Spring has sprung.
That means the January blues are banished for another year, (slightly) longer evenings, and – most importantly – the return of the Six Nations.
Europe’s premier rugby competition kicks off in Cardiff on Saturday and as usual, the competition is wide open, as every team is capable of an upset on their day.
The Six Nations is a tournament of realistic clichés; we literally don’t know what French team will show up, Scotland are the dark horses, Gatland needs to change his style, Ireland need Sexton and Murray etc.
Here we look at each of the six teams and rate their chances of winning the tournament.
Joe Schmidt’s side are in remarkably good condition, with a relatively clean bill of health compared to their main rivals, a testament to the IRFU’S player management policy.
While there is no doubt that Sean O Brien, Gary Ringrose, Jamie Heaslip, Jarred Payne, and Rhy Ruddock are massive losses, Ireland have more than enough cover to compensate for this.
Over the last year we’ve uncovered some exciting young talent in the shape of Jordan Larmour, Jacob Stockdale and James Ryan (Stockdale and Ryan will both start against France).
This discovery of new talent combined with the fine form of 2017 Lions – such as Murray, Sexton Furlong etc – and the re-emergence of players like Earls and Healy mean we have every right to be hopeful of a championship win, if not a Grand Slam.
However, injuries in positions such as in the second row and the half backs have the potential to derail our trophy hopes, so as ever we will be hoping for a “rub of the green” to see us home.
The back to back winners of 16 and 17 are definitely flying under the radar coming into this competition.
A grand total of 16 injuries (at the last count ) to front line players, has left Eddie Jones’ squad on the brink. The loss of Billy Vunipola, James Haskell, Ellis Genge, Joe Marler and Kyle Sinckler through injury and suspension – and the poor form of English clubs in the Champions Cup – mean they are by no means favourites to retian their title.
That being said any team that posses the talent and leadership of Owen Farrell and Ben Youngs, as well as the athleticism and skill of Maro Itoje, Ben Teo, and Anthony Watson, will definitely be no push over.
It’s turning into a cliché at this stage butat the minute all roads lead to Twickenham on St. Patrick’s weekend for a Grand Slam shootout between Ireland and England.
The perennial dark horses.
Gregor Townsend has continued the good work done by Vern Cotter to make Scotland a genuine force to contend with.
The Scots narrowly lost out to the All Blacks last November before thumping Australia a week later an impressive feat since they were missing star man Stuart Hogg).
They definitely have the ability to beat any team on their day but injuries to virtually their entire front row will have a massive impact on how they play as it will deprive their electric backs of quality ball going forward.
As per usual the French are in a state of disarray, which would seem to be just how they like it.
They sacked their coach a number of weeks ago, their(rugby) president has had his office raid by the police as he is expected of corruption and for good measure they are missing key players in the shape of Wesley Fofana and Damian Penaud .
New coach Jacques Brunel has decided to give 19 year old Bordeaux Begles playmaker Matthieu Jalibert, his first start at outhalf in their tournament opener against Ireland. While he electric with ball in hand , expect the likes of CJ Stander and Bundee Aki to test his ability in defence by running at him at every opportunity, especially of f the back of set plays.
Apart from him there are a very inexperienced squad with only one player with more than 50 caps in the shape of hooker Guilhem Guirado, perhaps a sign Brunel is building towards the world cup.
That being said they do posses some serious power in their squad especsially in their pack with the freakish Rabah Slimani and Sebastien Vahaamahina. However it has been proven that power alone is not enough to win this tournament.
Another side decimated by injury (sense a trend here?).
Wales under Gatland have been disappointing over the last few years (even if they do save big performances for Ireland) .
Injuries to Lions Dan Biggar,Rhys Webb Jonathan Davies, SamWarburton, Taulupe Faletau and Liam Williams as well as others mean anybody hopeful of a Welsh revival will be sorely disappointed. That being said a strong Scarlets contingent means they will be a challenges for anyone on their day.
Whereas a few years ago the Azzuri and Scotland were locked in a battle for the wooden spoon, the tartan army’s continued upward trajectory has left Italy hogging the foot of the table.
Three away fixtures mean that they once again look destined to finish at the foot of the table.
They are simply too dependent on the aging Sergio Parisse, who in his pomp could have challenged for to be a test level all black.
Leinster fans should watch out for former blue Ian Mc Kinley who is in the Italian squad. The Dubliner lost an eye while playing as a 21 year old and was forced to ply his trade in Italy as revolutionary sporting goggles which enabled to play were illegal in Ireland.
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