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6 Nations 2014: Opening Weekend Preview


Editors Note: We at Last Word on Sport are always on the lookout for passionate fans to write for us, it is a great pleasure to welcome John Glynn to our rugby team, this is the first of his articles about Six Nations Rugby

With the Six Nations set to kick-off this Saturday, we are looking at one of the most open events in recent history.  The mighty Welsh are aiming to win the prestigious title for a third time successive time, even though; the champions will have tough competition with Ireland, England and France all firmly fancying their chances. The location for 2014’s first match up, The Millennium Stadium in Cardiff is an epic arena. The Italians are the visitors, and will be looking for a sporadic victory away from home. While Italy may pose a challenge, their stamina and resolution tends to diminish late into competitive fixtures.  After finishing fourth in 2013’s championship, their best ever placing, many feel that this is the most realistic hope for Italy in this campaign. The lasagne lovers got off to a very impressive start last year when they beat the mighty French, and as truly impressive as this performance was, I just cannot see the same outcome this time.

The Welsh Dragons possess a formidable squad, players that justifiably fall under the category of match-winners. There may be a slight question regarding post-Lions’ tour fatigue, but many rugby followers expect a comfortable home victory on Saturday. The highly respected second row Alun Wyn Jones will lead the Welsh out to the roars of some of the most passionate supporters in world rugby. Honestly, I can’t see any other outcome but a comfortable Welsh victory.

‘Le Crunch’ is definitely the tastiest tie of the weekend. Billed as a clash of Europe’s two best sets of forwards, the scrummage encounters will be truly fascinating. Even though this is merely a first round match, it is one that could have a huge impact on the final positions of both nations. The French are unpredictable, magnificent some days and utterly average on others, so trying to predict which French side will appear is a difficult, somewhat impossible task.

While not quite as unpredictable as the French, England possesses a predilection to traipse along, often playing mundane, conventional rugby. In 2012, the English played superbly against the All Blacks, and even though they have won eight of their ten tests since that encounter, fans haven’t seen a glimpse of that spark which really took New Zealand by surprise.

Their performance (or lack of) in last year’s deciding Six Nations encounter was disgraceful; a match in which they were trounced 30-3 by the Welsh. And when you consider the fact that the English had set their sights on a grand slam, the dismal display was even more perplexing.  Owen Farrell will play at flyhalf, so it’s doubtful that we will witness too much panache from the English. Ruled out through injury, Manu Tuialgi is a huge loss, and England will struggle to establish any control in the centre. An exciting player, keep an eye out for Mike Brown, a fullback who is more than capable of injecting that burst of intensity which will be required if the French bring their A game.

2013 was a very poor year for the French, a year in which they finished last in the Six Nations tournament. Their run since then has been a succession of poor results, losing five of six outings, even though four of these tests were against the might of the All Blacks. As previously mentioned, England are struggling at centre. This is where the French can capitalize, especially when you consider the might of Mathieu Bastareaud and Wesley Fofana, a enterprising pair who can really test the resolution of England’s defence.  A player of supreme talent, number eight Louis Picamoles is a potential match winner. On form, this man is splendid to watch. A nation who prides themselves on quality scrummaging, Les Blues will look to dominate and intimidate England at every opportunity. With dreadful weather so far this week, it will be interesting to see how the surface holds up when the two nations meet. 2012 is the last time the giants of European rugby squared off on Parisian soil. In this Six Nations epic, the English dug deep and etched out a 24-22 victory. As an Irishman, I am hoping for a French win, but anything is possible. If pushed for an answer, I fancy Les Blues to run out winners, perhaps by three or four points..

As the home side, the Irish are firm favourites for their clash against Scotland. This is Scott Johnson’s last Six Nations tournament as Scotland’s head coach, so he will be praying for a strong, resolute performance. The Aviva Stadium is a formidable arena, an aspect that Joel Schmidt, Ireland’s head coach, hopes works in his teams favour. In stark contrast to Johnson, this is Schmidt’s first-ever Six Nations tournament. If the Irish are to be considered genuine contenders, they must turn the Aviva into a fortress. With tricky away fixtures against England and France, home wins are vital.

Matt Scott, Scotland’s shining star, is really struggling to be fit for Sunday’s kick off. Picking up a nasty injury in an autumn clash against the “mighty” Japanese, Scott is a player who will be sorely missed. With or without the gifted individual, the Tartan Army must remain forceful and resistant if they wish to upset the Irish.

After their last outing against New Zealand, Schmidt’s influence over the Irish players was clearly evident.  2014 will bring the curtain down on a career steeped in sensation; this is Brian O’Driscoll’s last major tournament in a green jersey. There is no doubt that BOD has one last vintage performance left in the tank, so expect one of the greatest ever players of our generation to go out with a big, unapologetic bang. After his big money move to Racing Metro, Ireland’s Six Nations hopes rely heavily on Johnny Sexton’s consistency. The flyhalf has struggled since moving to France, but donning the green jersey could very well provide the spark needed to ignite the young man’s season.  On the other hand, flyhalf is perhaps Scotland’s weakest point, as they struggle to appoint an appropriate player to this position. Quite frankly, it doesn’t really matter who is assigned here, it is a weakness that the Irish will target and probably exploit.

I expect Ireland to run out comfortable winners.

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Main Photo Credit: Gilyo via Flickr


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