Six Nations Preview and Tips

Six Nations Preview and Tips

This year's RBS Six Nations is one of the most highly anticipated in recent memory.

Hopefully it can provide a welcome distraction to all the off-field controversy surrounding the Heineken Cup and what is happening in Welsh rugby at the moment.

It is fair to say that the so-called 'Big Four' (England, Wales, France and Ireland) all have a legitimate shot at being crowned champions.
Wales are the bookies' favourites and have three games at home but with tough away trips to England and Ireland, I can't see them repeating the heroics of last year.

They start their campaign with what should be a regulation win at home to Italy. The Azzuri have been tough to beat in recent seasons and claimed the scalps of France and Ireland last year. Like a bit of chewing gum stuck on your shoe they just don't go away.

However Wales will do the business this weekend and kick off their defence with a win.

Ireland have a hard road to ride travelling to England and France but I see them as the dark horses of the tournament with Kiwi Joe Schmidt having taken the reins in the Autumn.

He has had time to implement his style of play and we will see an improved Ireland team from the one that competed at last year's tournament with only one win to their name.

Their chances rely on Top 14-playing Johnny Sexton, whose Racing Metro side have been struggling all year. His own form has suffered too.

However playing together again with his fellow countrymen should liberate him and I see him again being the lynchpin for Ireland.

They to have a relatively easy fixture at home to Scotland and should join Wales at the top of the table after round one.

Scotland have improved a lot over the last few years finishing third last year, and I'm sure they can achieve an upset or two, but few wins are achieved away from Murrayfield.

The French are again stacked with talent and again no one really knows what to expect from them. Following on from earning the dreaded wooden spoon last year, the pressure is on the coaching staff to harness the talent they have and start producing consistent results.

Fly half, Francois Trinh-Duc has been recalled due to injuries and that is the position that is causing the most consternation.

Michelak has finally been discarded and France now pin their hopes on rookie Jules Plisson who looks to have the nod for their first test against England. The rookie will no doubt be targeted by the English midfield and loose forwards.

As has been pointed out in the media, the last three tournaments following a Lions tour have been won by the French.

Hopefully they will finally play Wesley Fofana in his preferred position in the midfield this time around and Louis Picamoles and co will again be a dominant force up front.

The power of the French forwards has already been documented and we have seen it in the Heineken Cup, but can they transfer it to the international stage?

They are up against an inexperienced English side and Stuart Lancaster continues to push for youth in his side with Jack Nowell and Jonny May both contenders to start this weekend.

Joining what looks likely to be a relatively inexperienced midfield with Billy Twelvetrees and Luther Burrell, the experienced heads of Mike Brown and Owen Farrell (even though he is only 22) will have an important role to play in organising the backs.

The question lots of people have been asking is what style of play is Lancaster trying to execute. However with the emergence of Twelvetrees over the last year, as well as the selection of youthful outside backs it is clear that England are looking to be more expansive then in previous years.

Farrell has improved with the ball in hand this year and has Saracens really flying and becoming more of an attacking threat. 

The set piece will continue to an important part of their armoury and if the backs can unleash their potential they will be tough to stop.

The English forwards will feel they have a point to prove against the powerful French pack and they did a good job against the All Blacks in the autumn.

But with so many new faces/inexperienced players, I feel this tournament is a little too early for England and feel the French will be too strong at home this weekend. They are building nicely though and obviously have one eye on the World Cup and will be looking to peak for 2015.

So my pick for the RBS Six Nations is France. If they can win their home games (and Scotland away) that should be enough for me as I see Wales losing to both England and Ireland this year.

Whatever happens this season, it promises to be an enthralling competition.

This weekends' fixtures are:
Saturday 1st February 2014
Wales  v  Italy  14:30
France  v  England  17:00
Sunday 2nd February 2014
Ireland  v  Scotland  15:00
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