The RBS Six Nations Championship is due to kick off this weekend. The first game of this year’s tournament sees current holder Wales playing at home against Ireland this Saturday afternoon.
This year’s tournament promises to be an exciting one with fifteen games to be played over a seven week period. There will be two weekends of action in a row followed by a weekend break (middle weekend of February) and then another round of matches followed by another weekend break (first weekend of March). The remaining matches will then take place in the following two weekends.
Total attendance at the grounds for the Championship should fairly easily reach around three quarters of a million. Should the grounds all be sold out for all the games then this figure could rise to above 1.1 million.
The complete fixture list follows below, with kick off times indicated in South African time.
|Date||Teams||Venue||Kick off (SA Time)|
|Saturday 2nd February||Wales v Ireland||Millennium Stadium||15.30|
|Saturday 2nd February||England v Scotland||Twickenham||18.00|
|Sunday 3rd February||Italy v France||Stadio Olimpico||17.00|
|Saturday 9th February||Scotland v Italy||Murrayfield||16.30|
|Saturday 9th February||France v Wales||Stade de France||19.00|
|Sunday 10th February||Ireland v England||Aviva Stadium||17.00|
|Saturday 23rd February||Italy v Wales||Stadio Olimpico||16.30|
|Saturday 23rd February||England v France||Twickenham||19.00|
|Sunday 24th February||Scotland v Ireland||Murrayfield||16.00|
|Saturday 9th March||Scotland v Wales||Murrayfield||16.30|
|Saturday 9th March||Ireland v France||Aviva Stadium||19.00|
|Sunday 10th March||England v Italy||Twickenham||17.00|
|Saturday 16th March||Italy v Ireland||Stadio Olimpico||16.30|
|Saturday 16th March||Wales v England||Millennium Stadium||19.00|
|Saturday 16th March||France v Scotland||Stade de France||22.00|
1. Each team plays the other five once per season with home advantage in alternate seasons (e.g. England hosted France in 2003, and so France host England in 2004), giving a total of 15 matches per Championship.
2. The RBS 6 Nations Championship Trophy is presented to the team who earn the most points during the season, with 2 points being awarded for a win, and 1 point for a drawn match.
3. If two or more teams finish the Championship with the same number of points, the winner is decided on match-points difference (subtracting match-points ‘against’ from match-points ‘for’ in all Championship matches). If there is still no winner, then it is awarded to the team who scored the most tries during the Championship.
If after all this a winner still cannot be decided then the Championship is shared between the teams.
4. If in winning the Championship a team also wins all of their five matches, they are given the title of ‘Grand Slam‘ winner.
5. There is also the title of ‘Triple Crown‘ competed for each season, which is awarded if a team from the 4 Home Unions (England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales) beats each of the other 3 Home Unions.
It is difficult to predict who will win this year as it doesn’t seem as if any one of the teams are the outright favorite and there could be a close finish with perhaps three of the six teams close enough to be considered title contenders
Wales will do very well to emulate last year’s Grand Slam Championship winning performance, especially considering their lengthy injury list. Another factor to consider is how they seem to have lost their way without inspirational coach Warren Gatland being there on a full time basis.
Wales can boast a powerful backline, possibly the biggest in world rugby, and will look to get the likes of wingers Cuthbert and George into the action as often as possible. They also have a strong front row and pretty useful set of loose forwards. However, they will probably struggle at lock where they could be without four of their frontline locks due to injury. They may also struggle in the flyhalf department without the injured Rhys Priestland should Dan Biggar also pick up an injury.
England and France have to be considered the strongest of the teams and the Championship may well come to whoever the fixture between these two teams.
England have grown in confidence under Stuart Lancaster and finished off their Autumn Internationals on a high with a good win against the All Blacks. However, they have some key players injured, in particular Manu Tuilagi, Alex Corbisiero and Freddie Burns, but it is expected that they should be available at some time during the Six Nations.
England may have a slight benefit over France in this year’s scheduling in that they will play three games at home at Twickenham. France will only play two of their games at Stade Francais and will have to travel to Twickenham to face England. France will also have to face Ireland in Dublin.
France appear to be in a good place at the moment as well with a strong pack of forwards and skilful pacey backs. They also seem to have moved a little away from their more pragmatic approach they had adopted in recent times and seem to be playing more of the attractive brand of rugby under head coach Phillipe Saint Andre that French teams have become renowned for over the years.
Ireland are possibly the third team who could realistically challenge for the title. They do have their injury worries but probably don’t have as many top players out as Wales and England.
Ireland have the benefit of coaching continuity with Declan Kidney who has been involved since 2008. Kidney guided Ireland to the title, achieving the Triple Crown and Grand Slam on the way, in 2009.
They also seem to have a well balanced squad with a lot of experienced players as well as some good newcomers. Their pack looks quite strong and needn’t stand back for any in the competition, while they have a good backline with the experienced centre pairing of D’Arcy and O’Driscoll outside of most punters pick for British and Irish Lions flyhalf, Sexton. The back three will be lead by star fullback Rob Kearney who will have ample pace and strength for support on his wings. One of these wingers is the Ulster player Craig Gilroy who may light up the Championship if given enough game time.
Italy will be looking to try and be competitive and perhaps pull off a surprise win or two, but one fears that they will struggle this year. Italy’s forwards may provide a stern test for the opposition but their backline is where they will struggle without many top class international players.
Italian team Treviso have done reasonably well this year under Franco Smith in the RaboDirect Pro12 but even so they are currently only in 8th position. The other Italian Pro12 franchise team Zebre is languishing at the bottom of the log and have yet to win a match. This highlights the difficulties head coach Jaques Brunel has in putting together a team to compete at international level.
Scotland are a bit of an unknown factor at the moment and a lot could depend on how well they fare in their opening game against England. Should Scotland manage to beat England for the first time in thirty years at Twickenham then they may well be set up to pick up a few more wins against some of the other title contenders.
Scotland had a mixed year last year with a very successful tour of the Southern Hemisphere following a very disappointing Six Nations campaign where they failed to win a single game. The year ended on a tough note with no wins in the Autumn Internationals with the loss to Tonga in the last of their three fixtures being the straw the broke the back of former head coach Andy Robinson.
Andy Robinson has been replaced by the charismatic Australian Scott Johnson, on an interim basis, while Dean Richards has also been brought into the fold as forwards coach. Johnson has expressed his satisfaction with his support coaches and the players following the recent training camp so it will be interesting to see how this translates in terms of results.
On the player front, there will be some interesting choices for the Scotland coach to make, especially in the loose forwards where there is good strength in depth.
The backline may also pose a few questions as there some good players to choose from for the back three in the shape of big guys Tim Visser and Sean Lamont (who may also end up at centre) and young, strong running fullback, Stuart Hogg. Then a place also needs to be found for Sean Maitland who has done well in a short time for Glasgow Warriors and has impressed with his work ethic and ability to create opportunities with good link up play. Maitland’s team mate Tommy Seymour is a strong runner and then there is also the quick Max Evans to consider.
One wonders who will be the halfbacks as young Tom Heathcote has been omitted from the larger squad for this weekend’s game. Regular flyhalf for Scotland Greig Laidlaw has been playing at scrumhalf recently for Edinburgh. Ruaridh Jackson has been used in rotation with Duncan Weir and Scott Wight for Glasgow and when he has played he has most often had to watch centre Peter Horne, who has been retained in the smaller squad, take the kicks to goal. Will Johnson go for Laidlaw at scrumhalf or Henry Pyrgos, who has done really well this season?
With all the unknowns this should be a closely contested Six Nations Championship and it would be a surprise if any team achieves the Grand Slam this year. The winner could come from any of England, France and Ireland. Let us know who you think will win.
There may be some variations in the final squads for the various teams with but these are the squads that have been announced at various stages during this month
Backs: C Ashton (Saracens), M Brown (Harlequins), B Foden (Northampton Saints), A Goode (Saracens), D Strettle (Saracens), U Monye (Harlequins), B Barritt (Saracens), J Joseph (London Irish), M Tuilagi (Leicester Tigers), B Twelvetrees (Gloucester Rugby), F Burns (Gloucester Rugby), O Farrell (Saracens), T Flood (Leicester Tigers), D Care (Harlequins), L Dickson (Northampton Saints), B Youngs (Leicester Tigers)
Forwards: A Corbisiero (London Irish), D Cole (Leicester Tigers), J Marler (Harlequins), M Vunipola (Saracens), D Wilson (Bath Rugby), D Hartley (Northampton Saints), T Youngs (Leicester Tigers), J Launchbury (London Wasps), C Lawes (Northampton Saints), G Parling (Leicester Tigers), M Botha (Saracens), T Croft (Leicester Tigers), J Haskell (London Wasps), B Morgan (Gloucester Rugby), C Robshaw (Harlequins) (Captain), T Waldrom (Leicester Tigers), T Wood (Northampton Saints), M Kvesic (Worcester).
David Attoub (Stade Français Paris), Mathieu Bastereaud (RC Toulon), Hugo Bonneval (Stade Français Paris), Jean-Marcellin Buttin (AS Clermont Auvergne), Damian Chouly (AS Clermont Auvergne) , Vincent Debaty (AS Clermont Auvergne), Thomas Domingo (AS Clermont Auvergne), Luc Ducalcon (Racing-Métro 92), Thierry Dusautoir (Stade Toulousain), Benjamin Fall (Racing-Métro 92), Wesley Fofana (AS Clermont Auvergne), Yannick Forestier (Castres Olympique), Florian Fritz (Stade Toulousain), Guilhem Guirado (USA Perpignan-Roussillon) , Pierrick Gunther (RC Toulon), Yoann Huget (Stade Toulousain), Benjamin Kayser (AS Clermont Auvergne), Maxime Machenaud(Racing-Métro 92), Yoann Maestri (Stade Toulousain), Nicolas Mas (USA Perpignan-Roussillon), Maxime Medard (Stade Toulousain), Maxim Mermoz (RC Toulon), Frederic Michalak (RC Toulon), Yannick Nyanga (Stade Toulousain), Fulgence Ouedraogo Fulgence (Montpellier HRC), Pascal Pape (Stade français Paris) (Captain), Morgan Parra (AS Clermont Auvergne), Louis Picamoles (Stade Toulousain), Adrien Plante (USA Perpignan), Jocelin Suta (RC Toulon), Dimitri Szarzewski (Racing-Métro 92), Romain Taofifenua (USA Perpignan) , Francois Trinh-Duc (Montpellier HRC).
Backs: L Fitzgerald (Leinster), C Gilroy (Ulster), R Henshaw (Connacht), R Kearney (Leinster), A Trimble (Ulster), S Zebo (Munster), D Cave (Ulster), G D’Arcy (Leinster), K Earls (Munster), F McFadden (Leinster), D McSharry (Connacht), B O’Driscoll (Leinster), P Jackson (Ulster), I Madigan (Leinster), R O’Gara (Munster), J Sexton (Leinster), I Keatley (Munster), I Boss (Leinster), P Marshall (Ulster), C Murray (Munster), E Reddan (Leinster),
Forwards: M Bent (Leinster), T Court (Ulster), D Fitzpatrick (Ulster), C Healy (Leinster), D Kilcoyne (Munster), M Ross (Leinster), R Best (Ulster), S Cronin (Leinster), Mike Sherry (Munster), Damien Varley (Munster), M McCarthy (Connacht), D O’Callaghan (Munster), D Ryan (Munster), L Stevenson (Ulster), D Toner (Leinster), J Heaslip ( Leinster) (Captain), I Henderson (Ulster), C Henry (Ulster), S O’Brien (Leinster), P O’Mahony (Munster), James Coughlan (Munster), Tommy O’Donnell (Munster), Rhys Ruddock (Leinster), Kevin McLaughlin (Leinster).
Backs: Tobias Botes (Treviso), Edoardo Gori (Treviso), Kristopher Burton (Treviso), Luciano Orquera (Zebre), Gonzalo Canale (La Rochelle), Gonzalo Garcia (Zebre), Andrea Masi (London Wasps), Alberto Sgarbi (Treviso), Tommaso Benvenuti (Treviso), Tommaso Iannone (Treviso), Giovanbattista Venditti (Zebre), Paolo Buso (Zebre), Luke McLean (Treviso)
Forwards: Leonardo Ghiraldini (Treviso), Davide Giazzon (Zebre), Martin Castrogiovanni (Leicester Tigers), Lorenzo Cittadini (Treviso), Alberto de Marchi (Treviso), Andrea Lo Cicero (Racing Metro), Michele Rizzo (Treviso), Joshua Furno (Narbonne), Quitin Geldenhuys (Zebre), Francesco Minto (Treviso), Antonio Pavenello (Treviso), Robert Barbieri (Treviso), Paul Derbyshire (Treviso), Simone Favarou (Treviso), Alessandro Zanni (Treviso), Sergio Parisse (Stade Francais) (Captain), Manoa Vosawai (Treviso).
Backs: Peter Murchie, Stuart Hogg, Sean Maitland, Tommy Seymour, Sean Lamont (all Glasgow Warriors), Tim Visser (Edinburgh Rugby), Max Evans (Castres), Matt Scott (Edinburgh Rugby), Alex Dunbar, Peter Horne, Duncan Weir, Ruaridh Jackson (all Glasgow Warriors), Tom Heathcote (Bath Rugby), Henry Pyrgos, Sean Kennedy (both Glasgow Warriors) and Greig Laidlaw (Edinburgh Rugby).
Forwards: Alasdair Dickinson (Sale Sharks), Ryan Grant, Dougie Hall, Pat MacArthur (all Glasgow Warriors), Ross Ford (Edinburgh Rugby), Euan Murray (Worcester Warriors), Geoff Cross (Edinburgh Rugby), Moray Low, Alastair Kellock (both Glasgow Warriors), Richie Gray (Sale Sharks), Jim Hamilton (Gloucester), Grant Gilchrist (Edinburgh Rugby), Kelly Brown (Saracens) (Captain), Robert Harley, Ryan Wilson (both Glasgow Warriors), Johnnie Beattie (Montpellier), David Denton (Edinburgh Rugby), Richie Vernon (Sale Sharks), Chris Fusaro (Glasgow Warriors).
Backs: Tavis Knoyle (Scarlets), Mike Phillips (Bayonne), Lloyd Williams (Blues), Dan Biggar (Ospreys), James Hook (Perpignan), Jonathan Davies (Scarlets), Jamie Roberts (Blues), Scott Williams (Scarlets) Alex Cuthbert (Blues), George North (Scarlets), Eli Walker (Ospreys), Leigh Halfpenny (Blues), Liam Williams (Scarlets), Lee Byrne (Clermont)
Forwards: Scott Andrews (Blues), Craig Mitchell (Exeter Chiefs), Adam Jones (Ospreys) Paul James (Bath), Gethin Jenkins (Toulon), Ryan Bevington (Ospreys), Richard Hibbard (Ospreys), Ken Owens (Scarlets), Matthew Rees (Scarlets), Ryan Jones (Ospreys), Lou Reed (Blues), Ian Evans (Ospreys), James King (Ospreys), Andrew Coombs (Dragons), Olly Kohn (Harlequins), Josh Turnbull (Scarlets), Josh Navidi (Blues), Aaron Shingler (Scarlets), Justin Tipuric (Ospreys), Sam Warburton (Blues) (Captain), Toby Faletau (Dragons), Andries Pretorius (Blues).