With the Super Rugby season only two weeks away, what a way to kick off 2013 with the super powers of the northern hemisphere clashing in the RBS 6 Nations. In a year that holds extra importance with the British and Irish Lions to tour Australia in June, there are still a number of spots up for grabs so the competition will be fierce.
Statistically, nine of the thirteen overall winners have played 3 home games, leaving England, Scotland and Italy in an advantageous position (the tournament doesn’t adopt a home and away format). While, France has momentum as they were the only nation to sweep their Autumn (November) fixtures as they easily disposed of Australia, Argentina and Samoa. Let’s have a look at the team previews to see if we can pick a winner.
England head into this year’s competition as the joint favourites with France. England will still be riding on the coattails of their home support given the upset of last year when they convincingly ruined a very good All Black season. England are good, but they lack the consistency of a great team such as the All Blacks (overall win percentage in excess of 80%) or the Canterbury Crusaders at provincial level (7 super rugby titles). With a squad blended with youth and experience, they will be a threat come RWC 2015 at rugby headquarters.
The two key games for England will be against France at Twickenham and against Ireland in Dublin. Dublin is not an easy place to play and they will rely heavily on their industrious forward pack and powerful yet creative backs. If England can escape these games with two W’s they will be well on their way to going one better than they did last year.
Coach: Stuart Lancaster
Captain: Chris Robshaw (Flanker)
Superstar: Manu Tuilangi (Centre)
Rising Star: Owen Farrell (Flyhalf/Centre)
Prediction: England to win the 6 Nations – $3.00 (Sportsbet)
The French are one of the most unpredictable teams in world sport. Take the 2011 world cup in New Zealand for example. One minute they were being humiliated at scrum time by an angry Tongan forward pack and the next minute they were on the brink of sending New Zealand into serious depression, emotionally and financially in the final. Philippe Saint-Andrew was brought in to harmonise French Rugby and given his wealth of rugby experience, he seems to have been a wise decision. In November, they were clinical, organised and played with a sense of purpose, something that has eluded French rugby for many a year. One of his first decisions was to strip Thierry Dusatoir of the captaincy armband so that he could play without the added pressure that one receives both on and off the field. According to Richie McCaw, the French Captain Thierry Dusatoir is one of the toughest men in the game. He doesn’t possess the brute strength of a David Pocock or the blistering speed of Pierre Spies, but he is relentless and someone you want to have going into battle with you.
As joint favourites, France will be looking at recapturing the magic that propelled them to the grand slam in 2010. Much like England they are solid across the park and providing some of those 50/50 calls go their way, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them raise the trophy again this year.
Coach: Philippe Saint-Andre
Captain: Pascal Pape (Second Row)
Superstar: Thierry Dusatoir (Flanker)
Rising Star: Wesley Fofana (Centre)
Ireland has a team with some of the most experienced senior players in world rugby. Brian O’Driscoll (126 caps) and Ronan O’Gara (128 caps) are currently the most capped internationals. Throw in the likes of Donncha O’Callaghan (94 caps) and Gordon D’Arcy (72 caps) and you have a cap count that higher than most second and third tier nations. In big games, when key decisions need to be made, experience is of the utmost importance. There is no doubt that Ireland can mix it with the best. The Irish coaches have added six newcomers to the squad based on their excellent form in the various provincial competitions. Much like England and France, there is youth and there is experience. Other than a woeful display against England in the last round of last year’s championship and a narrow loss to South Africa in November, the green machine seems to be gathering some momentum.
Ireland is certainly the ‘roughie’ in this year’s competition. If they can sneak past Wales in round one, they have home fixtures against England and France. Could this be Ireland’s year, I don’t think so. They will fall short, but then again Ronan O’Gara is the master of the drop goal.
Coach: Declan Kidney
Captain: Jamie Heaslip (No. 8)
Superstars: Brian O’Driscoll (Outside Centre)
Bolter: Craig Gilroy (Wing/Fullback)
Prediction: If you are game – Champions ($4.50 – Sportsbet), but I would sit it out.
The reigning 6 Nations champions had an extremely poor autumn series having lost to Argentina, Samoa, New Zealand and Australia. Seven consecutive losses after a great Rugby World Cup campaign that could’ve finished very differently if Sam Warburton wasn’t red carded in the first few minutes. A convincing 6 Nations last year left Welsh rugby on a serious high. However, some mediocre rugby (that can’t be blamed on weather), a host of injuries and some underperforming provincial unions really leave the Welsh with their backs against the walls. Now is there time to stand up. They have some experienced campaigners and a monstrous backline that is blessed with pace, so if the forward lay the platform and Leigh Halfpenny kicks his goals, they shouldn’t be too far off the pace, but you would expect that they should fall short to the in form teams, England and France.
Coach: Rob Howley (Warren Gatland is on Lions duty)
Captain: Sam Warburton (Flanker)
Superstar: Toby Faletau (Number 8)
Rising Star: Justin Tipuric (Flanker)
Prediction: Wales have the team to spring a few upsets but 2013 won’t be their year.
2012 was a year of one up and many downs for Scotland rugby given they lost all 6 Nations fixtures and experienced disappointing losses to South Africa, New Zealand and Tonga. The upside was that they managed to upset an understrength Australia in Newcastle during a midweek game in conditions that resembled something very similar to the dreary and wet Murrayfield. Scott Johnson the interim head coach has added ten uncapped players to help reinvigorate Scottish rugby and picked 19 Glasgow warriors players to ensure that as many combinations that play week-in and week-out provincially, can tackle some of the world’s best on the international stage. The best partnerships are usually developed at provincial level. The likes of Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith (Hurricanes), Justin Marshall and Andrew Mehrtens (Crusaders), Jean de Villiers and Jacque Fourie (Stormers). The transition to the international stage is made that much ‘easier’ for players given there are already established foundations based on trust and effective communication and senior players that can show the way.
Scotland has never been a team that consistently challenge the superpowers of the game and although there have been a few small glimpses of light at the end of the tunnel in recent seasons, it will still be a number of years (if ever) before Scotland can crack the top five.
Prediction: Wooden spoon – $4.00 (Sportsbet)
Coach: Scott Johnson
Captain: Kelly Brown (Scotland)
Superstar: Richie Gray (Second Row)
Rising Star: Tim Visser (Wing)
The Italian Coach, Jacques Brunel, has stuck to tried and tested combinations and only recalled three players to the squad that put up brave performances against Tonga (W), and the two losses against Australia and New Zealand. In some what of a changing of the guards, there was no room for either of the Bergamasco brothers, one of whom is injured and the other who has not found the form that he used to consistently display for club and country.
Led by a captain who is respected far and wide, Italy has it in them to at least defeat Scotland. Sergio Parisse, a former IRB world player of the year nominee, fights gallantly to give his team go forward ball and defends like a man possessed in the trenches. Italy just doesn’t have the breeding ground and this is evident with players native to South Africa, Australia, and Fiji. In a country where soccer (football) commands the majority of local attention, I can’t see Italy featuring in the first two tiers of rugby rankings consistently, but at home their home crowd can often play a huge part in determining the outcome of a match.
Coach: Jacques Brunel
Captain: Sergio Parisse
Superstar: Sergio Parisse
Bolter: Lorenzo Cittadini
Prediction: 5th place (ahead of Scotland)
Glenn Paton has followed rugby union for 15 years and has expert knowledge on the game freely committing to over 500 viewing hours a year. Having played with and against some current Super Rugby players and International superstars, he understands the game, the players and the laws inside out. Having been born in South Africa, spent time in New Zealand and currently living in Australia, Glenn lives and breathes rugby. With so many different tournaments happening around the world simultaneously and the addition of Rugby Sevens to the Olympic program, there are always plenty of healthy betting options available. An obsession, a passion, call it what you will, Glenn enjoys sharing his insight, opinions and predictions with anyone who wants to listen.
Specialities: Super Rugby, 6 Nations, Rugby Championship, International Tests, Currie Cup, ITM Cup, Rugby Sevens
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Video credit: BBC Worldwide