McCaffery breaks down this year’s Six Nations prospects

After the World Cup seeing none of the Home Nations progress beyond the quarter-finals, all six countries will be eager to prove themselves on the international stage this year during the Six Nations, which is now here!

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With England under the new leadership of Eddie Jones, a new era is beginning for them with a bright start. You can’t mention Eddie Jones right now without commenting on that historic win over South Africa with Japan during the world cup. He transformed the Japanese team into an international force to be reckoned with, and England are hoping he can do the same for them.

However, the exciting new manager has already made some very questionable decisions in the England squad. Possibly the most controversial is in appointing Dylan Hartley as captain. Whilst Hartley has that Martin Johnson-esque no-nonsense, no-fear, aggressive attitude towards his game to lead from the front, this has more often than not seen him sitting in the sin bin or bleachers during game due to his misbehavior on the team.

Having someone this volatile on a team could be detrimental, especially considering your captain needs to be the main communicator with the referee. Jamie George is also without question the in-form hooker in the Premiership, so overlooking him in the scrum seems strange. Most people assumed Launchbury would gain the captaincy, due to his calm but forceful nature, whilst also being one of the only people whose position in the squad is 100% solidified.

If we consider using overseas players, the two biggest injustices is the exclusion of Elliot Daly and Danni Cipriani from the squad. Daly is by far the in form center right now, and Cipriani offers an attacking threat from anywhere on the pitch.

Wales are looking solid as usual, with Sam Warbuton remaining at captain. One exciting prospect for Wales opening game this Sunday against Ireland is the fact that Gatland is starting Justin Tipuric alongside Warburton as flankers. If we learned anything from the World Cup, and in particular Australia, it’s that employing openside flankers to disrupt the opposition is highly effective.

Despite Dan Lydiate being a defensive rock, I feel this is the best decision Wales could have made. The usual partnership of Davies and Roberts in the centers is ever present, and being commanded by in my opinion, the best inform fly-half in the northern hemisphere.

Dan Biggar is in scintillating form on the back of the World cup and Champions Cup. His kicking skills mean that Leigh Halfpenny is not missed from the squad, and his defensive presence is inarguable. Tom James is an exciting call up, with the towering figure of North on the other wing a threat to any opposition.

Ireland are hampered heavily by injuries coming into this Six Nations campaign, and with the recent retirement of their fearless leader Paul O’Connell, I feel this will be an adjustment period for Ireland which could see them not only missing that 3rd title in a row, but also falling quite far down the table this year.

Scotland is the wild card of this Six Nations, and I am very excited to see how they perform against England. Being the last home nation in the World Cup will be a massive confidence boost for them coming into this tournament. For the first time in a long time, Scotland match the other teams man-for-man for strength in position. With Greg Laidlaw and Finn Russell at the helm, the Scottish team finally have a settled and world class pairing.

Matt Scott and Bennett in the center provide two players that can seemingly make something happen from nothing, with two strong finishers in Maitland and Seymour. With Stuart Hogg completing that back line, I feel the Scottish backs have the potential to ignite this entire tournament. Even in the pack they are just as strong, with Denton, Hardie and Barclay providing a tenacious and strong ball carrying back row, both Gray brothers present to do their hard work, and completed with a very strong front row in Ford, Nel and Dickinson. Scotland are the ones to watch this tournament, and I’d back them against England.

Italy in my opinion will not win a game this Six Nations, despite the heroic efforts their talismanic captain Sergio Parisse will put in. And as for France, my guess is as good as anyone’s. The only thing we can know for certain with France is that at some point a commentator will say the words,  “I wonder what France turns up”. Fofana and Bastareaud will be a threat from anywhere, and Spedding will most likely run the ball when he should kick. As for the rest of the team, anything could happen.

This is the most open Six Nations we have had in recent memory, with anything possible. If I had to put a bet on tomorrow of how I think the rankings will look at the end, I would say:

Scotland, Wales, England, Ireland, France, Italy.

Either way, I am excited to watch every single game.