The evenings are getting a little bit longer, the days a little brighter and I see ads for the Six Nations everywhere I look. Even after playing, I’m so excited around this time of year. It’s a special tournament and although I’d love to be running out in front of a full house in Cardiff, there’s still more than enough to have me looking forward to every single second of it. Even the cheesy pre-tournament photos featuring the captains can’t dent my enthusiasm.
The pre-tournament photo shoots were awful. I hated it. You’d spend a couple of weeks in camp talking about your self-belief, how you were going to smash all this guys and rip into your opponents, rubbing their faces into the ground and then you’d have to go to this thing which was the exact opposite.
All this cheesy posing with the trophy, empty platitudes and handshakes. You just think to yourself ‘what a crock of shit’. You’d be polite with the other captains and be respectful to the opponents when you’re talking to the press but everyone knows what everyone else was really thinking, but nobody wants to say it.
The backdrop of a World Cup makes this Six Nations Championship even more fascinating. I’m expecting a great Championship to match.
Championship odds: 2/1
If you’re Irish, you’ve got to be confident. The defending champions, they come in to this on the back of some great performances in the autumn internationals and they’ve got two of their toughest opponents coming to Dublin. They were so strong in November, the confidence must be sky-high.
They’ve got an all round game. Joe Schmidt has brought a game plan which combines some serious grunt up front with a willingness to play rugby. Schmidt has brought a very All Black style to Ireland where they can mix up the game plan based on the strengths of his own players and weaknesses of opponents.
It’s really all about the visit to Wales on the penultimate weekend of the Championship that will make or break their title defence. Their provinces haven’t prospered in Europe like they have done, but rugby has reached a stage now where club and country form can be clearly separated and that wouldn’t concern me.
France | Scotland | Italy
Championship odds: 6/1 | 33/1 | 500/1
France had an awful autumn, but they’ve such a pool of talent that I wouldn’t dismiss entirely. They’ve always had the ability to bounce back from low points quicker than other teams. They’ve some good young players coming through. Clearly there’s some friction between Phillipe Saint-Andre and his players, but this time around he seems to be attempting to be more savvy with how he handles his players because if he doesn’t have them on side, they’ll struggle. They’ve got some seriously talented players and if Saint-Andre can accommodate them with the right style, they’ll be dangerous again.
Verne Cotter hasn’t been at the helm for Scotland long enough to make a huge difference. Every year we go into the Six Nations thinking Scotland are about to turn a corner and by the end we see they’re pretty much back where we started. They need to turn Murrayfield into a fortress again and they can start that by beating one of the big boys at home this year and building on it.
Italy have added some attacking strength to their powerful pack. Like Scotland, all they can do is target their home games as their best chances of wins and look to build from there.
Week 1 Matches
I can’t see an upset here. It may be an arm-wrestle and the Italians may may it tough for an hour, but this Ireland side is on an upward trajectory and they’ve the class to get through it. They’ve now got the intelligence to box clever knowing they can run away with it near the end.
It’s the first Six Nations game of the post-BOD era, but any anxiety they may have had of losing him was smoothed out with the autumn internationals. Ireland will win and I’ll back them even with a -10 points handicap – maybe even have a cheeky look at -13 points at 6/5.
France are an unknown quantity but you know they’ll have the talent at their disposal to put out a strong team. We saw some signs of progress for Scotland under Verne Cotter but the problem that takes a longer time to fix is the lack of depth in their squad. France will start things off with a win, but I’d feel more comfortable with Scotland +9 points on the handicap.
Making predictions at this stage is tricky and I’ll probably want to review this after week one, but as it stands, this is how I see the fixture least going. The crucial showdown comes in Cardiff on March 14. I probably won’t be allowed leave my house for the next few weeks, but Ireland will edge it. I’m backing them to win to win all their other games, so as long as they win that, I’d back them for a Grand Slam. Even if they don’t, they’d still be my bet for the Championship.
There are a few new names mixed among the usual suspects in the Top Tryscorer betting. Alex Cuthbert and Tommy Bowe stand out as value bets especially considering they won the accolade in 2013 and 2012 respectively. With the way rugby has gone, I’d look at a number eight to do well.
Championship winners: Ireland @ 2/1
Grand Slam: Ireland @ 11/2
Top Tryscorer: Alex Cuthbert at 16/1 or Tommy Bowe at 9/1