THE RUGBY World Cup still remains in the mind of fans of all the home nations. Not that surprising given it ended less than four months ago, but with the biggest upsets in the tournament’s history and some of the most unjust heartbreak, players and supporters will be turning to these next seven weeks in search of redemption.
England were unceremoniously dumped out of their own tournament at the group stages back in autumn after becoming the victim of ‘the group of death’, despite having a better points difference than 2nd place Wales (just as The Courier predicted, weird right?), and will no doubt be looking to prove they’re a very real threat for the title under the radical new leadership of Eddie Jones and his almost complete overhaul of the backroom coaching staff.
His appointment of Dylan Hartley as the captain to replace Chris Robshaw has come under some fire, and Hartley himself has said he knows people expect him to fail, but it is testament to Jones’ philosophies of hard, aggressive “bulldog-spirit” rugby. It’s got them as far a being the bookmaker’s favourites so far, but what happens after this point is still up for contention.
England’s first opponents will be Scotland as they travel to Murrayfield for the Calcutta Cup tomorrow, and after defeat at the hands of Craig Joubert (Australia were also there for the 35-34 shocker) at the quarter-final stage of the RWC, the often-underdog Home Nation will be looking to galvanise their team with the home advantage and take some crucial points.
Captain Greg Laidlaw has spoken recently and said he and the team can’t forget the pain of the Cup, but dwelling is not going to take the crown here:
“We can’t feel sorry for ourselves. We don’t deserve anything. Nobody is going to give us anything easy. Nobody is going to feel sorry for us in the Six Nations, and we are not going to feel sorry for ourselves. We have confident young players who are averse to some of the pressures, which is brilliant. Some of the boys who have been around for a bit longer are starting to feed off the younger players.
Scotland can win [the championship]. Nobody knows the make-up of the tournament or the results. What we can affect is ourselves and how prepared we are. When we take the field against England we have to be ready to rock and roll.”
The following day across the Irish Sea, standing tall together, Ireland will be taking on Wales in the second Home Nation clash. Injuries plagued both teams in the build-up and at the World Cup, but Argentina’s dominance over the Irish in the quarters was more than unexpected. Looking lethargic and missing captain Paul O’Connell, there was surprise in and out of their camp, as many had backed them for a place at the final. The back-to-back champions will be shooting for a third successive title, but with no Irish province making it to the knockout stages of the European Cup (Connacht are through in the Challenge Cup) for the first time in nearly 20 years, it may be the end of their time in the sun.
Wales. Warburton. Warren. Winning. While some would hope this alliteration would be enough to guarantee they lift the trophy, there is the matter of the five games to be played. Leigh Halfpenny is still out with injury after going down in the last friendly against Italy back in September, but the team’s impressive squad depth has kept them in contention through worse.
Gatland has been promoting a more positive play style for the team, encouraging them to “open up” and play the rugby they want to. Promoting what seems to be a wide game with Justin Tipiric and captain Sam Warburton in the starting XV at the Aviva Stadium this Sunday, there is hope for a strong start to this campaign. Their only other away fixture will be a firey grudge match at Twickenham, and if history is any indicator… there is no indication of which way that one will go.
ASM have had a think and have come up with their predictions for the final table. Some of them gave it more thought than others…
2nd-5th The Others
6th England #CymruAmByth
1st England (obviously)
6th Italy #theworldcupneverhappened
Conner McCaffery and Alasdair Park were unavailable for comment after a discussion broke out concerning Union & League.
EDIT: Alasdair Park has finalised his predictions:
1st France (No Grand Slam, to be beaten by Scotland)
2nd Wales (Triple Crown Winners)
4th Scotland (Wins against France, England and Italy, losses against Wales and Ireland)
6th Italy (Lose all five)
Myself, I think we’ll know by the first match. If England has reformed in the way Eddie Jones wanted, they’ll be the team to beat. If not, then Wales stand the best chance. My predictions:
But with the exception of Italy, these teams are going to be within four points of each other.
Get your guesses in below to be in with a chance of being right.