So It Begins…
The 6 Nations are back. After one of the most thrilling tournaments to date in 2015 the standard is high this year. While last year was a bit of a warm up for the Rugby World Cup, this year couldn’t be more different.
The Northern hemisphere teams are licking their wounds from a fairly disappointing RWC campaigns and many of the the nations find themselves in states of transition. New coaches have arrived and legendary players have left, changing the landscape considerably for the 2016 Championship.
Before Round 1 kicks off on Saturday, we take a look at the key statistics from 6 Nations past and how things are shaping up this year.
Past 6 Nations in Numbers
Last year came right down to the wire on Super Saturday, and despite a thrilling attempt by England to catch up with Ireland on points scored, they just fell short. Will this year be as closely fought or will there be an outright winner by the time Super Saturday arrives in March? We’ll have a better idea after Round 1.
This fierce European rivalry kicks off the 2016 6 Nations in Paris. While Italy have never recorded an away win against France in the 6 Nations, they will feel that this year is a golden opportunity to change that.
This France team, under new Coach Guy Noves, is untested and while they will be looking to start their new chapter with a flying start the comparatively settled Italian side have a chance to upset the home team.
France Starting XV: Maxime Medard; Hugo Bonneval, Gael Fickou, Jonathan Danty, Virimi Vakatawa; Jules Plisson, Sebastien Bezy; Louis Picamoles, Damien Chouly, Wenceslas Lauret; Yoann Maestri, Paul Jedrasiak; Rabah Slimani, Guilhem Guirado (capt), Eddy Ben Arous.
Italy Starting XV: David Odiete; Leonardo Sarto, Michele Campagnaro, Gonzalo Garcia, Mattia Bellini; Carlo Canna, Edoardo Gori; Sergio Parisse (capt), Alessandro Zanni, Francesco Minto; Marco Fuser, George Fabio Biagi; Lorenzo Cittadini, Ornel Gega, Andrea Lovotti
The Calcutta Cup hasn’t been won by Scotland since 2008 but the fixture remains one of the most exciting in the 6 Nations schedule. Much has been made of England’s new coach, Eddie Jones, and the sharper edge he is hoping to give his team but their first test will be against a confident and dangerous looking Scottish side at Murrayfield.
The stats lean heavily in Englands favour. England have only lost Round 1 in the 6 Nations once in the last 8 years whereas Scotland have only won Round 1 of the 6 Nations once…ever. However, the Scots will feel buoyed by their performance in the RWC, narrowly missing out on the semi finals. Eddie Jones went as far as to say it should be the Scots who are favourites heading into this game.
Will England get off to a good start with their new coach or will Scotland shake off their reputation of falling at the first hurdle?
Scotland Starting XV: Stuart Hogg, Sean Maitland, Mark Bennett, Matt Scott, Tommy Seymour, Finn Russell, Greig Laidlaw (capt); Al Dickinson, Ross Ford, WP Nel, Richie Gray, Jonny Gray, John Barclay, John Hardie, David Denton.
England Starting XV: Mike Brown, Anthony Watson, Jonathan Joseph, Owen Farrell, Jack Nowell, George Ford, Danny Care; Joe Marler, Dylan Hartley (captain), Dan Cole, Joe Launchbury, George Kruis, Chris Robshaw, James Haskell and Billy Vunipola.
The reigning champions for the last two years, Ireland, will be looking to set a new record by collecting the trophy for the 3rd time in a row. Under Coach Joe Schmidt, the Irish team has only lost twice. Unhappily for them, one of those games was to Wales last year.
Ireland v Wales is being billed by many as the decider for the tournament and indeed in may come down to this result as both teams are likely to do well in the rest of the tournament. Wales have recovered from the injury crisis that plagued them in the Rugby World Cup and have a more settled squad heading into the first Round.
Ireland have lost a number of key players to injury and retirement. Most notably, Paul O’Connell, will not be taking to the field. His absence seemed palpable when he was forced out the RWC early through injury, will Ireland have made up for his absence since?
Ireland Starting XV: TBC
Wales Starting XV: Gareth Anscombe; George North, Jonathan Davies, Jamie Roberts, Tom James; Dan Biggar, Gareth Davies; Rob Evans, Scott Baldwin, Samson Lee, Luke Charteris, Alun Wyn Jones, Sam Warburton (capt), Justin Tipuric, Taulupe Faletau