Published Wednesday, 30 January 2013
The six nation's tournament is full of drama and excitement and always serves up a few surprises.
It can often be difficult to pick a winner as the top four - England, Wales, France and Ireland are usually fairly well matched and the games are often tight affairs. This year however, it's hard to look past England not just taking the title of Six Nations champions but also doing the Grand Slam.
This is difficult for an Ireland fan to say, especially in my house where there is a strong English contingent, aka my wife, but England look like the hot favourites, mostly thanks to their incredible win over New Zealand. That result may have been a one off but it showed that they have the ability to beat anybody on their day but, as always with England, it's a question of consistency. If they can perform up to that standard when they come up against Wales, Ireland and France then they will be impossible to beat.
Reigning Grand Slam champions Wales have been in a tail spin since last year having won just one test match out of their last eight. Though the defeats came at the hands of New Zealand (once)and Australia (four times) it was the nature of those defeats coupled with losses to Samoa and Argentina that will cause concern going into this year's Six Nations. Wales have struggled with not only their form but their mentality since last year and have looked like a shadow of the team which triumphed just twelve months ago.
As for France, what can be said that hasn't been said before? They can be scintillating and are the only European team capable of playing southern hemisphere rugby but they are also prone to shooting themselves in the foot. With two wins over Argentina and a victory over Australia, Les Bleus go into another Six Nations with lofty expectations but are capable of coming unglued when it matters most and this year that will be against England at Twickenham.
Scotland and Italy both showed improvement last year and the Scots managed an impressive victory over Australia in the autumn but both teams have yet to make the sufficient strides needed to play themselves into contention. Yet again these two will be battling it out for fifth spot and the wooden spoon will come down to the head to head with Scotland being the most likely candidates.
That brings us to Ireland. All too often we look at Ireland and we let our hearts rule our head. They are obviously a good team but they aren't the team of 2009. The losses of both Stephen Ferris and Ronan O'Gara will be huge and the exclusion of Andrew Trimble is open to debate but it is again the form of O'Driscoll that will determine Ireland's fate.
There is no question Brian is Ireland's best player but by his own admission he is not what he was a few years ago, with injuries having taken their toll. Ireland will pick up victories against Italy, Scotland and possibly Wales but despite a good mix of youth and experience this year could be a stretch too far to mount a realistic challenge.
Having said that, you can never count out Ireland's heart and, like I said earlier, sometimes the Six Nations serves up a few surprises. Being an Ireland fan I am hoping the men in green can prove me wrong and spring a surprise by winning the tournament but don't be shocked if this year Ireland's call goes straight to voicemail.
© UTV News