Scotland are definitely the wild card of the 2013 6 Nations and it’s nearly impossible to predict what they, or any team Scott Johnson coached side will do, but with the addition of the scintillating Sean Maitland to the already impressive back 3 of Tim Visser and Stuart Hogg then must surely look to get the ball wide at every opportunity. With a back line that could include Max Evans and Peter Horne fresh from his “dazzling last-gasp try” (BBC Sport’s words, not mine) combining with a back row with the likes of Johnnie Beattie, Richie Vernon, Lions hopeful Dave Denton and marauding lock Richie Gray Scotland should have no shortage of dynamism about them and their quick strike ability should see them overawe the likes of Italy and Wales. As a player Johnson was an “enigmatic” back, but he played 10 or 12, so even with his addition of Dean Ryan as forwards coach I can’t see him wanting to take on the big forward packs of the other 5 teams and he knows as well as anyone that losing 42-35 to anyone in the 6 Nations will do more for the profile of Scottish rugby than winning 9-6 against Australia (in a hurricane it should be pointed out) did in June 2012.
Italy are an interesting exception to the rule of these teams playing in the mould of their coaches, Jacques Brunel is a former Fullback and stalwart of club rugby in France, he began his coaching career with FC Auch Gers after his playing career finished in 1988 and after spells at 3 other French sides and a 7 year stint as assistant to Bernard Laporte for the French National side he was offered the head coach role by the Italian federation. The Italian’s lack a quality Fly Half and that will seriously limit their game plan during the tournament. The one area where they don’t lack is in the forwards and with the likes of Castrogiovanni, Lo Cicero, Zanni, Barbieri and skipper Sergio Parisse they will challenge most teams at the breakdown and at set piece time. Wales’s recent inability to dominate the breakdown should give Italy one of the wins they usually miss out on by the odd point, but after a victory over Tonga and another near miss against Australia in the autumn they will not want on the confidence front.
Wales have suffered what could be described as a nightmare 12 months since they recorded their 3rd Grand Slam in 5 seasons. The departure of Warren Gatland to oversee the 2013 Lions tour has seen “attack coach” Rob Howley in charge and never before has the cliché “a good number doesn’t make a good number one” been so applicable, Howley’s tenure has made Steve McLaren’s stint as England football manager seem like an unquestionable success. He has observed 7 losses since he stepped into the breach and from the outside has appeared to have absolutely no influence over proceedings from his position, culminating with him using to his post game press conferences in the autumn to moan about just how bad the that he had selected and “prepared” had performed. The farce that has been the Welsh coaching set up combined with their inability to pick a settled team for most of the last 12 months due to injuries has seen Wales fall from 4th in October 2011 to their current position of 9th, behind perennial minnows Samoa. With the chances of Howley becoming an International rugby coach of worth overnight the Welsh chances of breaking their losing streak seem slim to nonexistent at the moment and with Wales missing their first choice number 10, blindside flanker and 3 first choice second rows (and possibly having to play 2 others who aren’t fully fit) they should begin the 6 Nations as favourites to win the wooden spoon.