Thursday, February 2, 2012

It's the bigest, it's the baddest - it's the 6 Nations 2012!

Six European countries are going to be going into battle, and this time, anyway, it’s not over the Euro. No, it’s Six Nations time, a reminder that spring is on the way, time to get behind your country as they take on all the old foes. But first, a quick look at form.

They won it last year (despite not being good enough to beat Ireland) but a lot has happened in the intervening year. They didn’t have the happiest World Cup, with off field antics (dwarfgate, boobgate, ballgate, etc) getting the way, and on field form being in short supply. They’ve had a big clean out of players, Martin Johnson is gone and they have Stuart Lancaster as caretaker coach in charge of a fairly green looking squad. They have the players, but will the combinations click in time...probably not, so a mid table finish is likely.

They were beaten by Italy last year, then came within a whisker of claiming their first World Cup, so very French of them. Having ditched clown-in-chief Marc Lievremont, installed Philippe Saint-André and retained most of the players that got them so close in the final, they must start as favourites for this year’s tournament. But, never knowing what to expect from the French is the oldest adage in the book, so let’s see.

We came so close to nearly doing well, beating Australia, topping our group – then getting sucker punched by the Welsh. Coach Kidney is still in place,  and our side is a settled side, to me a bit too settled, like a fine wine with a load of sediment at the bottom.  I think the team could do with freshening up, we are treading water at the moment, will probably finish mid table this year, then make the changes we need about a year too late.

Italy have a new manager, Jacques Brunel  but he has the age old problem of no players to pick from, with only one and a bit decent teams as his selection base. They are likely to be winless this year.

The Scots have a bit of player form, with Edinburgh the first Scottish team to make the quarters in yonks, and have a settled coaching team. They don’t have a lot of players to pick from, always struggle in the backs, but have a pack they will make you feel like you’ve been put through a cement mixer.  5th spot beckons unless they can do a number on England and other results go their way.

Wales are the joker in the pack, they were growing in stature with every match at the World Cup, and have all the ingredients for success. But you never with the Welsh. They are playing with  confidence, but are carrying a few injuries, notably Rhys Priestland , the one player who really makes them get their groove on. The draw suits them this year, so second is probably where they are going to finish.

RBS Six Nations Saturday , February 4
France vs Italy 14:30
Scotland vs England 17:00
Sunday , February 5
Ireland vs Wales 15:00
France V ItalyFrance have a bone to pick with Italy after last year’s ignominious defeat in Rome. The French have any number of players eager to impress the new coach, and while the Italian pack will delay the onslaught, France will inevitably win this match, and handsomely.

Scotland v England
Are Scotland up for this one? Do bears poo in the woods? Scotland will be itching to get the new England reign off to a bad start. I can see a ferocious forward battle, but a fairly inept backline duel,  the skill of Fodden and Ashton blunted by the inexperience of Farrell and the woodiness of Barrett. And I hope Charlie Hodgson has been doing his tackling practise – because he’ll need it... Scotland with millimetres to spare

Ireland v Wales
This is the jewel in the crown of the opening weekend, Scots/Eng is likely to have the strange fascination of a slow motion car crash, France/Italy is for the people who pull the wings off flies, but the Aviava should see some decent running rugby. If I was Kidney, I would have booted DOC and D’Arcy  into the stands, and Earls is not a centre, he’s not a centres bottom, Kidney should be made to write out a hundred times ‘Earls is not a centre, he is a wing’ . Otherwise, looking OK, good to see Trimble starting, and O'Mahony and McFadden on the bench. Are we going to be able to avenge the defeat in last year’s world cup? Without Priestland starting for Wales, I’d say we have a good chance. We can put aside old Lion and Celtic friendships for the moment , and give cheery Warren Gatland something to be really miserable about. Ireland to scrape home in undignified fashion. O’Gara drop goal in extra time not out the question.

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