Monday 23 October 2017 / 08:45 PM

Six Nations Preview

The greatest tournament in Northern Hemisphere rugby starts on Saturday, and it promises to be one of the most competitive yet. Let’s take a look at how each team is shaping up:

England

What’s their form like?

England were the only side to beat a northern hemisphere side in the most recent clashes between north and south and appear to be making good progress under coach Stuart Lancaster.

In terms of Six Nations form, Lancaster’s men arrived at the Millennium Stadium last year with a Grand Slam within their grasp, only to be smashed by Wales in a record 30-3 scoreline.

What’s their gameplan?

Think traditional England, but a little bit more progressive. They have got talents in the backline, but outside half Owen Farrell is more of a ‘steady eddie’ than a Quade Cooper. They’re well organised, with a strong set piece and decent rolling maul. They’ll be tough to beat.

Who’s their star player?

Scrum half Danny Care has been brought back into the fold, and on form he can ignite proceedings behind the scrum. However, their lack of a true openside flanker suggests that they’ll struggle to generate the quick ball that Care thrives on, meaning that a lot of responsibility is likely to be focused on Farrell’s kicking for territory. For that reason, Farrell is the man to watch out for.

France

What’s their form like?

Their form leaves a lot to be desired, but to be fair, when has form ever made a difference to the way that France play? They are perhaps the most unpredictable side in world rugby, and the fact that the side isn’t progressing under Philippe Saint-Andre is likely to be mean very little when the tournament begins. If they start well – as they are very capable of doing – they’ll be a force to be reckoned with.

What’s their gameplan?

Similarly to the form question, questions about the French gameplan are pretty difficult to answer. In the past, they seem to have played with no discernible shape with the plan seeming to be ‘run about and have a go’. However, Saint-Andre has opted to give pragmatic fly half Jules Plisson his debut against England, which should bring some order to the ranks.

Who’s their star player?

France have got talent all over the pitch, but I’m particularly keen to see the centre partnership of Wesley Fofana and Mathieu Bastareaud. Fofana is one of the most talented backs in the northern hemisphere, and if the French forward pack deign to give the backs the ball, Fofana will cause havoc for oppositon defences.

Ireland

What’s their form like?

Going by their last game, the Irish are in stellar form. Agonisingly pipped in injury time by the All Blacks, Ireland ran New Zealand very, very close in Dublin and Joe Schmidt’s side will be hoping to carry that momentum into their first Six Nations fixture at home to Scotland.

What’s their gameplan?

I’ve always viewed Ireland as ‘South Africa lite’. They like their lineouts and rolling mauls and they love using their physicality to force turnovers in defence. In Jonny Sexton they have the northern hemisphere’s finest number 10, and he’ll be looking to ping the ball in the corners and allow his forwards the chance to put pressure on the opposition tryline. It’s a simple tactic, and in recent years it’s not been massively effective.

Who’s their star player?

Without a doubt, Sexton. The Racing Metro outside half oozes class, and although the Welsh took the plaudits following the Lions’ victory last summer, lots of credit must go to the Leinster product for the way he orchestrated proceedings and took the ball to the line. If Ireland are to do well this year, Sexton is likely to be at the heart of it.

Italy

What’s their form like?

Everyone’s second Six Nations team, Italy achieved their highest-ever Six Nations finish last year, after wins against France and Ireland.

Unfortunately they didn’t really kick on from there, losing all of their summer tests, and recording a solitary autumn win against Fiji. Regardless of form, though, Italy are not a team to be underestimated anymore.

What’s their gameplan?

Last year saw something of a departure from the traditional 10-man rugby usually deployed by Italy, but it still seems like their gameplan is definitely focused around making the most of their talented forwards. They don’t tend to have much ingenuity when the ball goes past 10, and for that reason the Italians are likely to opt for a narrow game, especially in their first clash against Wales.

Who’s their star player?

Sergio Parisse. The Italian man-mountain is the complete rugby player, and everything good about Italy goes through him. The Azzurri missed him a lot last year, and will be delighted to have him back in the fold.

Scotland

What’s their form like?

Not great. The Scots suffered an embarrassing loss to South Africa and a rather less embarrassing one to Australia in the autumn, recording their only win against Japan.

What’s their gameplan?

Scotland have got some big old ball carriers, so in theory the gameplan is to get players like David Denton and Ryan Wilson over the gainline before getting their backs involved. The trouble is, their big old ball carriers are often matched by bigger tacklers, meaning that Scotland all too often have to be content with trying to play behind the gainline. In theory though, if they were able to break the opposition defence, they have some devastating strike runners who can cause real problems when unleashed.

Who’s their star player?

Stuart Hogg. The guy has incredible natural talent, and as a strike runner, he’s up there with the best in the northern hemisphere. If Scotland can get the ball to him in space, he will do some damage.

Wales

What’s their form like?

The Six Nations holders did seem to be in pretty fine fettle after their thrashing of England and strong representation on the winning Lions tour, but the autumn saw them fail to take that crucial step forward as they yet again failed to beat a southern hemisphere team.

What’s their gameplan?

So definable that it’s got its own name (‘Warrenball’ – after Wales coach Warren Gatland). Wales start off set piece by using a big ball carrier to get across the gainline. They’ll then pick and go a few times down the short side until they’re almost at the touchline. Then they’ll swing back the other way, try to punch another hole in the gainline before spreading the ball wide to their strike runners. Very simple, and very effective.

Who’s their star player?

George North. The 21 year old encapsulates all that is good about this Welsh side: pace, power and size. After a stunning Lions tour, North was Wales’ player of the autumn and has become a crucial cog in the Gatland machine. I must also mention Leigh Halfpenny, whose goalkicking was the difference so many times last year.

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About the author

Seb Greenwood

CBS’s longest-serving contributor, Englishman Seb is our leading football correspondent, pulling no punches with his opinions on the Premier League and the international scene.

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