Well, the 2013 6 Nations kick’s-off this weekend, and it look’s to be a very exciting competition, with all the competing teams having contrasting forms since last year’s tournament
Wales won the Grand Slam last year, but they’ve had the worst type of bad luck/form since then. They’ve had a run of 7 losses (including 4 against Australia, though results were close) and they’ve also been very unlucky with injuries.
England did very well in the tournament (surprisingly, as they had a disastrous World Cup in 2011), but then had a mixed series of results for the rest of the year, coming good at the end with a tremendous performance against New Zealand.
France had a difficult tournament. They were going through their own transitional period, with a new coach and everything, and had a poor run of results. They improved a lot since then, though, including trouncing Australia.
Scotland are at their lowest ebb. Despite a shock win against Australia, they’ve had terrible run of form, capped off with losing to Tonga. They now have a new coach (though interim) and the only way they can go is up.
Italy didn’t have a great tournament but they managed to avoid the Wooden Spoon, by beating Scotland. They did ok in the rest of their matches during the year, but they’ll probably dip a bit this year, and fail to win a match.
Ireland have had a mixed run of results. They drew with France during last year’s tournament, but came unstuck against Wales, and were terrible against England, eventually placing 3rd in the tournament, which wasn’t all that bad.
Ireland then had a mixed series against New Zealand, almost winning the 2nd test, but then suffering a shocking, record loss in the 3rd. They came back though with a decisive victory over Argentina, do end a mixed 2012 on a high note.
Ireland start this year’s campaign against, last year’s champions, Wales. The results have been very even between the two team’s in recent year’s, with Wales winning the previous 2 encounters, and Ireland the 2 before that.
Declan Kidney has picked a strong team for the encounter (Sat. 1.30). Rob Kearney returns at full-back, and there’s a new, very exciting, wing partnership with Simon Zebo and Craig Gilroy both making their 6 Nations debuts.
O’Driscoll is also back, recovered from injury, and he teams up with his old mate Gordon D’Arcy (who hopefully will experience an Indian Summer this year. I was hoping to see Keith Earls picked ahead of ‘old dependable’, though he is a sub).
Connor Murray is returning to his best form and is in at 9, while man-of-the-moment Jonny Sexton is at out-half. There’ll be a lot of attention for Sexton given his recent move to Racing Metro.
There’s a formidable pack, with Donncha Rya and Mike McCarthy being a great threat, especially given Wales’ second-row injury problems (3 of their front-line locks are unavailable).
Healy and Ross are 2 of the best props in the world, certainly Europe. Ironically they’re facing 2 of the only props that can match their abilities, Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones.
Jaimie Heaslip starts his first 6 Nations test as captain, and he has the returning Sean O’Brien, and the on-form Peter O’Mahony ‘flanking’ him. Rory Best completes the 8 at hooker.
Ireland’s match against Wales has an added intrigue, with the British and Irish Lions tour to Australia taking place in the summer, and for many players this match will act as an audition of sorts.
Of course the 6 Nations should be at the foremost in the player’s minds, but it will interesting to see how they square off against each other, as most will be vying for a Lions test spot.
The personal contest between the props, Kearney and Halfpenny at full-back, O’Driscoll and Roberts at centre (who teamed up in 2009), O’Brien and Warburton at flanker, etc. Also, Heaslip’s leadership v Warburton’s all adds intrigue to the match.
Getting back to the tournament, Ireland have a pretty lucky draw. If they can manage to beat Wales, they face their 2 toughest opponent’s (France and England) at home, which will improve their chances of beating them.
Ireland have only beaten France once in the last 14 games (in 2009 when they won the Grand Slam). England have been an easier opponent, but Ireland were very poor against England last year.
At the moment France look to be favourites, given their recent form, and they’ve recovered from their hicc-ups of last season. They also have the returning Michalak who’s always a threat. They should win, though not the Grand Slam.
England did very well against New Zealand (though the All Blacks were coming off a difficult season) and they seem to have matured into a formidable team. They also have a great debate at number 10 with both Flood and Farrell playing well.
I would like to see Scotland shock everyone and have a great tournament, but it would be a bit of a miracle if they did. Realistically they’re looking at a win over Italy, to avoid embarrassment.
Ireland have a pretty good chance, considering the 2 toughest teams are coming here. It they can start well and keep up momentum they have a chance at even a Triple Crown. I don’t see them winning the tournament, though.
Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Craig Gilroy, 13 Brian O’Driscoll, 12 Gordon D’Arcy, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sean O’Brien, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 Mike McCarthy, 4 Donnacha Ryan, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 Declan Fitzpatrick, 19 Donncha O’Callaghan, 20 Chris Henry, 21 Eoin Reddan, 22 Ronan O’Gara, 23 Keith Earls.
Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 George North, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Toby Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton, 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 Ian Evans, 4 Andrew Coombs, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Matthew Rees, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Paul James, 18 Craig Mitchell, 19 Olly Kohn, 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Loyd Williams, 22 James Hook, 23 Scott Williams.
Date: Saturday, 2 February
Venue: Millennium Stadium
Kick-off: 13:30 GMT
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant referees: Jaco Peyper (South Africa) and Pascal Gauzere (France)