It’s 2015, a colossal rugby year for obvious reasons. So you’ll be delighted that the RBS 6 Nations Championship is back, brasher and shinier than ever, with its new trophy and potential Rugby World Cup ramifications. It hasn’t so much crept up on you as kicked in your front door, sat in your favourite armchair and screamed at you to pay very close attention to what happens next.
Of course, you know what happens next. Whether you are at the grounds, down the boozer or deliberately locked up in your own living room, you will be rapt; unable to look away from the incredibly tense rugby action and incapable of keeping quiet. Let’s be honest, the Six Nations is one of those tournaments where bawling like a toddler with a stubbed toe is encouraged – as long as the tribal jibes are kept within the spirit of the game and no one boos the kicker, thank you very much, cheers, ta.
With the big kick-off in Cardiff, as England travel to face Wales, even the neutral will be chirping away. These two will face each other in the World Cup, after all. That Friday night blockbuster was always going to be raucous, rowdy and pretty damn loud-y and the Welsh will hope to blow the roof off the Millennium Stadium (mind you, they can only close the roof if the English management consent to shutting the sliding ceiling).
The encounter on the 6 February may go some way to deciding how the Six Nations pans out. Momentum is important in this tournament, and ignoring the fact that England are missing more personnel than a Sahara-based branch of Madame Tussauds, they still have some phenomenal athletes – athletes who are in fine form, like George Ford and Chris Robshaw, Joe Marler and Jonathan Joseph. Will they all be Test-ready and starting? That’s up to head coach Stuart Lancaster’s tactical plan. However, while Wales are sometimes predictable they are also painfully efficient if they get their team sloshing forward, and if England retreat at all, the Welsh can head to Scotland full of vim.
See, Wales only have two home games, while England have three. If England win away from home first up, they have the right spirit and X-factor players to string together a fine run. Wales need to play pragmatically. Because if they do that, they also have Ireland at home, and they will want to stifle, strangle and squash Ireland.
Oh the Irish, no longer relying on luck, they are close to countering New Zealand as the smartest counter-attacking team in the world. They love a quick ruck and they have what some of the other Six Nations sides surprisingly lack: a simple but effective exit strategy. They can also concertina the opposition defenders with their tight running lines. That’s how they win games.
Sounds like mumbo jumbo, there? Well tactical discipline is the real reason England, Ireland and Wales will be in the hunt for this title. They always give themselves a chance at the end of the Championship, because they hang in there and keep their shape. Scotland are getting there in terms of tactical discipline, but their general discipline is not the best. Chasing a game, Scotland have the potential to collect more cards than someone born on Christmas Day.
France and Italy? Holding it together is not their strong suit. France can fling it about, play snore-inducing forwards’ rugby or fall apart, while Italy cannot sustain shape for more than an hour, so neither are likely to get more than a few surprising results.
That’s not to say they won’t give you reason to shout in delight, as well as scoffing at their misadventures. It’s always good fun when they face each other (as they do on March 15), and with France hosting Scotland and Wales there should be some fine running rugby on show.
So if we say it’s a three horse race, with the World Cup on the horizon, England having three home games, Wales hosting them and Ireland but Ireland being smart defending champs, will there be any Grand Slams? It doesn’t seem likely. But for the shouting neutral, that doesn’t matter.
It will be screamingly good fun!