Demented Mole looks ahead to the Six Nations which starts this weekend. He is very much against Ireland and thinks Wales are the value this weekend and for the Six Nations outright.
Another 6 Nations is upon us and it all feels a little like the calm after the storm if I am honest. As an Irishman I went into the World Cup with decent expectations only to realize that we, and most of the Northern Hemisphere, have a way to travel in order to reach the Promised Land. This is a 6 Nations that sees a number of sides with new coaching tickets, young blood being named in squads, fearless leaders no longer present and lingering doubts over the form of a lot of players. I must admit my expectations for quality free flowing rugby (the kind that did for Ireland v Argentina) are at a minimum, and expectations for certain sides are lower than that, which I will cover below. Here there is a team by team summary as well as some recommended bets, both outright and for this opening weekend.
Defending 6N champions they may be, but a hard and difficult Spring lies ahead. A squad shorn of its greatest ever source of inspiration and belief now has to front up and prove that amongst the remaining experienced players there is an ability to deal with difficulty and operate in the trenches; successfully. Ireland got undone in RWC ’15 for 2 main reasons; a squad that was nowhere deep enough to deal with key injuries and a game plan that had become limited in even its own predictability. Add on that the worst showing by Irish provinces in the Heineken Cup (sorry ERC, but it will always be the Heineken Cup), defeats that have sucked morale out of key players, allied to the fact that many of these key players are significantly out of form.
There has been plenty of positive talk from Carton House this week (“fellas stepping up”, “Rory being vocal” etc etc) but one would expect nothing less. The fact of the matter is that it is the young bucks that are playing well and many of them will not be selected. Rory Best was the obvious choice by Joe Schmidt to lead the team while Peter O’ Mahony is still recuperating (PO’M for me is the obvious long term captain for this side). Mike Ross is ageing, Healy recuperating, Toner looks tired, Heaslip ditto, Sexton has serious health concerns hanging over him, the centres could be another new combination, but Earls is playing well and Ireland’s 12-15 may not look too bad on paper. However not many of them are scoring tries, and under Schmidt Ireland have not being renowned for a care free approach to any game! This is an Irish team commencing a significant period of transition ahead of Japan 2019 and I sense Schmidt will try and keep results tidy while drip feeding new players into his program.
In summary I will be opposing Ireland this weekend against Gatty Ball and I am likely to oppose them through the tournament. In fact I fear the diabolical Italians will be their only victory.
Out with the Northerner and in with the Aussie/Jap! Kudos to the RFU for at least making the correct decision from a coaching perspective, but I fear EJ will ease himself in, as evidenced by his initial squad selection. Another team in a period of transition, but some interesting calls made already, Hartley as skipper, Robshaw “the outstanding 6 in England (How do ya like them apples Tom Wood!!!), while still he waits before plumping for the outstandingly good Maro Itoje of Saracens.
I am of the firm view that no Northern Hemisphere country has as good a conveyor belt of young talent coming through as England; ironically the majority of the credit for this lies with Stuart Lancaster! In fact I would say their next layer of talent is 2nd only to the All Blacks. England are set to continue with the policy of not picking overseas based players, but this is offset by the fact that arguably their core players are in better form now than last autumn. Farrell is rocking with Saracens, JJ seems to have his wheels back and there is now genuine choice across the back 3. Injuries aside there is a lot to be positive about for England (the loss of Slade is big to this writers eye), but Launchbury is on the mend and if Lawes does not make it then Itoje will surely step in.
We saw in RWC ’15 how well coached the Japanese side were and a lot of this was down to Steve Borthwick, their forwards coach, now fulfilling the same role for England. England will win more than they will lose in this 6N; should they take the Calcutta Cup match on Saturday they might even fancy their chances at the whole thing (Italy away follows, then Ireland/Wales at home). Whatever the outcome I think they will be more watchable than before with this new coaching ticket, but just like Mr. Klopp is finding out at Anfield, I anticipate plenty of speed bumps along the way.
Arguably the NH side to perform with the most credit in RWC’15. This writer flagged up a lay of England to qualify from their group after last year’s 6N, but didn’t have the kahuna’s to follow through with it as the Welsh injuries racked up. However, unlike Ireland, they did demonstrate some depth to their squad in their performances, and a 9 minute period against Australia aside they also played smart rugby.
Fast forward to present day and looking at their team selection for Sunday, Jonathan Davies is back, Rob Evans is selected over Gethin Jenkins, and finally Justin Tipuric starts at 7 with Warburton (cannot be fully fit) moving to 6. The Welsh bench features 364 caps across the 8 players named on it and I expect to see Lydiate for Warburton about 10mins into the 2nd half. If I am Warren Gatland I would feeling good about my prospects in this year’s tournament, and the fact he gets to kick it off in Dublin will only suit bristling bugger better! They are my fancy to win the tournament this year and I fully expect them to get off to a winning start on Sunday against Ireland.
Saint Andre is part of the past and Guy Noves is the man in. Correct man exited, incorrect appointment made and it is just typical of the septic nature of the French Rugby Union. It would make the most cronyied political party in rural Ireland look positively benign with its carry on.
At least he has changed the squad selection up a bit, but it is no coincidence that Toulouse are marching ahead under new management after a number of years of stagnation. I do not see this French side progressing too quickly with the potentially out of date (and touch) Noves at the helm. Still, they are France and may surprise, but it will be some time before the memory of that abject display V New Zealand fades. I expect them to take care of Italy this weekend. but will not be having a financial interest (it’s like betting on which team is just not as bad as the other at the moment), so it is a free sighter on both sides for the rest of the tournament. Similar to Ireland and England they also have a new skipper, also a hooker (!) and a lot of bedding in has to take place before any firm view is formed.
If anyone still needed convincing on Vern Cotter’s abilities as a coach after RWC’15, then just look at Clermont Auvergne this season. The inverse reaction to Noves/Toulouse and a great club seemingly in disarray. But it is with Scotland that Cotter has quietly gone about his work and is making material progress. Scotland still made plenty of mistakes at the World Cup, but should have beaten Australia in conditions that would have suited neither side.
They have a tough opening 2 games, home to England this weekend followed by Wales away but they then get a confidence booster away to Italy followed by France at home. A feature of Cotters sides to date has been pace and ambition and I expect that to continue in this tournament. They have not been afraid to try things, sometimes leading to mistakes, but it is a side that can improve with confidence and thus execution. I am eagerly looking forward to their game with England on Saturday with an interest in how both sides perform. Can Scotland build on their improved performances in RWC’15? How will England perform under new management and leadership?
This will be short. A coach who is out of his depth. A squad shorn of any core (we can’t resort back to Parisse/Campagnaro all the time – the game has moved on). I expect them to lose every game, some more heavily than others, and will watch their joust with France with an eye to the rest of the tournament and see if we can beat the odds compilers in one of those!
Opening Weekend Games
France V Italy
France should win this well, but for reasons outlined above I will take a watching brief. Italy are getting a general 18pts, but there are enough concerns over both sides to keep our powder dry.
Scotland V England
Should be a very informative game. I am very tempted by the 5pt start to Scotland but am going to pass.
Ireland V Wales
It is not often on opening weekend that you get the sides you want to be with and against for the next 6 weeks facing off. I cannot have Ireland at all in this tournament, 2 brutally physical encounters lead up to a trip to Twickenham on Feb 27th! Wales on the other hand have a stronger squad than at the World Cup, have greater continuity than any other side in the 6N (Scotland apart maybe) and under Gatty will be licking their lips ahead of Sunday. I expect Wales to win on Sunday and am advising a 1pt win at the general 6/4, they are also getting a 3pt start at a general evens and I will be staking 2pts on that. I also fancy them to win the 6N and the general 3/1 about that should be snared.
1.5 points win Wales to win the Six Nations at 3/1 with Skybet, BetVictor and Coral
1 point win Wales to beat Ireland at 6/4 with BetVictor and Skybet
2 points win Wales (+3) to beat Ireland at 1/1 with Paddy Power, William Hill and Bet365