It was back in 1883 that some magnificently forward thinking gents of the home nations decided to organise the first ever International Rugby Union Tournament. Pitting the 15 biggest, baddest and maddest of each home nation against each other, with a small, oval ball chucked in for good measure. Those sporting geniuses, those pioneers of modern rugby, had no clue just how far their legacy would proceed them.
So the stage is set, fridges are stocked and vocal chords well and truly warmed up. We are but hours away from the adrenaline fuelled, nation splitting, blood bath that we call the ‘6 Nations’. Throughout the countries taking part, weekend plans between now and the 21st of March involve sitting transfixed by 30 hulking men beating the living day lights out of each other all in the name of good sport and national pride.
There has been no escaping the wave of excited fever that has been building among rugby fans over the past week, talk has turned from speculation to reality as the team sheets filter in. Tension is building, drinks are flowing and the staple booming voices of rugby fans is ringing from all corners of England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Italy, and the French, well, no doubt they are moaning about something.
So, whether you’re an avid rugby fan or someone who just likes to shout profanities at a screen with your mates, here is our run through of the teams for this year’s RBS 6 Nations Tournament.
With a pretty dismal Autumn Internationals behind them, England head into their first 6 nations Clash with Wales riddled with injuries. The Welsh will be smacking their lips and petting their dragons in glee at the prospect of facing a weakened English side at Cardiff this evening, especially considering England’s last disastrous 6 nations visit to the Millennium stadium, where their sweet chariots were booted all the way home. It’s not all doom and gloom though, Head coach Lancaster has been blaring the Welsh National Anthem at training all week to prepare his 6 rookies for the hostile nature of an away fixture with Wales.
George Ford is on the form of his life helping Bath reach a comfortable second in the league, however, with only 2 International caps he is expected to be the target man for the Welsh. His lack of experience, and a fairly untested combination of Luther Burrell and Jonathan Joseph outside, mean he will be pivotal to England’s game and the 21 year old will be forced to sink or swim. With the return of four British and Irish Lions veterans in Dan Coles, Tom Youngs, Mako Vunipola and Tom Croft, England have an exciting mix of fresh and tested blood. They don’t look like they are in a position to win at the moment but will they nick it in Cardiff tonight? My bet would be, by a hair.
The Welsh team is looking fit and roaring to go, however, coming off the back of a mixed performance in the Autumn Internationals, where they stuttered to victory over Fiji and then pulled a fast one on the South Africans, you never know what to expect from the men in red. If on form, the back line, with the tested pairing of Jonathan Davis and Jamie Roberts, in the Centre and the ever deadly finishing of George North back on the wing is certainly a force to be reckoned with. The ever present hulking frame of Welsh Captain Sam Warburton wins his 50th cap against England tonight and will, as ever, be out for blood.
Alongside him, Richard Hibbard returns from injury to take his role as hooker, the British and Irish Lions veteran will be looking to stamp his mark on the game to make sure he holds on to his spot from the on form Scott Baldwin. The Welsh have a World Class kicker and 15 in Leigh Halfpenny who is fighting hard to keep Liam Williams on the Bench and he will be causing all manner of mayhem with his line breaking runs and ridiculous scrum hat. The Welsh have a habit of stepping it up at the big occasions but they are often slow to hit the accelerator, with this in mind, I expect the Welsh to miss out tonight but have a very good tournament.
The Scots had some great performances in the Autumn Internationals putting in a fine effort to comprehensively beat Tonga and Argentina and narrowly miss out to the reigning World Champions, New Zealand. It’s been 16 years since the Scots put one over on the French in Paris, and Captain Greig Laidlaw is determined to replicate that feeling in their opener against France on Saturday. Alex Dunbar has been on great form recently and is definitely one to watch for the tournament his combination with winger Tommy Seymour should spell some electric line breaks.
Alongside them the experience of players like Stuart Hogg at 15 and Ritchie Gray in the forwards make Scotland a very bright prospect for the tournament. Quietly building his team in the depths of the North, Vern Cotton appears to have been a breath of fresh air for the Scots and there is little doubt they will be out to take some scalps at this year’s tournament.
The French, as per usual, will be breaking all the rules in their opening game of the tournament by turning out in red for the first time in 56 years. In fact, the last time they wore red was in 1959 where they beat, you guessed it, the Scots. However, the French performances in the autumn give them every right to fancy their chances for a shot at glory in this year’s tournament. Philippe Saint-André has also finally managed to convince the French clubs to give him some extra time with his men so his excuses for under performing at this tournament will be few and far between.
The French fire power may well lie in the seemingly unstoppable runs of Winger Teddy Thomas and his mind boggling side steps. Alongside him, the un-missable giant of a man Wesley Fofana will be literally punching holes through the centre on his way to the try line. The French had a disappointing tournament last time round but have never lost on the opening weekend. Despite looking good, the French have an annoying tendency to stick to tradition, normally under performing at the 6 Nations, so, unfortunately, I see this tournament going no differently for them.
Last year’s 6 Nations champions head in to this tournament keen not to let the coveted trophy go without a good fight and a few pints of Guinness, at least I think that’s what they said. The Irish never fail to perform in the 6 Nations and are always a force to be reckoned with. They have been paid a very big blow with Jonathan Sexton out of action with a concussion, the Racing Metro number 10 has become a key figure for the Irish, his handling of the back line and kicking out of hand will be sorely missed.
However, Ireland are boosted by the return of seasoned number 9 Conor Murray who has been out of action with a neck injury and is set to start on Saturday alongside his Munster team mate, Ian Keatley, who will replace Sexton at fly-half. With in-form Simon Zebo on the wing and Tommy Bowe back in the side the back line looks if not deadly then pretty darn decent. With O’Connell leading the pack we can be sure the Irish will be a very tough side to beat and we can expect to see them breeze past Italy in their opener in Rome on Saturday.
Italy are more often than not on the end of some pretty bruising results at the 6 nations and have, over the past few years, built up a fine collection of wooden spoons. With Head coach Jacques Brunel expected to blood a lot of youngsters at this year’s tournament and a record of 1 win in 11 games in 2014, Italy’s prospects are looking a little gloomy. However, the Italians do have three games at home this time round which could well play to their advantage and, despite their lack of wins last year, they put in some very solid performances against Argentina and South Africa.
First choice prop Quintin Geldenhuys is out for the entire tournament, which will be a blow for the side, meaning they will have to rely heavily on their fiery captain Sergio Parisse to carry the team and avoid a repeat of last year’s tournament, where they lost 5 out of 5. It’s probably not going to be Italy’s tournament this time round but for a country with a reputation of excellent culinary skills, perhaps the Wooden Spoon won’t go down to badly.
Still not feeling fired up for the 6 nations? Still scratching your heading wondering why they don’t just chuck it forward? Check out the highlights from last year’s tournament, if that doesn’t show you what all the fuss is about then maybe go on holiday for the next 6 weeks!