The 2016 Six Nations Rugby Championship looks wide open this year, with five teams all deemed to have a reasonable shout. It’s also an opportunity for some reputations to be rebuilt. World Cup 2015 was disappointing for the Northern Hemisphere countries, with none reaching the last four of the competition.
England will go into the 2016 Six Nations as favourites and having failed so miserably as the host nation of the Rugby World Cup when so much was expected of them, the incentive to make amends is obvious.
They will be particularly keen to put on a show before their own fans at Twickenham which will be crucial to England’s hopes, as they face potentially their two biggest rivals for the Six Nations championship – Ireland and Wales – on home turf. The desire to beat the Welsh will be all the greater given that it was the loss to them that sent England on their way to World Cup humiliation.
New coach Eddie Jones has picked a youthful and fairly inexperienced squad, so it might be asking a bit much for them to take on board the Australian’s methods with immediate effect.
Ireland go into the championship looking for a hat-trick after winning the Six Nations in both 2014 and 2015. However, this year they will have to contend with a number of injuries to key personnel and they will also miss the now retired Paul O’Connell. An embarrassing defeat to Argentina in the World Cup quarter-final may also have damaged Irish confidence and a third straight title might be beyond them.
Meanwhile, Wales head into the competition with what has been a largely settled squad under Warren Gatland. They will certainly expect to win all three of their home matches, but they face arguably their two toughest opponents – Ireland and England – away from home. The Welsh have an excellent defence, but they don’t always make the most of their attacking options. Kiwi coach Gatland has been tipped to adopt a more adventurous, high-tempo style of play and if they can win their opening game in Ireland, they could take some stopping.
It’s all change for France, who have a new coach in Guy Noves. He replaces Philippe Saint-Andre, under whom France never finished higher than fourth in the Six Nations during his four years at the helm. Noves comes with a fine pedigree, having spent 22 largely successful years as Toulouse coach, but his options are hampered by injury and retirement. This is probably a year of transition for the French.
Scotland were whitewashed in Six Nations 2015, but will expect to go far better this year. Of all the Northern Hemisphere teams at the Rugby World Cup 2015, Scotland were probably the only ones to come out of the tournament with their reputation enhanced, having been cruelly robbed of a place in the last four by a controversial penalty decision against Australia. Vern Cotter’s boys are certainly capable of giving anyone a game, but whether they have the consistency and general game to win the tournament is perhaps another matter.
Italy are always capable of causing an upset, but their best available odds of 1000/1 to be crowned champions is an indication that any victory they do secure is likely to be a one-off. They have a world class No. 8 in Sergio Parisse, but injuries and retirements mean the supporting cast is a little below par at this level of the game.