We’re less than a month away from the beginning of the Six Nations rugby tournament, where the 6 best national teams in Europe square off in a round robin tournament. England went home with the hardware last year but let’s take a look into what each team is bringing to the table.
With Ireland and England stealing the spotlight the 5th ranked Welsh squad looks ripe for an upset. Fly Half Dan Biggar has been on an absolute roll over the past year and a half posting 54 points in just six appearances (mostly via the kick). Another name to look out for is Jake Ball at the lock position. Ball is 6 ft 7 and was born in England making the impending matchup even more personal. Most of the time Ball is a late game substitution, but look for his size to be a game changer around the 60th minute when the fatigue of others levels the playing field.
My absolute favorite international team to watch from back home in the States is Scotland. Clearly the underdog story most of the time, the Scots play with a continuous chip on their shoulder and that will most likely continue this tournament. Full Back Stuart Hogg has been the beacon of consistency and is now starting to show off some of his international experience. He was the 2016 player of the tournament and look for that type of play to continue. This will be his 6th RBS 6 Nations tournament and he is only 24 years old.
Another player to look out for is Mark Bennet at the 13. He has played in 8 games for his home nation and brings a youthful ignorance to the often overlooked Scots. I would not be surprised if he scored two or three tries this tournament.
I predict third place for Scotland as the English or Irish team they would face would most likely be lethargic in a 3rd place match.
Few look at France as an elite team but give them some credit they are the 8th ranked in the world. The only problem is they are the 5th ranked in the tournament, tough break. Regardless, look for the French team to utilize their speed on the outside. Anyone playing France should avoid penalties at all costs, Scrum Half Maxime Mauchenaud has an absolute boot and the French will more often than not, take the easy points.
I am predicting a down year for the French in light of my bold Scottish and Welsh picks but I have been proved wrong before.
With the Irish still riding high off their historic victory over the All Blacks at Soldier Field, there’s certainly a lot of buzz surrounding this team. Their captain, Rory Best, is the perfect ambassador of hard nosed, smash mouth Irish rugby.
This team thrives off of physicality and strong set pieces and are quickly mastering the process of turning the game into that style of play. The Irish also have a lot of newbies so there are plenty of opportunities for a fresh face to make a name for himself down in the trenches. A lot of experts are saying that England is the strong favorite, which will only fan the flames of passion for this Irish squad.
With a huge loss in leadership due to the retirement of Martin Castrogiovanni, the Italians are fighting even more of an uphill battle.
That type of leadership is hard to come by but like Ireland after Paul O’Connell, young guys have the imperative to step up and get it done in the forward pack and to give their backs a fighting chance. Much like the Irish, Italy boasts a major upset from back in November when they beat South Africa 20-18. The talent is there, the veteran leadership is not, so let’s see what the Italians can do this year.
The heavy favorite and reigning champs of the Six Nations 2016, the only knock against England is that they may be looking past this 6 Nations towards the World Cup 2019. The English open up against the French, promising to be on the better matches of this tournament. Coach Eddie Jones, a Bill Belichick-esque figure, is hoping to repeat in 2017. Rising star Maro Itoje is also being considered to captain the squad for the tournament, which is bringing unneeded drama to the team less than a month till kickoff.
Irregardlessly, I think England will have their hands full with Wales, France, and Ireland and their matches will be must watch TV, but ultimately take 2nd place.
The Six Nations tournament kicks off Saturday, February 4 with Scotland vs Ireland and England vs France. Check LMBF for more updates, scores, and rugby news!