Saturday 2 February marks the beginning of this year’s Six Nations rugby tournament. Always one of the highlights of the sporting calendar and a great pick-me-up in the gloom of winter. Last year my Sportsthoughts 10 set out why I love the tournament and made some predictions. Needless to say, they were all wrong. Sportsthoughts 17 made my excuses!
Last year I thought Ireland were just too strong for everyone. They came third. The strength of their provinces – Leinster, Munster, Ulster – didn’t feed through to the national team. Wales, who I had down to come fourth, won the Grand Slam! England did marginally better than expected: 2nd rather than 3rd. And France were a poor fourth. Italy and Scotland occupied the bottom two slots as usual, but Italy 5th and Scotland 6th. I’d predicted the other way round.
I’ll give it a go again this year nonetheless. So here’s what not to put your money on!
England first because we just can’t ignore that victory over New Zealand, and the steady improvement before it. A young team still, which could malfunction, but I’m betting that they have got it together now and are the team to beat. I’m going for a Grand Slam.
So Jim Telfer, ex-Scotland player and rugby coach says, ahead of the England-Scotland game this Saturday, that England are “arrogant”. Widely reported in the media, as intended by Telfer, I’m sure. But hardly original. The Scots have been moaning about English arrogance since time began. Chip on the shoulder stuff. Let’s see how the game goes.
The French could easily win the tournament. If the Heineken Cup is a pointer, then they will triumph. Their teams in the quarter finals look strongest. But all of them have a lot of foreign players in key positions. So as usual the question is, which France will turn up? I think they will beat all except England.
Ireland are rebuilding, as some of their stars reach the end of the road. Their back line is still exciting and dangerous and Brian O’Driscoll is back for maybe one last hurrah. I’m not sure their forwards are quite right yet, but, hey I could be wrong. But probably not. I’m betting the French and English forwards will be too much for them this time around.
Wales have been ravaged by injuries recently and their coach, Warren Gatland, is absent, preparing for the Lions’ tour of Australia. But it looks like quite a few of the injured players are coming back just in time, so they could revive. Their teams in the Heineken Cup have been disappointing. So it’s hard to predict much success for them, but they will always be capable of a surprise. No Grand Slam this year, but this 4th place prediction could easily be wrong. There is a lot of talent in the Welsh team.
Scotland and Italy are interchangeable. They simply don’t have the squads to compete over the whole tournament. Scotland will always raise their game against England, driven by historical hatred, but there are four other games when something else than bitterness is needed. Wooden spoon contenders with Italy.
I’m not totally convinced by England. Not enough Quins boys in there yet! If France play to their potential they could be immense. I think this year it will come down to these two, but it is all fine margins. Watch out for the winner of Wales v Ireland getting on a roll, and turning everything on its head.
So all I know is that it is going to be a brilliant, unpredictable tournament as usual. A winter warmer.
Swing low, sweet chariot!