Welcome RWU Friend and our latest guest writer, Benedict Chanakira.
HARARE, ZIMBABWE – With the World Cup kicking off in 7 months, this year’s 6 Nations is of greater importance as teams look to tweak game plans, test combinations and trim their roster. The 2014 RBS Six Nations had so many interesting and complex storylines. Ireland won it on the final day, as the a perfect swansong for arguably the greatest 13 in rugby’s modern era, Brian O’Driscoll. England won the Triple Crown, beating all the other home nations but failed to win the Six Nations. Italy also made in the record books for the most tackles in a test match as they made 208! Now its time to look forward, so here are my predictions on what to expect in the 2015 edition of the RBS Six Nations?
The Italians have mostly won wooden spoons since joining the competition. Fond memories will go back to the 2013 campaign which saw the side claim the scalps of France and Ireland. The side were doing well against South Africa last year before a Bryan Habana try sealed the match. With their best finish being fourth in 2013, one has to wonder what are their chances in the 2015 campaign. The only positive is that their home turf is difficult for visiting teams and could see some clashes decided this year. This year could be an Italian Six Nations swansong for the likes of Martin Castrogiovanni, Martin Aguero, Lorenzo Cittadini and Sergio Parisse to name a few, so their may be extra fight in the side.
Prediction: Wooden spoon! An upset will be appreciated to spice up the tournament.
They continue to improve as they build towards the Rugby World Cup. Their Six Nations record has been appalling in the last four years with just five wins in 25 games. They show a lot of courage and are brave but continue to be beaten by the same bug as most teams – inconsistency. The Scots boast strength in their forward pack in the form of the Gray brothers, Adam Ashe and Ross Ford. With Vern Cotter at the helm, and following some decent form in the November series, they are bullish about their title chances, with Ford recently speaking about their quality, form and title credentials. It will take a lot as they managed a solitary, last-gasp win over Italy last term. The captain Greig Laidlaw, veteran Sean Lamont and the rest of the experienced contingent are enjoying some form and it bodes well for them this year. With the majority of the squad coming from a Glasgow side that is impressing in the Pro12, a winning culture will surely be there. An opening round trip to France to get them up and running. What tone will they set?
Prediction: No title since 1999, and that does not look like changing, but Scotland may claim a big scalp. Will do well to avoid finishing higher than fifth.
A favorable fixture list, a morale-boosting win over powerhouse South Africa and Wales can go into this tournament with their tails up and their eyes firmly set on winning the crown. Home fixtures against England and Ireland will decide how this tournament will end up. What they just cannot seem to do is play a full 80-minute match. Should the game have been played for 60-70 minutes the Welsh would be untouchable – unless they then start playing 50-minute rugby! Wales have one question to answer: have they developed the mental fortitude to win against the big sides? With rhythm returning to their play, and centre Jamie Roberts starting to get back to his best, it looks like his combination with Dan Biggar could prove the difference. With Gareth Anscombe also in the frame, the Welsh have more going for them than their opponents. This tournament will reveal their mental capacity to the rugby world. They will decide the fate of the Six Nations in their matches against the English and Irish at the Millennium Stadium.
Prediction: Two wins make them outright favorites. Easy fixture list and all but they finish fourth.
Les Bleus!! The French continue to be the unknown factor in this tournament. Will they be able to take their Autumn series form into the event where they won two out of their three games? France managed to destroy Fiji, beat Australia and will look to win the Six Nations for the first time since 2010. Could Sebastien Tillous-Borde and Camille Lopez be the halfback pairing France have sought out for so long? Morgan Parra will boost the side which could see a halfback merry-go-round again.. Despite a poor finish to the tour the French showed a lot of their swagger. With whispers going about in France that Jake “unloyal” White is a possible option for the top job post-Six Nations or post-World Cup. If there is anyone capable of bringing the best out of the French, and show us what they are about in a consistent manner, Jake is the man. Enough about him, France are unlikely to win the Six Nations due to their failure to be consistent but this will be another tournament where they will play a part in deciding who wins the showpiece. Will look to improve on their fourth spot last season.
Prediction: Third will be their best bet.
The pressure is starting to gain momentum. There will be no better way to prepare thatn a challenging schedule in the tournament. England will visit Cardiff and Dublin this year, where Wales and Ireland have been formidable. The Welsh clash will be special considering they will vie for a spot at the World Cup in their group of death. Who will grab the mental edge? With Manu Tuilagi likely to feature in the tournament at some point, after months out due to injury, one would hope the big centre stays fit as he will be an integral part of Stuart Lancaster‘s plans. Injuries have hampered England’s progress over the past five months. Young George Ford impressed as an understudy to Owen Farrell – and with the latter out for the entire tournament, Ford will have more chances, while Danny Cipriani, who has been in top form, has also been brought in from the international cold. It will benefit England to allow them to start against the tough Italians or arch-rivals Scotland.
Prediction: England will find it tough to win this tournament and are likely to replicate last years’ runners up finish. The two away trips to Wales and Ireland seem beyond them.
The champions. The year 2014 was the perfect year for the Irish. Every game looked like they reached the end of a rainbow. The men in green were impressive and took a lot of class from the Six Nations to an impressive Autumn series which saw them rise to third in the world rankings. They could do so little wrong and saw growing calls about their chances of winning the World Cup. Is it possible? Yes it is, but 2015 could be too early. Ireland are outright favorites to win the Six Nations. They defend exceptionally well, have a balance to their play and an efficient forward pack. The lineout and driving maul is a strong weapon. It will be interesting how they will fare at a packed Stadio Olimpico in Rome on the opening round. Jonathan Sexton will be missing for the opener, either Ian Madigan or Ian Keatley are set to get the nod. On the Irish books, no youngster has impressed more than Connacht’s Rob Henshaw. It will be a defining season for the youngster. All Irish sides are in the top half of the Pro12 and continue to stake a claim for the title. Things are going well in the Emerald Isle.
Prediction: Winners again.
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