The Six Nations is back, and this season is particularly interesting on so many levels.
We have a few sides in really good form, a few with a point to prove, and the added excitement of a World Cup just around the corner – there’s plenty to play for.
I can’t wait for things to kick-off on Friday night in Paris.
France continue to be a side who just constantly frustrate me.
If you look at them last summer, they put up a good showing in New Zealand, they had games when they were down to 14-men but in no way disgraced themselves. Then a few months later they are losing at home to Fiji. You just don’t know what you’re going to get.
They have some excellent young players, they won the Under-20s last season, and they have to be given the opportunity to replace some of the old guard. That’s the only way they will progress.
French rugby is close to my heart – I grew up wearing a France shirt and loving the brand of rugby they played. I then played there during my career, so I would love to see them doing well and challenging at the top level, but it’s just not there at the moment.
If they win on Friday night, which they are capable of, who knows, but I just can’t see it.
Wales are in a great place and should be very confident.
The fixtures pan out for them very well with England and Ireland at home, so a win on the road in France will produce massive momentum. They are already buzzing after a strong autumn and having not lost in nine matches.
Wales played a much more expansive style in the autumn and I want to see them push on with that, particularly with the World Cup coming up. They need to be inventive and go for it, they scored some lovely tries in the autumn and that’s what the crowd want to see. Fans then don’t mind if there’s the odd mistake – as long as there is that intent to play.
This will obviously be Warren Gatland’s last Six Nations in charge, and he leave a legacy of probably being the best coach Wales has ever had. He’s done immensely well – you only have to look at what he’s put in the trophy cabinet. He’ll want to go out on a high, and there’s a really good chance to do it. He was criticized a bit a few years ago, but he’s always come through it and put Wales in a much better place than when he started.
The opening weekend in Dublin is going to be incredibly interesting.
England are looking very strong, and like Wales had a very good autumn campaign. You look across the side and there is some real strength – very strong pack, Ben Youngs may be a touch out of form but he’s a quality scrum half, Owen Farrell is a winner, pace out wide – they can hurt you all over the pitch.
We mention Farrell there and he is a huge leader. When I played with him on the Lions tour it was evident then. He was only young but always talking and bossing people on the pitch and that’s exactly what you want. He’s got such quality – I’d say England drop about 15% when he’s not in the side.
Ireland are at a stage now where they know what winning is all about. Players are seeing success at both club and international level and that only drives them even further. Success breeds success and makes players who are just outside the team or squad even hungrier to be a part of it – and that’s dangerous for the other sides in the competition.
They may not have the same individual flair as some of the other teams, but as a collective they are excellent. I think they have arguably the best coach in the competition and he has made them a real unit – and the side everyone else will have to beat.
Scotland will be looking to get their campaign off to a good start, unlike last year’s drubbing in Cardiff. Edinburgh and Glasgow have been excellent in Europe, so they will hope to capitalise on that. They have been hit by some real injury problems, but will be looking for Finn Russell, Huw Jones and Stuart Hogg to fire. Russell has looked fantastic in France, but that’s behind a big strong pack and having some fantastic players outside him – it will be interesting to see if he can reproduce that form at international level.
As for Italy, it’s the same old story really – and I don’t know where a win comes from for them. Sergio Parisse is a world class player, but also highlights the problems they have. There has just not been someone emerge to replace him, and there needs to be that line of players coming through.
People have talked about whether there should be relegation in the Six Nations, but I don’t think that’s right at the moment. Italy need some help from World Rugby to really advance the game at grassroots and get players coming through. Georgia are always mentioned as a potential replacement, but I don’t think they are quite ready at the moment, but a second-tier Six Nations could be a great option if we’re looking at how to expand things.
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