6 Nations 2015

France haven’t won the 6 Nations since they did the Grand Slam in 2010 which, allied to the fact they’re 4th favourites with the bookies, makes my fancying them to do it this year even more irrational than most of my ideas. The return of Captain and former IRB Player of the Year Thierry Dusautoir should galvanise Philippe Saint-Andre’s side and combined with the fact that Saint-Andre appears to have settled on the makeup of what had been an ever changing backline Dusautoir’s return should coincide with a turnaround in “les bleu’s” modest 6 Nations record. Dusautoir will command a lot more respect from his players than last year’s replacement Pascal Pape did last season and they should be a more disciplined outfit who don’t concede as many penalties and collect as many cards as they have done in the past. One of the key players in the French backline will be Clermont Auvergne’s fly half Camille Lopez, who ironically is a player of impish flair like Saint- Andre was, his ability to make space for the expert finishers out wide like Teddy Thomas, Yoann Huget, Lopez’s club teammates Wesley Fofana and the new boy (new to the 6 Nations at least) Noa Nakaitaci will be crucial, Lopez will also bring a consistency to the goal kicking that France have not always enjoyed.
Writing off England is never a good idea but as we’ve all heard, they will be missing 13 players for the first game in Cardiff and whilst expecting Wales to do anything is as daft as writing off England is 13 is quite a few! England will be looking to give players who wouldn’t usually be thrown into competitive Test match rugby experience in World Cup year and while James Haskell has been in the form of his life for Wasps and backs like Danny Cipriani and Jonathan Joseph can leave defenders grasping at thin air they could find it difficult to play their natural games behind a front 5 missing the World’s best loose head prop in Alex Corbisiero and 2 exceptional lock’s in Courtney Lawes and Joe Launchbury.
Ireland haven’t won back to back 6 Nations Championships, well technically ever, their last consecutive tournament victories were in 1948 and 1949 when it was the 5 Nations Championship. Joe Schmidt may well provide to be the catalyst to turn that run around this year but they face France in Dublin and they haven’t beaten the French in Ireland since they moved to the Aviva Stadium. Ireland also have to take on Italy where they lost in 2013 and traditionally become in a forward dominated struggle playing straight into Italian hands. Ireland also have to visit the Millennium Stadium where Wales and Warren Gatland will have more than 1 score to settle after the men in green trounced the valley boys by 20 points in the first half 2 years ago.
Scotland are on un upward curve under new coach Vern Cotter and have been boosted by the return of British Lion Ryan Grant to their ranks (after he was cleared of being involved in an assault). Having only managed to defeat Italy in last year’s last year’s tournament they surely have to improve on that performance but whether they can challenge France in Paris and England in Twickenham remains to be seen.
Wales, despite what Warren Gatland and the rest of his coaching team say are solely focused on improving their fitness for the upcoming RWC and if their Autumn International campaign is anything to go by then they will struggle in the early rounds, especially in Cardiff against a depleted English side who will certainly be fired up and may not hit their straps until they play Scotland in round 4, or at all.
Italy are always impossible to predict, more often than on find themselves on the end of contentious refereeing decisions and like Wales suffer from having a very unreliable surface at their home stadium. One thing you can say with any certainty is they have a pack that will cause most teams in the world trouble and as their November clash with the Springboks showed they are not far away from taking a big scalp.

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