- American Sports
- Other Sports
- Euro 2012
This weekend sees the beginning of the 2012 Six Nations Championship. The Six Nations is the Premier international competition in the Northern hemisphere. But how are the teams in this year’s competition looking? Here’s a brief breakdown of the sides and the important players.
Coach: Stuart Lancaster
Captain: Chris Robshaw
Comments: What a twelve months it’s been at HQ. A world cup campaign that captured more headlines for off the field antics than any of the play on it. The result of this campaign was the resignation of Coach Martin Johnson and the retirement of Captain Lewis Moody and talisman Jonny Wilkinson.
Of the teams in the tournament, its England I’m most intrigued about seeing. There’s a certain enigma to them this year and no-one knows what to expect from them. It’s easy to forget that England come into the tournament as defending champions but that is the mantle they take into the competition. Old faces such as Mike Tindall, Mark Cueto and Nick Easter all missing as well as Danny Care and Delon Armitage for their respective run-ins with the law. Replacing them are uncapped players Owen Farrell, Joe Marler, Calum Clark, Ben Morgan, Rob Webber, Brad Barritt, Lee Dickson, Phil Dowson and Jordan Turner-Hall. But the big question is can these players make the step up from club rugby to the international stage?
The appointment of Chris Robshaw as captain has raised eyebrows amongst rugby fans with the Harlequins skipper only earning one cap so far but it could turn into an inspired move. Harlequins are currently topping the Aviva Championship and gone away to Tolouse and won this season. He is a proven captain and not someone picked to lead the side purely on reputation as England have done in the past.
England’s strength is in the back division and the explosion of pace they possess behind the pack. England will be looking to their runners in Chris Ashton and Ben Foden to attack from deep and get involved in the attack wherever possible. Charlie Hodgson has rightfully been rewarded for excellent club form and earned a recall to the England setup and with Toby Flood injured; he is likely to play in the opening game against Scotland. Centre Owen Farrell is expected to earn his first cap and has a glittering future ahead of him in the game with his club team-mate Brad Barritt also expected to get the nod. Will the England backs be able to compete with their more experienced counter parts?
Despite the front 5 not being the dominant force in world rugby that they used to be, they are still a formidable foe to any opposition. It contains a blend of youth and experience. Matt Stevens, Dylan Hartly, Tom Palmer and Tom Croft will be much-needed experienced faces in a pack that is likely to see huge changes from their last outing in New Zealand. There’s an expected first cap for Phil Dowson in the back row alongside potentially Scarlet number 8 Ben Morgan. The inexperienced Mouritz Botha is expected to play a big role in this year’s championship in the second row.
Key Player: Chris Ashton – The winger, on the move to the Saracens at the end of the season, is an exceptional winger and a proven finisher in world Rugby. Ashton became the first English player in nearly a century to score four tries in a game as they demolished Italy in last season’s tournament. A young and inexperienced squad will be looking to the Northampton winger for big performances in the early games to boost confidence
Championship Odds (All SkyBet as of 1/2/2012): 4/1
My Prediction: 4th
Coach: Phillipe Saint-Andre
Captain: Thierry Dusautoir
Comments: Labelled as the worst side to have ever reached a world cup final, they subsequently pushed the overwhelming favourites New Zealand all the way and only lost by a point in the final. Like England, their World Cup campaign was marred in controversy with off the field stories threatening to derail the campaign.
They go into the competition as favourites to win it. They have also appointed Phillipe Saint-Andre as their new coach. It will be intriguing to see how he deals with the potential of big ego’s spiralling out of control. However, he has stuck with the majority of France’s world cup squad with 24 earning a recall. There are only 2 uncapped players (Wesley Fofana and Yoann Maestri) in the 30 man training squad. There are recalls for Vincent Debaty, Lionel Beauxis, Clement Poitrenaud and Yannick Nyanga.
France have world-class talent behind the scrum. Dimitri Yashvilli is considered by some as the best scrum half in the world. They also have the leading try scorer from the Rugby world cup Vincent Clerc in their back division as well as the flair of Aurelien Rougerie in the centre. The outside half position was a problem at the World cup with competition between Francios Trinh-Duc and Morgan Parra for the jersey.
France captain Thierry Dusautoir is the current IRB world player of the year and has started 2012 well. Alongside Imanol Harinordoquay and Julien Bonnaire, they form yet another formidable back row in the tournament. The front five is competitive and competition for positions is fierce. Lionel Nallet, Pascal Pape, Nicolas Mas, William Servat and Jean-Baptiste Poux started the World Cup final and all 5 be hoping to start against Italy.
Key Player: Imanol Harinordoquay – The French number 8 was immense in France’s charge to the world cup final and will be looking to continue that form into the tournament
Championship Odds: 13/8 (Favourites)
My Prediction: 1st
Coach: Declan Kinney
Captain: Paul O’Connell
Comments: The Irish fell at the quarter-final stage at the World Cup despite beating Australia in the group stages. Ireland will be looking to avenge that defeat as they face their conquerors, Wales on Sunday. The Irish regions are flying in club competitions currently and three out of their four regional teams have qualified for the quarter-final stages of the Heineken Cup. The big question is can the Irish players transfer their club form to the international stage? They face a tough ask this year as the fixtures fall rather unkindly with difficult trips away to France and England to contend with
Coach Declan Kinney has got largely the same squad to pick from as he did at the World Cup. However, there is one notable exception. Brian O’Driscoll is ruled out with injury which is a huge loss to Ireland. Competition for his number 13 jersey is fierce. Keith Earls will fill the void left by the skipper and he will line up alongside Gordon D’arcy. Tommy Bowe, Rob Kierney and Andrew Trimble form an exciting combination. They have the ability to run at defences and break tackles. All territorial kicks must find their target otherwise the defence could see the ball come right back at them. Elsewhere, Kinney has picked the half back pairing of Connor Murray and Jonathan Sexton ahead of the more experienced paring of Eoin Reddan and Ronan O’Gara.
Up front, Cian Healy, Rory Best and Mike Ross will be attempting to ensure that the Irish win the battle in the scrum and lineouts. Skipper Paul O’Connell and Donncha O’Callaghan form an experienced second row partnership. The back row can compete with the best in the world with Sean O’Brien, Stephen Ferris and Jamie Heaslip forming a formidable partnership.
Key Player: Sean O’Brien – The back row forward will be looking to put a rather disappointing world cup campaign behind him and focus on this tournament. In the continued absence of David Wallace, the former European Player of the year will be looking to show why he is considered amongst the best in the world
Championship Odds: 9/2
My Prediction: 2nd
Coach: Jaques Brunel
Captain: Sergio Parrise
Comments: The standard of international rugby in Italy has progressed enormously since they were invited to play in the tournament back in the year 2000. Despite the improvement, they’ve never challenged for silverware in the tournament with most years they have won the wooden spoon. They to were disappointed with their World Cup performance and would have expected better performances against Ireland and Australia in their group. However, they are more than capable of producing a shock having famously defeated France 22-21 in last year’s tournament
This campaign sees Jaques Brunel take over from Nick Mallet as Italian coach. He has a world-class pack to boot but much like Scotland, it will be a challenge to see how much he can get out of his backs. His response is to make seven changes to the side that was soundly beaten by Ireland in their last World Cup game. Only full back Andrea Masi has retained his position in the backs for the opening game. Tommaso Benvenuti is moved from the wing into the centre to partner his club team-mate Alberto Sgarbi. There’s a debut on the wing for Giovanbattista Vendetti while Luke McLean makes only his second start on the other wing. Kris Burton and Edoardo Gori have been given the nod for the first game at half backs.
Italy’s pack has stayed largely the same since the World cup. A notable exception from the starting XI against France is flanker Mauro Bergamasco. Andrea Lo Cicero, Leonardo Ghiraldini and Martin Castrogiovanni make up the front row with Quintin Geldenhuys and Cornelius van Zyl forming the second row behind them. The back row consists of Alessandro Zanni, Roberto Barbieri and skipper Sergio Parisse.
Antonio Pavanello is currently serving two-week suspension for stamping and Paul Derbyshire, Alberto De Marchi and Roberto Quartaroli are not deemed match fit ahead of the France game
Key Player: Martin Castrogiovanni – The Argentine born prop has been a stalwart in the Italian team for the past 10 years. The Leicester Tiger has played an important role in Italy’s progress over the years. Very useful in the loose as well as the scrum, he was Italy’s leading try scorer in the six nations tournament of 2008. Another big tournament is expected from him.
Championship Odds: 200/1
My Prediction: 6th
Coach: Andy Robinson
Captain: Ross Ford
Comments: After a disappointing World Cup campaign, Scotland face an uphill struggle if they want to take any of the honours come the end of March. They will have to face the tournament without Fullback and goalkicking machine Chris Patterson who announced his international retirement at the end of last season.
The big question facing Scotland is do they have enough behind their strong pack to win games? Edinburgh wing Lee Jones will earn his first cap on the weekend as Scotland look to erase their scoring problems. He lines up on one wing with Max Evans on the other. Nick de Luca and Sean Lamont are the centre pairing with Sean’s brother Rory Lamont being selected at full back. Dan Parks has been picked as outside half ahead of Saturday’s game against England. He is under enormous scrutiny and heaps of pressure especially with Paterson’s goal kicking skill no longer in the side. Greg Laidlaw is his replacement on the subs bench for Saturday. Chris Cusiter starts at scrum half with Mike Blair also an option.
Scotland’s success is going to rely heavily on the work of their forwards. Alan Jacobsen, Ross Ford and Euan Murray form a formidable scrumaging front row. Murray does not play on Sunday’s due to his religious beliefs therefore Geoff Cross will be on standby ready to fill in the vacancy left by Murray. Former captain Al Kellock has to contend with a place on the bench for the opening game against England as Andy Robinson has opted for the pairing of Ritchie Gray and Jim Hamilton. In the back row, there’s a first start handed David Denton and he’ll play alongside Ross Rennie and Al Strokosch with John Barclay being available on the subs bench to call upon if required.
Key Player: Ross Ford – Scotland need a huge tournament from their skipper if they are to upset the odds. Scotland’s backs do not look the strongest. Strong set pieces will be crucial to any Scottish success and the hooker is central to those.
Championship Odds: 20/1
My Prediction: 5th
Coach: Warren Gatland
Captain: Sam Warburton
Comments: Wales’ youngsters impressed at the World Cup and were bitterly unlucky not to defeat France in the Semi Final despite over half the game with 14 men. They will be looking to carry that form into the tournament.
There are a few injury doubts ahead of the tournament with Dan Lydiate, Gethin Jenkins and Rhys Priestland all looking as though they are going to miss the first game with Matthew Rees joining them in the sick bay for the opening two matches. Wales will be looking to recreate the exciting brand of rugby that saw them becoming many people’s favourite team in the World Cup.
With the retirement of Shane Williams, it could be argued that Wales have lost that spark in the back division, but I don’t think this will be the case. George North, Lee Byrne and Lee Halfpenny all possess a vast amount of talent to counter attack from deep with Lee Cuthbert, Harry Robinson and Liam Williams also competing for the same starting positions.. In the centre, should Jamie Roberts be passed fit, he has the ability to break the gain line and is a rock in defence. The competition for positions in the centre is fierce with potential new cap Ashley Beck, Scarlets’ centres Jonathan Davies and Scott Williams competing with Roberts and reality TV star Gavin Henson for two positions. With Priestland out injured, James Hook will be the likely deputy with Mike Phillips continuing his excellent international form at scrum half.
One thing Wales have always struggled with, is securing their own line out ball. This is something they will have to improve upon if they are to emulate the successes of 2005 and 2008 in the tournament. Paul James has a massive job to do as he looks likely to deputies for Gethin Jenkins. Adam Jones and Huw Bennett join him in the front row with Bradley Davies, Lou Reed, Ian Evans and the versatile Ryan Jones competing to be picked in the second row. The Welsh back row was applauded worldwide during the world cup campaign. Despite Dan Lydiate being a doubt, Captain Sam Warburton and Toby Faletau remain from the world cup back row. They can also be joined by Justin Tipuric, Andy Powell of golf buggy infamy or Ryan Jones is able to play in that position should Lydiate fail to make the squad.
Key Player: George North. With the retirement of Shane Williams, Wales will look to the other wing for inspiration. At only 19 years old, the Scarlets winger has made a huge impact on the international scene since his debut in November 2010. He will play a big role in how well Wales will play in tournament.
Championship Odds: 11/4
My Prediction: 3rd
Twitter – @M_J_Wallace