As the Six Nations fever grips the northern hemisphere over the next couple of months, I think it’s safe to say that 2017 could be the tournament that trumps all others before it.
With round one at the ready, we’re previewing the three opening ties that promise to open the competition with a bang.
Scotland v Ireland (Murrayfield)
The stage will be set for Murrayfield to witness what is arguably Scotland’s best squad for a number of years. Confidence will be riding high from their four wins from the last five fixtures as well as the recent club successes – both Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors comfortably through to the quarter finals of the Challenge Cup and Champions Cup respectively. The Scots will certainly be looking to further their fourth place last year. In their ranks is the 2016 player of the championship (public vote) Stuart Hogg who amassed some interesting stats including a 56m penalty. His form of late for Glasgow Warriors will be influential for Scotland’s attacking game and when he’s on song, the Scots tend to do well. And with injury setbacks befalling the Irish, there will be an air of optimism surrounding the Murrayfield masses. Jonny Sexton and Peter O’Mahony are both sidelined and could be areas the Scots will look to exploit. But in Paddy Jackson Ireland have an assured 10 with experience in abundance. Sean O’Brien and CJ Stander have been outstanding for their provinces in the Pro12 and in Europe and will be leading the charge as they look to win their third title in four years. Scotland’s last win against Ireland in the Six Nations was in 2013 contributing to an impressive third place finish overall.
Scotland form since last Six Nations: WWLWW
Ireland form since last Six Nations: WLLWLWW
Prediction: Scotland by 3
England v France (Twickenham)
Reigning grand slam holders England kick off their campaign with le Crunch at HQ. With reshuffles in the pack – Itoje moving to flanker to cover Chris Robshaw while out with a shoulder injury and Daly starting ahead of Nowell on the wing. Bath flyer Anthony Watson can only spectate at Twickenham with injury troubles himself, who bagged three tries in last year’s competition alongside club team mate Jonathan Joseph. But in Owen Farrell, England have a steady hand – top points scorer in 2016 with 69 – the Saracens fly half is in arguably the form of his life and playing at inside centre under Eddie Jones, gives his side the added attacking prowess alongside George Ford to put any defence under the utmost pressure. But the French aren’t without their injury concerns also. Clermont centre Wesley Fofana joins Matthieu Bastereaud on the injury list with Fofana set for a lengthy time away after rupturing achilles ligaments. Les Bleus are a team under pressure but their autumn international series alleviated it somewhat on coach Guy Noves following great performance in their one point losses to both Australia and New Zealand. But much has been said of the overseas imports that qualify for France and the impact that is having on the national team. Whichever way you look at it, France are in need of a strong showing, but having failed to breach the Twickenham fortress since 2005 and coming off the back of two defeats, improvements need to be made.
England form since last Six Nations: WWWWWWWW
France form since last Six Nations: LWWLL
Prediction: England by 18
Italy v Wales (Stadio Olimpico)
Despite wins against Japan, Argentina and South Africa, Wales looked a little out of sorts in the Autumn particularly during their comprehensive defeat to Australia. But with a changing of the guard – Rob Howley taking charge and shifting the captaincy to Alun Wyn Jones from Sam Warburton, the Welsh have a platform to launch an attack on the Six Nations title. George North’s impact has been quieter than usual since his most recent bout of concussion but the Welsh will be looking for his try scoring abilities following his tournament best of four in 2016. But a trip to Rome will be no walk in the park. Their Italian opponents continue to progress in the right direction and new head coach Conor O’Shea had an immediate impact having masterminded the victory against South Africa for the first time ever in their history during the Autumn series, can beat anyone on their day. However, the last time these two met, Wales mustered 61 points on the hosts who then slumped to the bottom of the table. this time round however the Italian grit should offer a sterner test and put up more of a fight
Italy form since last Six Nations: LWWLWL
Wales form since last Six Nations: LLLLLWWW
Prediction: Wales by 5
Despite Ireland being labelled as favourites to land the title, Eddie Jones’ England will become record holders if they are to defend their grand slam with 18 straight wins. Nonetheless, it should make for an entertaining tournament with each team looking even stronger than they did back in 2016.