The Six Nations Championship for the Year 2017 has been officially launched this week with each of the six nations involved talking about the forthcoming Championship. The Six Nations will start next weekend after the 2016-2017 european campaign pool stage.
During that 2016-2017 Champions Cup Pool Stage, the teams from all the nations which will play in the Six Nations have performed really well. First of all, about the English clubs, the defending Champions Saracens qualified for Quarter-Finals along with London Wasps.
Besides, the Irish provinces playing in the Pro12 have also been impressive. Munster Rugby topped his Pool and finished as the second-ranked Quarter-Finalist in terms of points. Leinster Rugby also qualified for the next stage of the prestigious competition.
Moreover, even if the only Welsh province playing in the Champions Cup did not qualify, it is fair to say that the Scarlets have delivered massive games. They were unbeaten at home against Saracens and Toulon while the Ospreys are favourites to win the Challenge Cup.
Also, the Scotland team was delighted with Glasgow Warriors qualifying for the first time in the Quarter-Finals. The French sides struggled a bit but clubs like Clermont and Toulouse proposed some great running rugby with a lot of attacking intent to win games.
Finally, that was more complicated for the Italian provinces with Treviso not performing in the Challenge Cup. In the Champions Cup, Zebre conceded heavy defeats but their last home performance against London Wasps showed that Italy Rugby can make next steps.
1. England : Dylan Hartley confirmed as skipper
The England team is probably considered as the favourite team to win the Six Nations Championship. They are the defending Champions as they won the Grand Slam, the Triple Crown and obviously the Championship last year in 2016 after a great win against France.
Currently, England are on a 13-game winning streak and they are targeting the All Blacks record for the most consecutive wins at Test level as a Tier 1 Nation (18). There is a potential decider for the Grand Slam against Ireland in Round 5, at Aviva Stadium, Dublin.
Eddie Jones, the England manager, has confirmed during the Six Nations launch, earlier in the week, that Dylan Hartley was retained as the England skipper. The Northampton Saints hooker is coming back just in time following a ban that he received for striking.
During the build-up to this Six Nations Championship, there was a bit of worry in the England coaching staff considering all the injuries. It has been already confirmed that back-rowers Billy Vunipola and Chris Robshaw would miss all the Six Nations campaign.
More and more concerns came following doubts regarding Mako Vunipola and Joe Marler’s availability. It was not better for flanker James Haskell who battled with concussion and toe discomfort while Jack Clifford had a minor chest injury on duties with the Harlequins.
Nevertheless, it seems that these four players will be okay even if some of them may not take a part for the opener against France. England will also rely on their backline with Jack Nowell and Anthony Watson coming back to add competition in the England back-three.
2. France : Physicality first, Rugby second
Talking about England’s injury problems, France also had to deal with a terrible run of injuries and particularly in the centre positions. First of all, the Clermont centre Wesley Fofana had to give up on his participation after a serious injury sustained against Exeter.
After reports confirming that Wesley Fofana will not feature in the Championship, the Racing 92 powerful centre Henry Chavancy was called by manager Guy Noves. However, the centre failed a fitness test and the French coaching staff had to call another player.
It was the Toulon centre Mathieu Bastareaud who got the call even if he was certainly not chosen for his passing abilities. That is the problem with France for ages as they are always going for a very powerful side which will be able to match opponents’ physicality.
The only drawback to that tactic is the fact that you get a starting XV who struggle to play together. There are no attacking combinations at all and it is a long time since we last witnessed a France passage of play which was containing more than 10 phases of play.
Manager Guy Noves is a former Stade Toulousain player and coach. He wants to bring the “French Flair” back which is a rugby philosophy with an unpredictable way to attack. It is based on counter-attacking and offloads even if improvements have to be made quickly.
Like every Six Nations Championship, that is difficult to know what to expect from the French team. That is a team which certainly has got the ability to go all the way but when things go wrong, France is losing their game, their patience and they just lose their focus.
3. Ireland : Some tricky away games
Considered as one of the two favourites to win the Grand Slam with England, Ireland is coming into this competition with confidence following the form showed in Europe. The Irish provinces had wonderful results in the Champions Cup such as the Munster province.
Ireland can rely on their coaching staff with their coach Joe Schmidt who has put in place over the years a very effective gameplan where the kicking battle is so important. The defence coach Andy Farrell has also slotted in the Irish set-up very well to make wonders.
For the first time in the last few years, there is almost the same number of players selected from Munster and Leinster. That situation was made possible thanks to the resurgence of Munster on the big european scene thanks to the arrival of Rassie Erasmus.
Also, there are a few players from the Connacht Rugby province who could do the job such as Tiernan O’Halloran who is an outstanding fullback. Ulster will probably be disappointed as their last performances did not help the players who wanted a call-up with the squad.
In this Six Nations Championship, Ireland will need a good start and it will not be easy. They will have to come at Murrayfield to face Scotland before away fixtures to Italy and Wales. Another massive game will await them with the England team coming to Dublin.
The Ireland team is very well organised and their defence is very good. Looking at their attacking capabilities too, it is a team which has potentially no weaknesses. It will be interesting to witness how their opponents will adapt to a gameplan that we start to know.
4. Italy : Conor O’Shea with some ambitions
That is fair to say that there are always some mixed feelings when we start talking about the Italy situation. Clearly, there are some big issues such as the performances of the two provinces (Benetton Treviso and Zebre) who are playing in the european competitions.
Italy has got his own Championship but it is still semi-professional and the provinces playing in the Pro12 are not competitive enough. They are conceding too many points, there are few wins and the away fixtures sometimes mean a heavy defeat for the clubs.
However, some positive signs are telling that the Italy team could be on the good path of improvement. Former Harlequins coach Conor O’Shea was named as the new manager of the team just before the beginning of the June Internationals games last year, in 2016.
Conor O’Shea came with a lot of motivation and Italy played better game after game. They recorded a famous win against South Africa during the November Tour. Nevertheless, they did not back it up the week later with a home defeat against an outstanding Tongan side.
Next step for manager Conor O’Shea is having that positive attitude with the players having to come into each game with the same mindset. The coaching staff is also very talented with Brendan Venter, signing as the defence coach until the next World Cup.
Brendan Venter has worked with the Springboks in the past and also coached the Saracens, a few years ago. He is a very respected coach and he with Conor O’Shea have already said that Italy will reach new heights thanks to total commitment in each game.
5. Scotland : Last Championship for Vern Cotter
Not many people understood why Vern Cotter was told by the SRU (Scotland Rugby Union) that he will have to leave his job at the end of the 2017 Six Nations Championship. The current Glasgow Warriors’ coach Gregor Townsend will be unveiled as the new manager.
Scotland fans are starting to ask themselves whether it was the best idea or not not to keep Vern Cotter. Last season, during the 2016 Six Nations Championship, two statistics showed how far Scotland had improved under Vern Cotter since he took the team in 2014.
Last tournament, for the first time since 17 years, Scotland managed to finish the Championship with a positive points difference, scoring more points than conceding. They also managed to score at least 10 tries during all the Championship, with only five games.
Captain Greg Laidlaw stated that this Scotland squad was actually the best for a very long time. In fact, in the squad which was picked, almost all the players are playing for the two Scottish provinces (Edinburgh and Glasgow) and they have tasted the european success.
Edinburgh reached the Challenge Cup final two seasons ago and qualified for the Quarter-Finals for the 2016-2017 season. Glasgow Warriors managed to qualify for the Champions Cup Quarter-Finals for the first time in their History, after a big win against Leicester.
Glasgow Warriors won twice against Leicester Tigers in Europe and they were also defeated twice against Munster in very close encounters. It shows that Scotland could well surprise their opponents and they are worth a chance to win the 2017 Six Nations Championship.
6. Wales : Sam Warburton no longer the skipper
There are plenty of things to say about Wales coming into that Six Nations Championship. First of all, flanker Sam Warburton decided to give the armband to second-row Alun-Wyn Jones who will be the new skipper. Sam Warburton had a conversation with Rob Howley.
Wales Interim coach, with Warren Gatland on the British & Irish Lions duties, asked Sam Warburton to do that to focus on his game. There is a lot of competition in the back-row and it is to make sure that Sam Warburton does not get complacent with the selection.
Looking at the squad that was picked, there were many players who were left out despite consistent performances such as : Lloyd Williams (scrum-half), Gareth Anscombe (out-half), Tyler Morgan (centre), Hallam Amos (winger) and also Rhys Patchell (fullback).
Rob Howley selected a balanced squad though with seven uncapped players including the two back-rowers Thomas Young and Olly Cracknell. Owen Williams and Steffan Evans, along with Ashton Hewitt deserve to be here after very good showing for their club.
The Welsh squad is very competitive with Rob Evans and Samson Lee, two good scrummagers. Alun-Wyn Jones will lead the side with the likes of Sam Warburton and Toby Faletau. In the backline, Rhys Webb, Dan Biggar and Scott Williams are the leaders.
Finally, Rob Howley was left frustrated with the roof controversy. Wales still have to find an agreement with their opponents if they want to close the roof for their home games at Principality Stadium, in Cardiff. Usually, opponents agree and it will please Rob Howley.
The 2017 Six Nations Championship will be very entertaining because there is not much between the six teams. Also, there are two more things which are adding spice : the bonus point try and the new regulations about the high tackles and the players’ safety, as well.
It was announced last season that the Six Nations would adopt the bonus point system. That is already used in the Rugby Championship for years and it was brought to encourage the teams to play a more attacking game. That decision was welcomed by all the coaches.
About the new high tackles regulations, all the teams know that referees will have to sanction each high tackle. It can go from a single penalty to a yellow card or even a red card if it is a more serious offence. All the players will have that pressure on the pitch.
England goes into that Six Nations Championship as the clear favourites as they are on a 13-game winning streak. France will bring a very physical team but has to work on their skills while Ireland will be the other favourites thanks to their very effective gameplan.
Italy will try to perform better than the previous years with Conor O’Shea and Brendan Venter working for that. Scotland will have that momentum coming into the tournament with Wales relying on a balanced squad with experienced leaders and uncapped players.
The 2017 Six Nations Championship will be the last opportunity for the players to perform at Test match level before the British & Irish Lions Tour. Warren Gatland will probably have some work to do when he will have to name the squad which will go to New Zealand.
Great Six Nations coming ! Good Luck to all !