Friday Feb 2, 2018

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

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?


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


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


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.


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 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.


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.


Related Articles

  • 96 WEEKS AGO

    scottish prop saves fire victim

  • 100 WEEKS AGO

    New Rugby X tournament insane

  • 127 WEEKS AGO

    Vunipola stands by his comments supporting...


Great Tries

  • 6 DAYS AGO

    The very best 'trick shots' in rugby show exactly why we love this game


    The time an All Blacks great combined with uncapped Australian legend to score 80-metre stunner


    WATCH: Closer look at Barrett offload which wowed fans in Rugby Championship masterclass


    Re-live one of the most iconic hat tricks in Blues history by Fiji great Rupeni Caucaunibuca


    Re-live possibly Jonny Wilkinson's best Twickenham performance against All Blacks in 2002

View All

Big Hits & Dirty Play

  • 15 HOURS AGO

    The time a 112kg ball carrier went down screaming 'I've been punched'... by an 80kg scrum half

  • 23 HOURS AGO

    Argentina flanker treads fine line against Wallabies with two naughty challenges

  • 2 DAYS AGO

    Imagine giving Keith Wood a right hook, and the ref sends your teammate off

  • 2 DAYS AGO

    Five minutes of Faf de Klerk on-pitch shenanigans is pure gold to watch

  • 4 DAYS AGO

    Head on head clash dismissed but Wiese still misses All Blacks match

View All

See It To Believe It

  • 1 DAY AGO

    WATCH: Amazing angle of Barrett's historic match-winning kick over Springboks

  • 3 DAYS AGO

    Honey Badger goes mega viral with sheep saving video

  • 1 WEEK AGO

    Springbok star hits back at journalist's question, says Wallabies were 'street smart'

  • 1 WEEK AGO

    Austin Healey says new laws don't encourage player honesty after Exeter incident

  • 1 WEEK AGO

    Tongan Thor makes EPIC assist with blind pass even Quade Cooper would be proud of

View All


  • 2 DAYS AGO

    Five minutes of Faf de Klerk on-pitch shenanigans is pure gold to watch

  • 1 WEEK AGO

    WATCH: Montoya calls All Blacks star a pu**y in hilarious head loss moment


    French players lift 1+ ton car off the road ahead of Top 14 game


    Committed winger suffers unluckiest injury of the year after just TWO minutes


    These ridiculous interviews vary from funny to downright bizarre

View All


  • 47 WEEKS AGO

    Viral video of Scottish club brawl goes down a storm with rugby community

  • 84 WEEKS AGO

    RUGBYDUMP BLITZ: This Best of the Week round up is sure to entertain you

  • 84 WEEKS AGO

    RD BLITZ - Disaster, just when it looked so promising...

  • 84 WEEKS AGO

    That glorious moment that will live on forever, like it or not

  • 85 WEEKS AGO

    RD Blitz - PROP'S Lionel Messi wizardy creates incredible try

View All

Player Features


    A deeper look at Jason Robinson's incredible path to the top

  • 31 WEEKS AGO

    WATCH: Bumping off tacklers and taking high balls, Rob Kearney had an impressive Super Rugby debut

  • 36 WEEKS AGO

    Brian Moore on money in modern rugby and how it should never be compared to 'outlier' football

  • 38 WEEKS AGO

    Tuisova's wrecking ball montage will make you grateful you never made it as a pro

  • 44 WEEKS AGO

    New Zealand rugby pod admit Owen Farrell is world class

View All