The 2013 6 Nations should separate the men from the boys in coaching terms. England’s performance against the All Blacks in December has seen their odds of winning the tournament slashed to 15-8 and with 3 home games including their first against Scotland and the often pivotal game against France in the third week of the Championship they are perfectly placed not only to win but also to do the Grand Slam, which they are 5-1 favourites for. The game against the All Blacks showed that the squad have settled onto the new regime which only really began in earnest 10 months ago after he took temporary charge for 2012’s 6 Nations campaign, leading the team to second losing only to Wales in their Grand Slam year. Lancaster’s measured approach and ability to deal with pressure and fight his corner when necessary are all facets that his team share and after close defeats Australia and South Africa in the Autumn many had written off their chances against the World Champions New Zealand, but with nobody expecting much they powered to a 38-21 victory, scoring 3 tries on the process. With everybody sitting up and taking notice they now face a different challenge, an opening game against an unknown quantity, where they are 20 point favourites. Recent history tells us Lancaster’s methodical approach will ensure the players respect their opposition enough to first secure the win before they try to repeat their last display against the All Blacks and the players displays in the last 10 months have proved they will take the message on board.
France’s coach Phillippe Saint- Andre is often described as “enigmatic”, which usually a word people use when they can’t decide if somebody is brilliant or hopeless. As a player he was undoubtedly a very graceful and skilful player, but as a winger he was often at the mercy of the rest of his French team and as modern French wingers like Wesley Fofana will tell you being the most exciting player in Europe is pointless if the other 14 players on your team fail to provide you with any possession with which to demonstrate your abilities. The French wingers had no such problem during their autumn campaign as they recorded 3 tries between them in 3 Tests; most of the inspiration was provided by Frederic Michalak who racked up 58 points in those 3 Tests. The only real sign of the French inconsistency appeared when they scored 18 points and conceded none against Australia in the last 59 minutes of that game and then proceeded to go 0-7 behind to Samoa in the opening 15 minutes of their final Test of the autumn. France are second favourites to win the Championship and while they should ease to victories in their 2 home fixture, but their away trip to Twickenham will be their toughest as England have twice as many of their encounters in Middlesex (26) as the French have (13), this single loss should see the French finish second, 2 places above their final position last year.
Ireland’s coach Declan Kidney is painted as the quite man of the 6 Nations and sometimes that’s exactly how his team perform. The returning Brian O’Driscoll alongside Leinster teammates Brian Kearney, Luke Fitzgerald, Sean O’Brien and Cian Healy will look to provide some much needed BOOM to the Irish performances in this tournament. If Ireland’s forward can provide their exciting backs, which could include Lions hopefuls Craig Gilroy, Simon Zebo and Keith Earls with some ball they will compete with England and France for the top spot in the table. Injuries to Richardt Strauss, Stephen Ferris combined with their search for 2 dominant props will however limit the effectiveness of their pack and Tommy Bowe’s ability to turn defence into attack with his interceptions will also be sorely missed. France’s desire to maintain their unbeaten streak in the Aviva and what’s bound to be an impassioned meeting with England in Dublin should prove too much for a depleted Irish side but their ability to beat the 3 weakest teams in the tournament should see them to a 3rd placed finished for the second time in 2 years. As a former maths teacher Kidney appears to be ultra cautious and conservative in his approach and that often rubs off on the players, this wouldn’t be a problem if Ireland’s pack could consistently assert its dominance over opposing packs, but they struggle to do it with any regularity and as a consequence their results against the stronger sides have suffered from a similar inconsistency.