RBS 6 Nations Preview - Page 2 of 2 - Green and Gold Rugby
England

RBS 6 Nations Preview

RBS 6 Nations Preview

Jonny Sexton – masterful player

Ireland

Ireland have won the last two tournaments outright and will be after a hat-trick which will be unprecedented in Six Nations, or earlier versions of the competition.

But the embarrassing way that light-footed Argentina bumped them out of the RWC in the quarter-final does not bode well, and neither does the list of injuries they have, nor the retirement of Paul O’Connell.

The good news for Ireland is that no 6N team has the high tempo game that Los Pumas had that day to overcome their predictable game plan.

Overall, few of the national players performed well for their clubs in the recent European Rugby Champions Cup tournament in which no Irish team progressed to the quarter-finals.

And because of absences, the tight five has only hooker Rory Best and lock Devin Toner as the best available in their position. That could affect the driving of the pack, and also the set pieces. Tight-head prop and tight-head lock are particular concerns.

Iain Henderson and Luke Fitzgerald will miss the tournament as will stalwart winger Tommy Bowe after knee cruciate surgery. Although flyhalf Jonny Sexton, their most influential player, is listed to play, he looked dusty at Wasps recently and hadn’t been in great form anyway.

Centres Jared Payne and Robbie Henshaw are expected to run-on, but will be underdone.

Their bench will have to play above themselves because their biggest two rivals are not affected so much by injuries; but with adversity comes the opportunity to test inexperienced players, and they will be involved in test matches, after all.

The leadership of both O’Connell and his likely successor, Peter O’Mahony, will be missed but their absence may be partly offset by the advent of loosie CJ Stander, who looks like foreman material, and is now eligible for Ireland.

Don’t look for much adventurous rugby from Ireland: they have a limited number of players available and use a limited approach. If their high game was not so good and Sexton not such a master tactician it may be otherwise, but they will play to their strengths if their depleted pack allows it.

Ireland have three home games this year but two are against the two weakest teams, on paper; so the advantage doesn’t signify so much.

Players to watch: 1. Jonny Sexton, 2. Conor Murray; 3. Devin Toner

Prediction: 3rd

Sergio Parisse – class act of the team

Italy

The introduction of the Azzurri has made Six Nations a lesser competition compared to the old Five Nations it replaced. They have finished last, ten times out of 16, and never finished higher than fourth.

Their 6N highlight last year was when they were awarded a penalty try in the 79th minute against Scotland at Murrayfield and beat them 22-19, and there was not much joy in the RWC either: their best performance was in a gritty 9-16 loss to Ireland

Italy have ten uncapped players in their squad and they are not well-known; but who can say there is not a future star amongst them?

The Azzurri showed some strength in recent times in scrummaging but as the practitioners aged they resorted to trickery that was easily noticed. But they have a decent back row with flankers Alessando Zanni and Simone Favaro, plus the class act of the team, no. 8 Sergio Parisse, the talismatic skipper.

If their forwards show up to play Edoardo Gori could shine at scrumhalf, but the injury to his talented partner, flyhalf Tommaso Allan, will be a crushing limitation for the back line this year.

Further out young centre Michele Campagnaro will help a depleted midfield, but Andrea Masi, who snapped an Achilles tendon in the RWC will miss the competition.

There is no reason to suspect Italy will will win more than one game and to do that even, they will have to improve their goal kicking

Italy will not expect to beat France in Paris in Round 1, and has never beaten England, their Round 2 opponents, but they will be licking their lips waiting to play Scotland at Stadio Olimpico in Round 3.

Players to watch: 1, Sergio Parisse, 2. Michele Campagnaro, 3. Edoardo Gori

Prediction: 6th

Greig Laidlaw – the craft of a ringmaster

Scotland

Scotland have never won Six Nations, which started in 2000, and are not likely to win it this year either. They have lost their last seven games in the competition and have won only four in the last five seasons—and three of those were against regular wooden-spooners, Italy.

Although they were last in the 2015 Six Nations they were the European team that came closest to progressing to the RWC semi-finals, since they would have rolled the Wallabies in the quarters but for a dodgy penalty awarded against them.

Coach Vern Cotter doesn’t have a real hook to hang his hat on but if he get his players in the same frame of mind as when they had Australia rattled, he will do well.

Helped by the craft of ringmaster Greig Laidlaw, the emergence of flyhalf Finn Russell and centre Matt Bennett, plus the occasional brilliancies of fullback Stuart Hogg, Scotland is a potent force if they get enough ball through their pack. But they have to improve all aspects of their defence, including first-up tackles..

Their first game is against England at Murrayfield, and Edward Jones is already taking long range pot shots at Scotland sitting back smiling like a rat with a gold tooth. Apparently England haven’t had enough time together and they have to play away. Poor lambs; they can’t be favourites surely, says Edward.

No doubt the Scotland fans will like to return fire in song after the game— that the Flower of Scotland vanquished the English invader “and stood against him, proud Edward’s army, and sent him homeward, tae think again”.

Oh, for William Wallace in the second-row for Scotland; he was big enough they say—and he took no English prisoners.

Players to watch: 1. Greig Laidlaw, 2. Matt Bennett, 3. Jonny Gray

Prediction: 5th

Justin Tipuric – I’d have him in my team

Wales

Wales played some commendable rugby in the RWC despite losing players before and during the tournament, but they couldn’t score a try against 13 Aussies in their pool game, nor defend against the one chance South Africa had in the quarter-final.

Despite that killer Bok try they had the best defence in the tournament giving up only three tries. Their flaw was not scoring enough of them—only four in as many games (not counting their opening romp against Uruguay).

Perhaps with Jonathan Davies and some others on deck against Australia they would have found a way to score a try that day, but the players present did not have the backlog of attacking instincts that a southern team would have had against 13 defenders.

Wales lost only one match in Six Nations last year (in their opening game at home, against England) but they finished just third because they didn’t get enough lollies in the Round 5 scramble for points differential.

With Sam Waburton under-done after injury I hope that coach Warren Gatland plays Justin Tipuric on the open side. He was born in the wrong country; if he was an Aussie and Michael Hooper was born in Wales, he’d be a bigger star than he is now. He was made to play the Aussie way.

I wonder if there is a faint possibility of Wales playing with a more expansive style. Attack coach Rob Howley would like to give it a shot but I can’t see it happening, and I am picking them to win the chocolates with their old style.

Players to watch: 1. Alun Wyn Jones, 2. Dan Biggar, 3. Justin Tipuric

Prediction: 1st

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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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