The Six Nations begins this weekend and along with showcasing the best the northern hemisphere has to offer us; it also gives the teams involved the chance to build and, for some, to improve on their World Cup performances.
First to kick us off are World Cup runners up France when they host Italy at the Stade de France. Since the World Cup came to a close both teams have changed coaches, with France’s dismissal of Marc Lievremont being the most high profile. Despite France’s good performances in New Zealand, it was no secret that there was a team revolt against the coach, similar to the France football team’s mutiny against Raymond Domenech, and this came to a head when Lievremont branded his team “spoilt brats” after they went out to celebrate their controversial semi-final win against Wales. After the defeat to hosts New Zealand in the final, Lievremont was replaced by Phillipe Saint-Andre. Italy finished their pool in third place behind Ireland and Australia, winning two matches and losing two. Nick Mallett was replaced by Frenchman Jacques Brunel after their elimination. Italy, of course, defeated France last year in a thrilling 22-21 victory in Rome but I can’t see past a heavy France victory.
Next up it’s Scotland vs. England at Murrayfield. This has been marked in the diary ever since England heartbreakingly knocked Scotland out of the World Cup in the pool stage. England’s campaign was filled with controversies that included heavy drinking sessions, throwing of dwarves and jumping off ferries. Scotland’s campaign, on the other hand, was marred by the fact that they couldn’t get over the try line often enough, a problem that comes up all to often, managing to score only two tries, both coming in the opening match against Romania. With this is mind, both teams will have points to prove on Saturday in front of a sell out crowd in Edinburgh. Can England’s inexperienced side retain the Calcutta Cup, or can Scotland get their tournament off to the sweetest of starts and get their revenge on the English? I believe it will be a comfortable Scotland win, and I’ll even predict some tries too!
Ireland vs. Wales closes the opening weekend on Sunday at the Aviva Stadium. In a repeat of last year’s World Cupquarter final, both teams will be missing key players with Brian O’Driscoll ruled out for the whole tournament through injury and Shane Williams now retired. Despite the quarter final defeat to Wales, Ireland had a positive World Cup, defeating Australia 15-6 and topping their pool. Wales went one step further after their quarter final win, losing out to France in a match marred by the early sending off of Wales captain Sam Warburton for a high tackle. Wales were praised throughout the tournament for their excitable brand of rugby and this is a match that rarely disappoints and having both had positive World Cups I can see another Celtic classic in the making with Wales coming out on top.
All six teams have started a fresh for 2012 whether it’s with new coaches, new captains and new players. It’s shaping up to be a great tournament and a try’s not even be scored yet!