With the Six Nations approaching its conclusion, Colm Williams dissects each nation’s performance so far and makes his assessment on who is likely to triumph at the tournament’s end.
Pre-tournament favourites England bounced back from a discouraging opening defeat in Paris, through impressive back to back wins against Scotland and Ireland. Twickenham will be a fiery cauldron on 7th March when England face Wales, in a game which their championship hopes rely on. With the experienced Watson and Wilson returning and Wales’ poor form, England enter this ever unpredictable fixture as favourites. England will strongly rely on their unassailable set-piece platform led by the tournaments joint top line out stealer Kruis and also Ford’s unerring territory kicking. England’s final game should be an easy outing against Italy however coronavirus poses a potential threat to it even taking place.
The ever unpredictable French have started perfectly, sitting four points clear at the top of the table. France’s most impressive performance yet was the young sides away victory against Wales, led by youngster Ntamack, single-handedly scoring an impressive 17 points. They face a tough challenge at Murrayfield next. However the bullish Alldritt and the sharp Dupont will surely cause the inconsistent Scottish defence serious problems. Their final test against an under-performing Ireland is their chance to win their first Grand Slam in a decade. The formidable French defense masterminded by the great Shaun Edwards, who was also the defence coach for the Welsh victorious Grand Slam campaign last year, will surely shut the Irish out in Paris.
This Irish side seems a shadow of Schmidt’s side that defeated the All Black’s less than 18 months ago. With wins over Scotland and Wales, the talismanic CJ Stander and forward pack showed steel to grind out results. However, throughout the tournament the partnership of Murray and Sexton have lacked consistency This was most visible in their loss to England where Sexton had a 33% kicking success rate and Murray’s box kicking was ineffectual due to lack of accuracy. Ireland now have a longer break due to the Italy match being postponed due to coronavirus. This will give new boss Farrell the time to prepare and possibly make tough selection calls such as calling up in form Cooney to upset France’s hopes.
Italy have lost all three games so far to Wales, France and Scotland through rather inadequate and inconsistent performances. However they have produced mouthwatering moments through some magical young players in their squad such as Minozzi, Polledri and Allan. As a squad they lack the quality to compete with the other nations but there is hope for the future. With their next fixture against Ireland postponed Italy must use this time to prepare a game plan to have any chance of victory over behemoths England in Rome. This game will also be in doubt however over coronavirus fears posing a threat financially to the FIR.
Last years Grand Slam champions have experienced a severe fall from grace. Their campaign appeared to be off to a perfect start with a bonus point win over Italy however with below par performances in losses against France and Ireland, many Welsh fans will be missing Gatland at the helm. Pivac’s men face England in a daunting game without star man Josh Adams and will have to turn up to avoid embarrassment. They will go into their final game against the Scots as favourites but will be weary of their counterparts due to performance at Twickenham last season.
The Finn Russel saga has cast a shadow over Gregor Townsend’s side, who will feel unfortunate not to have won against Ireland and England in both tight but error ridden games. Scotland impressed in Rome, with a stand out performance from Hogg who seems to now be growing in his new role as captain after a wobbly start. Watson has been destructive on the ball as well as off and with France next, Hastings needs to continue his form and assert himself against the formidable French defence in the mercurial Russel’s absence if Scotland are to stand a chance. Wales away, despite their form will always be tough and a good performance is needed, to silence growing questions of Townsend’s ability, however a win is possible.
Last modified: 10th March 2020