Friday Feb 2, 2018

Six Nations 2018 Preview: Is there a clear favourite for the title?

Six Nations 2018 Preview: Is there a clear favourite for the title?
4
Comments

After what has seemed an eternal off-season break, the 2018 international season will finally kick off with the first round of the re-branded NatWest 6 Nations this weekend.

Up first will be Wales, who host Scotland at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff, before France take on Ireland in Paris. The on Sunday, Italy receive Eddie Jones’ England in Rome.

This year’s tournament has been tipped as one of the most unpredictable in recent years to call, with England, Ireland and Scotland enjoying promising end-of-year Tests in November. Wales and France cannot be ruled out of contention and Conor O’Shea’s Italy are known to cause the odd upset as underdogs.

So just who is in the best shape to take home the title in 2018?

ENGLAND

Eddie Jones’ stats don’t lie, whichever way you look at them. Since he took the helm after the 2015 Rugby World Cup, he has steered England to 22 wins out of 23 (a 96% winning record), losing just once in last season’s final match against Ireland, which ultimately cost the side its second Grand Slam in a row.

Eight uncapped players in the squad, Billy Vunipola lost to injury and patchy club form in Europe led Jones to joke that England “had no chance” of the title. But internationally, the squad has been exceptional and boast enough talent to be considered one of the clear favourites for a third championship in as many years.

Note: Teams correct at time of writing

England Team vs Italy

Backs: Mike Brown, Anthony Watson, Ben Te’o, Owen Farrell, Jonny May, George Ford, Ben Youngs

Forwards: , Sam Simmonds, Chris Robshaw, Courtney Lawes, Maro Itoje, Joe Launchbury, Dan Cole, Dylan Harltley, Mako Vunipola

Reserves: Jamie George, Alec Hepburn, Harry Williams, George Kruis, Sam Underhill, Danny Care, Jonathan Joseph, Jack Nowell

FRANCE

Les Bleus have been through the ringer over the years, lacking in both results and direction. New head coach Jacques Brunel has handed 19-year-old Matthieu Jalibert a first start at 10, while injuries have ruled out Yoann Huget, Damien Penaud, Wesley Fofana and Morgan Parra.

So they’re up against it but not completely out of contention. If they are able to get a decent result against Ireland and build momentum, we could yet see a return to the France of old.

They will depend heavily on an incredibly inexperienced pair of fly-halves – Jalibert and Anthony Belleau – as well as scrum-half Antoine Dupont in the backs. The back row will be a match for most in the tournament; Gourdon, Camara and Lauret will be responsible for getting Brunel’s men over the gain line.

French squad vs Ireland:

Backs: Geoffrey Palis, Teddy Thomas, Rémi Lamerat, Henry Chavancy, Virimi Vakatawa; Matthieu Jalibert, Maxime Machenaud.

Forwards: Jefferson Poirot, Guilhem Guirado (capt), Rabah Slimani, Arthur Iturria, Sébastien Vahaamahina, Wenceslas Lauret, Yacouba Camara, Kévin Gourdon

Replacements: Adrien Pelissie, Dany Priso, Cedate Gomes Sa, Paul Gabrillagues, Marco Tauleigne, Antoine Dupont, Anthnoy Belleau, Benjamin Fall

ITALY

Once more Italy comes into the 6 Nations as rank outsiders, but under Conor O’Shea’s leadership, they are in a progression phase. The frustration of taking only one win in their last seven matches will not be lost on either the players or fans.

They need to be competitive, especially at home. If they can score tries, create a new direction and cohesion between players, as well as keeping the squad relatively consistent, then expect some progress to be seen towards the end of the championship. Until then, the title – and even wins – seem out of reach.

Italy squad vs England

Backs: Edoardo Gori, Marcello Violi, Tomasso Allan, Carlo Canna, Ian McKinley, Mattia Bellini, Tomasso Benvenuti, Giulio Bisegni, Tomasso Boni, Tomasso Castello, Jayden Hayward, Matteo Minozzi, Edoardo Padovani.

Forwards: Simone Ferrari, Andrea Lovotti, Tiziano Pasquali, Nicola Quaglio, Marco Riccioni, Luca Bigi, Leonardo Ghiraldini, Oliviero Fabiani, George Biagi, Dean Budd, Federico Ruzza, Alexander Zanni, Renato Giammarioli, Giovanni Licata, Maxime Mbanda , Sebastian Negri, Sergio Parisse (capt), Abraham Steyn.

IRELAND

There’s no doubting the fact Ireland are going to be a force in this tournament. Their club form in Europe has been exceptional and the emergence of new stars of the future such as Jordan Larmour and Jacob Stockdale has given a fresh shot of optimism in the country. But they face a tough challenge this weekend in Paris against France and need to hit the ground running.

Momentum will be key as always, and if they can keep the sort of the composure the provinces have shown this season, a potential Grand Slam decider awaits against England on the final weekend of the tournament in March.

Ireland squad vs France

Ireland: Rob Kearney, Keith Earls, Robbie Henshaw, Bundee Aki, Jacob Stockdale, Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray.

Forwards: Cian Healy, Rory Best, Tadhg Furlong; Iain Henderson, James Ryan, Peter O’Mahony, Josh van der Flier, CJ Stander.

Replacements: Sean Cronin, Jack McGrath, John Ryan, Devin Toner, Dan Leavy, Luke McGrath, Joey Carbery, Fergus McFadden.

SCOTLAND

Scotland were by far the most improved Northern Hemisphere team come the end of 2017. Gregor Townsend’s side put over a century on Australia, almost beat the All Blacks and have developed the sort of fervour not seen in the country since its glory days of the nineties.

They still lack the mental composure in key matches, however. That they didn’t finish off New Zealand in the Autumn was a classic case in point. Captain John Barclay says his team needs to perform away from home and with only two games at Murrayfield this year, that aspect is now essential if they are to compete for the title.

They’re a side on the rise, but results now need to come.

Scotland squad vs Wales

Backs: Stuart Hogg, Tommy Seymour, Chris Harris, Huw Jones, Byron McGuigan, Finn Russell, Ali Price.

Forwards: Gordon Reid, Stuart McInally, Jon Welsh, Ben Toolis, Jonny Gray, John Barclay (captain), Hamish Watson, Cornell du Preez.

Replacements: Scott Lawson, Jamie Bhatti, Murray McCallum, Grant Gilchrist, Ryan Wilson, Greig Laidlaw, Pete Horne, Sean Maitland.

WALES

While the Scarlets have been brilliantly flying the flag for Wales for the past two seasons, the national side has been worryingly inconsistent. Coach Warren Gatland has come under criticism for his “Warren Ball” game tactics that appear to be limiting the side in attack, but there is hope the Welsh may be about to change that this year, with the inclusion of 10 Scarlets players in the matchday squad to face Scotland this weekend.

If Wales are to challenge for the title, they need to be more expansive and score more tries. Victory on the opening weekend at a packed Principality Stadium could just be the springboard they need to mount a serious threat.

Wales squad vs Scotland

Backs: Leigh Halfpenny, Josh Adams, Scott Williams, Hadleigh Parkes, Steff Evans, Rhys Patchell, Gareth Davies.

Forwards: Rob Evans, Ken Owens, Samson Lee, Cory Hill, Alun Wyn Jones (Captain), Aaron Shingler, Josh Navidi, Ross Moriarty.

Replacements: Elliot Dee, Wyn Jones, Tomas Francis, Bradley Davies, Justin Tipuric, Aled Davies, Gareth Anscombe, Owen Watkin.

4 Comments

  •  10stonenumber10
    10stonenumber10

    Forza Azzurri! Isn't that the new driving game on Xbox?

    Reply
  •  ruckinmaul
    ruckinmaul

    Fairly agree with you, this year 6N is all England to lose due to their number of first team players available. Wales and Scotland has been raged by injuries. Scotland particularly with their front row (All first team and backup front rows are injured), if the front row cannot cope with the force of others, sadly Scottish backline needed to play on the back foot of a weak foundation. 'Forwards win the game, backs determine by how much.' France is so unpredictable, they have the stars, the players, but the not management sadly. Ireland is the only one left to beat the English. With only 1 first team player out (Sean O'Brien) they will be a huge task for England. Since the two will meet at Twickenham, I reckon England will have the edge.

    Reply
  •  felipeg
    felipeg

    Love your comment regarding France. Remove them from the equation and you can pretty much guess the result based on world rankings. But then les Bleus can win any of those games, or lose to Italy, or both.

    Reply
  •  drg
    drg

    Probably very typical of the competition and probably very obvious, but on one hand I feel England will have it in the bag... ..but then on the other hand, noise around Ireland has been suspiciously low, Wales have had injuries but perhaps will grind out a nasty win somewhere, Scotland sadly is still playing the tune of "we're nearly there" and I hope for their sake that they are there now, so whilst I doubt they'll win it, I hope they produce some; what we've all come to know as, 'upsets' (since Scotland have been whipping boys since forever). Italy I am resigned to accepting, are probably screwed - however that is based on nothing other than their past track record.. ...and of course France... Who could very well win the grand slam!! Or just.come first without the grand slam, or come second, or maybe 3rd, 4th, 5th or 6th... Depending on whether the Blood blue supermoon has affected the wine and cheese of the boot maker and stud tightener on their staff...

    Reply

Great Tries

View All

Big Hits & Dirty Play

View All

See It To Believe It

View All

Funnies

View All

Training Videos

View All

Player Features

View All
Six Nations 2018 Preview: Is there a clear favourite for the title? | RugbyDump - Rugby News & Videos