After an incredibly disrupted – to put it lightly – 2020 for the world and rugby, 2021 seems to be running relatively smoothly and we are back to the ever-present, always-entertaining Six Nations. However, this Six Nations is not just any Six Nations. No, this Six Nations is potentially gearing up to be one of the most competitive in recent history. With that in mind I am tasked with previewing the tournament and I have even decided to be bold and make predictions for final positions.
We start with the winners of last year’s tournament and the winners of the inaugural Autumn Nations Cup.
A strong Autumn Nations Cup showing and the clinching of the Six Nations title last year should suggest that England are a shoo-in to win this year. However, it’s not that simple. A poor first-half performance against Italy and nearly losing the final of the Autumn Nations Cup to an incredibly weakened French side show that this England side is mortal and does have cracks. Couple that with the loss of three first team front rowers and this Six Nations will be a challenge for the England boys. However, they do have an abundance of quality with new and very talented blood like Harry Randall and Paolo Odogwu to add pace and passion, and this England team should have enough to rekindle some of that 2019 magic.
Prediction – 1st
France are England’s biggest rivals for this year’s Six Nations. England should in no way be viewed as nailed on to win this year, and this France team is the reason why.
Bitterly unlucky to lose the Autumn Nations Cup final to England, a reserve French team took the “World Cup finalists to the Golden Point. Also, France were unlucky not to win last year’s Six Nations, to be completely honest. The French under Fabien Galthié have created a sustainable, very French game plan that brilliantly mixes stereotypical bursts of French brilliance with real control and method. Add on the brilliant defensive structure brought in by Shaun Edwards and this is a very good unit. With the mercurial number 10 Romain Ntamack injured, the French will not be at the height of their powers, but brilliant nonetheless.
Prediction – 2nd
Scotland are a team that are on the up.
Yes, it was probably a disappointing Autumn Nations Cup for Scotland and they did get beaten by Ireland, but I do think this Scotland team just has a little bit more Highlander blood in it than normal. They seem more energetic and confident to go out and play and win. And with that, the return of the sensational Finn Russell will do them a world of good and add that spontaneous excellence that he provides. I predict Scotland to have a real good go this year and give it big to England in the first game.
Prediction – 3rd
Ireland are an interesting case. They don’t really seem to be on the up or down. They’re very serviceable, though some might say uninspiring.
Ireland can beat the bad teams with relative ease but struggle against the likes of England and France. This leads me on to only really conclude that they’ll have a boring mid-table campaign. The advantage Andy Farrell and Ireland do have is their system of central contracts and with that the ability to navigate Covid-19 quite well. However, expect a relatively middling campaign from the Irish.
Prediction – 4th
The Welsh are struggling.
A purely dismal 2020 leaves Wayne Pivac on a 20% win rate. You cannot really see where the light is for the Welsh. Decent wins over Italy and Georgia might do some good in the camp but really the wins paper over the cracks. This is an old Wales team, emphasised by the emergency inclusion of 33-year-old Dan Lydiate. All this wales team can really hope for is some brilliant standalone performances by the likes of Josh Adams and Liam Williams, but no systemic success.
Prediction – 5th
Finally, the least controversial to predict: Italy. I cannot see past the usual wooden spoon for the Azzurri.
Italy were in many ways the surprise package of the Autumn Nations Cup. They gave real scares to both England and Scotland. And this Italy side does have talent, most prominently Paolo Gabrisi and Jake Poledri, however the latter is ruled out with a knee injury. To me it just seems like Italy have become so used to losing that they can’t stop. The most important thing for them mentally is to stop losing.
Prediction – 6th
Image: Cynulliad Cymru via Creative Commons