The ground frost and snowfall are now synonymous with the beginning of February which also spells the start of the 6 Nations season, the jewel in the crown of Northern Hemisphere rugby. The matches between old rivals stir a whole host of emotions in any rugby fan, and the capital cities of Wales, England, Scotland, Ireland, France and Italy become party grounds for a month and a half. The rugby bandwagon draws in all walks of life, all ages and all genders and nothing, it seems, will ever stop it rolling.
Every fan has an opinion about their team, and the opposition. Suddenly everyone is a coach, selecting and dropping players, talking tactics and tweeting wildly optimistic prognostics. The first game of this years’ tournament is the traditionally brutal derby between two old enemies, perhaps the greatest of foes, Wales and England.
England has suffered from a multitude of injuries in the build-up to the game, but still possess a potent threat behind. Surely Wales must be favourites for this clash, at home and with probably the most settled and consistent side in the championship. Whilst a win is undoubtedly better than a loss, and sets down a marker for what is to come at Twickenham later in the year, the public should be wary about placing too much emphasis on this game and going overboard if the win is delivered. England will be a different side in September, and whatever happens in Cardiff they will be very focussed on the game in the World Cup. Both sides should be cautious about peaking too early, though both will be equally trying their hardest to get the “W”.
This 6 Nations may well throw up more than a couple of surprises. Of course the French could be magic or tragic, they have the players available to go unbeaten but as always their attitude could be their undoing. If Philippe Saint-André can galvanise his stars to pull together, who knows where they could end up. Perhaps though, the dark horses this year could be Scotland. They are an unfashionable side to back but with the relative success of the Glasgow team and now with Vern Cotter at the helm, they are beginning to get the best out of their comparatively limited resources. They have some good youngsters coming through in Grey, Seymour, Bennett and Dunbar (although they surely would also have loved to have been able to select Strauss and Matawalu too!) and will be smarting from their 50-point beating in Cardiff last year. They have a point to prove to themselves, and without any real pressure or expectation on their shoulders to do so. They really could pose more than their fair share of problems this time out.
I’m sure no coach will be discounting Italy on the pitch, and nor should they be taken lightly. They will niggle away and stay on your heels, ready to pounce when you are unaware, as Wales, Scotland and France know all too well. But realistically, the other 5 teams have enough firepower in their armoury which, if used correctly, should take them out of range of the Azzurri. Most people’s favourites for the tournament will of course be Ireland, coming off the back of a great autumn series and with consistently strong results for provinces in the Pro 12. Whilst it is difficult to bet against them, they don’t necessarily instil the same confidence right now as they once did and are seemingly still in transition trying to get over the loss of their talisman O’Driscoll. Will their new kid on the block Robbie Henshaw be the new star of the 6 Nations? Will Sean O’Brien rediscover his pre-Lions form? Has the Irish scrum got a tighthead? All questions that will ultimately make or break their campaign.
I suppose if I had to pick a winner right now, it would have to be Wales if they can get off to a good start on Friday. Mostly though, I’m predicting a few surprises before “Super Saturday” on March 21st.