and look for plenty of good old headhunting late hits on Sexton in the first 10 minutes or so. But given Wales’ tendency to look for contact instead of space, I wouldn’t expect them to be racking up the tries. They’re starting Tom James on the wing and Anscombe at fullback, both of whom are relatively new to the side (Anscombe had time in the WC as an injury replacement). That suggests Ireland will be booting the ball down their throats most of the time, which will be irritating. Sure, they kick more than most other teams, but they also pass more and run more meters than most other teams. Up until Argentina, they were on par with New Zealand with their passes and meters run. So they CAN play some running rugby, and proved that against Scotland last year. But will they?

    Let’s not get our hopes up. Wales are pretty much a known quantity, behemoths all around with Baryshnikov at 10 (Biggaryshnikov?). Warburton and Tipuric will cause all kinds of havoc at the breakdown, and if Sean O’Brien is out (a possibility), that’s trouble. Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies will try to batter the midfield into submission, and Davies will undoubtedly fend Sexton off in the face again. North will get some ball on the wing and look for the first person to run directly over. But if Rob Kearney is out (another possibility), we could see Payne a fullback, and Henshaw partnered by McCloskey in the centers — and they’re both big athletic bastards at center. Payne is arguably much more effective at fullback, and both Henshaw and McCloskey can run around or over or through defenders, as well as offload. They haven’t played together yet, but they may not have a choice, so might as well find out if they can work together early on in the tournament.

    Which is to say I don’t have a clue how that game will go. Wales are supremely confident, as usual, Ireland are dour and playing down any hopes, as usual, and all the form and fitness profiles are on the eastern side of the Irish Sea. But if there’s one thing an Irish side feeds on, it’s being written off and neglected. If they can nail some early tries — and Wales are slow starters, and if Trimble’s on the wing it could happen — this could be a wide-open game.

England

Voted most valuable member of the G&GR Forum since records began - Ed.

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