RBS Six Nations 2014 Preview
By Eoin Harrington
As the 2014 Six Nations draw closer, this is set to be one of the most uncertain and unpredictable campaigns in this tournament’s history. Wales have numerous injury worries, there is uncertainty surrounding which France will show up, England have a rookie fly-half and Ireland go into the campaign without their talisman Seán O’Brien and with a new head coach in the form of Joe Schmidt.
No one really knows what to expect from Ireland this year. They have to travel to London and Paris, so the fixtures don’t really suit them as much as the French and the English. But with a new captain in Paul O’Connell, Ireland have a robust and passionate leader. They also have the presence of would-be captains e.g. Brian O’Driscoll and Jonny Sexton.
Wales have doubts over the fitness of their captain Sam Warburton and vice-captain Alun-Wyn Jones. Both were pivotal in the Lions’ test series win down under during the summer, so Warren Gatland will obviously be hoping they are in flying form. Wales have won the last two championships and won it in style last year, thumping England in the final game to snatch the championship off them. Despite their injury worries, they have to be one of, if not the favourites for this year’s Six Nations.
France are, like Ireland, one of the most unpredictable and inconsistent teams in world rugby. They won the grand slam in 2010, came 2nd in 2011, came 4th in 2012 and came last in 2013. They need to sort out their consistency if they are to win an 18th crown. However, the odds may be in their favour, as they are at home to both Ireland and England, a huge advantage.
England are many bookies’ favourites but I just don’t see it. Only two English teams made it to the ¼ finals of the Heineken Cup and Leicester were comprehensively beaten at home against Ulster in their final group game. Toby Flood has been dropped due to his impending move to Montpellier, and George Ford is the rookie challenger to Owen Farrell’s out-half spot. For me, this will not be England’s year. Their squad is too inexperienced and I believe this year will be a learning curve for them before next year’s home advantage at the Rugby world Cup.
Italy impressed many last year with home wins over France and, for the first time, Ireland, but they and Scotland cannot be considered true contenders for the championship. Most likely they will be battling it out to avoid the wooden spoon once again.
My tip for this year’s championship would have to be Ireland because, despite all the new faces, they have a new and experienced leader in Paul O’Connell, the most talented coach in European Rugby in Joe Schmidt and the most dynamic back line with Simon Zebo, Brian O’Driscoll et al. And if we don’t win, Wales will be champions come March.