The SixNations 2018 is just around the corner, kicking off in two weeks’ time – Ruaidhri Power previews the tournament and assesses each team’s chances.
The current holders of the Six Nations Trophy and Grand Slam winners in 2016, England are most people’s favourites for the title once again in 2018.
Eddie Jones’ side start their title defence against Italy in Rome, which is the easiest start possible for Jones’ men.
Importantly, they face both Wales and Ireland at Twickenham. The home advantage could be crucial for England in guiding them to victory against potentially their two toughest opponents and to the title once again.
The biggest challenge for England could come in the form of Scotland at BT Murrayfield on 24th February.
Eddie Jones will be confident of winning the championship, yet will be understandably wary of a few potential slip ups along the way.
Predicted Finish: 1st
France are often one of the most unpredictable entities in World Rugby. They can go from the best team in the Northern Hemisphere to the bottom of the 6 Nations in the space of three years, which is exactly what happened between 2010-2013.
In 2010, France won the Grand Slam and their third Six Nations Championship in five years. In 2011, they lost the World Cup Final to New Zealand by a single point. In 2013, they finished in last place with the ‘Wooden Spoon’.
Their 2017 Autumn Internationals reflected similarly unpredictable form, losing narrowly to New Zealand but drawing with Japan.
Another low finish awaits but they can probably still expect their customary victory over Italy.
Predicted Finish: 5th
Joe Schmidt’s men will have a similar confidence to England going into this year’s tournament.
The squad has found its feet after a limbo period in the wake of high profile retirements such as Ronan O’Gara, Brian O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell.
This year, Ireland will have high hopes of winning the title.
Playing Scotland and Wales in Dublin is good news for the Irish, who can count on their lively home support to pull them through.
The game on St Patrick’s Day at Twickenham on the last day of the season could prove heart-breaking for the Irish. Yet if the best Irish team turn up, then they have every chance of upsetting England as they did last year and going one better and snatching the title.
Predicted Finish: 2nd
Italy have finished last with the ‘Wooden Spoon’ 12 times, only avoiding it on six occasions. Their best finish in a championship is fourth, which they have only achieved twice.
The Azzurri will once again undoubtedly put in brave performances, led by the iconic Sergio Parisse, yet no one expects them to record competitive results.
In a competitive year, Italy are clear favourites to come last once again.
Predicted Finish: 6th
Scotland will be more than quietly confident going into this year’s tournament and understandably could be dreaming of winning the title.
The fixture list is not ideal for the Scots, as they have to travel to Cardiff on the opening day and Dublin later on. If they can overcome Wales in the opener, then they could well build the confidence to put in a shock victory over England in Edinburgh.
Whilst this side has serious potential, the trip to Dublin and the might of England may prove too much for them this year.
Predicted Finish: 3rd
Injuries will weigh heavy on the mind of head coach Warren Gatland as big names such as captain Sam Warburton, Dan Lydiate and Jonathan Davies have been ruled out for the entire campaign.
Taulupe Faletau will not be fit until two weeks into the tournament, whilst Rhys Priestland will miss games through injury and there are questions over George North’s fitness.
There is clear quality in the rest of the squad that remains fit but the loss of vital experience and quality may put them behind England, Ireland and potentially Scotland this year.
Predicted Finish: 4th
Image courtesy of Vincent Luigi Molino