The best rugby competition not named the Rugby World Cup, the Six Nations, is back in action for the 2019 calendar. While many will be more concerned what happens towards the World Cup, this will be a great spectacle for not only the fans, but for players and coaches as this will be able to showcase how ready each nation is for later this year with the World Cup. Ireland will be looking to defend it’s crown and it’s Grand Slam, but there are other worthy contenders in what we should expect to be another exciting edition of the tournament. Lets take a look at each nations squad.
The English had a very frustrating 2018 Six Nations campaign as they finished fifth in which they were expected to compete for the trophy. However, that doesn’t mean we should count them out this time around as there is a ton to like there. The squad had a strong showing towards the end of 2018 which suggests that they are returning to form. Eddie Jones picked a very interesting squad as some questioned his picks, but it’s still a very talented team. On the squad they have a very exciting and talented winger in Joe Cokanasiga, but there are others on the team like winger Chris Ashton, lock Joe Launchberry, center Manu Tuilagi, lock Maro Itoje, prop Mako Vunipola, center Owen Farrell and winger Johnny May. There is also a debate as to who will be the starting scrumhalf as Ben Youngs is the more experienced one, but Dan Robson is very talented. Don’t sleep on England.
The French were one of the top forces in the world in the early part of the decade, but seemingly of late they have been abysmal. That being said, the French were very stout with their defense in 2018 (only allowed six tries all tournament) and that allowed them to finish in fourth place. However, there is just too many question marks to actually know what they will do. There is some talent here like prop Demba Bamba, lock Paul Willemse, backrower Louis Picamoles, scrumhalf Morgan Parra, centers Mathieu Bastareaud and Wesley Fofana, and wingers Maxime Medard and Gael Fickou though it was a shock to not see winger Teddy Thomas make the squad. One player to watch on this squad will be scrumhalf Antoine Dupont.
There is a debate as to whether they are the best team in the world, but they are undoubtedly the best in the Northern Hemisphere and are the favorite to win this tournament in back-to-back fashion and possibly the Grand Slam for the second consecutive year. However, Joe Schmidt not only is the best tactician, but his recognition for talent has allowed him to find the best starting 15 and built a squad that has a ton of depth. The team has such great players like flyhalf Jonathan Sexton, prop Tadhg Furlong, back rower CJ Stander, scrumhalf Connor Murray, center Robbie Henshaw, and up-and-coming star winger Jacob Stockdale. But listing just those players doesn’t even do justice for how talented and deep this squad is. For some of the players to watch for on this team, there are two players who will be mentioned here as flyhalf Joey Carbery is one (and probably will take over at the 10 jersey once Sexton retires) and lock Tadhg Beirne. Just watch what this squad does as they really are a fun side to watch.
The Italians have been in this tournament since 2000, back when some thought they were ready to take the next step and to be a serious Tier One Nation. While they might be a Tier One side now, they are a fringe one at best as progress has not been what they wanted despite some of the talent that is coming from the country. Back rower Sergio Parisse has indicated that it might be his last Six Nations and that would be a humongous loss for them. There is some talent here though as centers Luca Morisi and Michele Campagnaro as well as hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini are stud players. One to watch out for will be flyhalf Tommaso Allan.
The Scottish had a lot of optimism coming into 2018 as some had picked them to be a front runner to be a Six Nations champion. Well things did not go to plan as they finished in third, but the squad is on the rise as they are led by Gregor Townsend who is excellent coach. There is also a lot to like about this squad though as the talent they have now is pretty incredible. The Scottish have such players as fullback Stuart Hogg, winger Sean Maitland, flyhalf Finn Russell, scrumhalf Greig Laidlaw, center Huw Jones, winger Tommy Seymour, and lock Jonny Gray. There is also some players to watch as fullback Blair Kinghorn will be one guy to watch on the pitch.
The Welsh were not expected to compete seriously for the Six Nations championship, yet they finished in second place in 2018. Coming into 2019, many expect them to compete for the trophy. Serious turn of people’s mindsets. That being said, there is a lot of optimism for the Welsh as they boast a lot of talent led by one of the greatest rugby coaches of all time in Warren Gatland. Not only are they talented, there is a lot of experience here too. In the backs there are stud players like Liam Williams, Leigh Halfpenny, George North, Jonathan Davies, and Dan Biggar. In the forwards, there are players like Justin Tipuric, Ross Moriarty, and Alun Wyn Jones. There is a lot to like here about them, but the question is are they good enough to win the coveted trophy. One player to watch will be winger Jonah Holmes.
James Rowe: This could be the most exciting Six Nations in years as I can see this coming down to the wire and being decided on the last week of the tournament where the four legitimate contenders will play one another that day. Also, another thing to watch will be the Irish’s chances of repeating as that will be hard to do with their schedule being much harder especially playing England in Week One and Scotland in Week Two. There’s a lot to talk about here, but this should be how I think the table will finish:
Aaron Craig: The time is now! SIX NATIONS RUGBY IS HERE!!!! One of my favorite rugby tournaments of the year. Last year saw the Irish go undefeated and nab a Grand Slam. Other shocks were the renewed Scottish attack (3 wins) and England’s terrible slump (finished 4th). And without further ado….
How can you not pick the defending champs to repeat?! They return much of the same team and have the best flyhalf in the tournament, and arguably the world. The Irish pack provides solid ball retention and stalwart defense. CJ Stander has now become one of the best flankers in the world, and with Johnny Sexton at the helm, this team is poised to repeat.
Even though they fell off last year, I expect England to be right back at the top. They are the deepest team in the tournament due to the quality of their domestic league. There isn’t one position that is a glaring weakness. Maro Itoje has become an incredible young lock and makes a huge impact come line-out time. This will be an Owen Farrell lead attack with complimentary pieces Manu Tuilagi, Chris Ashton, Elliot Daly, and Johnny May. Mike Brown provides great defense at the fullback position. This team can score in bunches as long as it doesn’t get down on itself.
Scotland finished third last year and I expect the same. Scotland surprised many with a newfound attack and it should be led again by fullback Stuart Hogg. Hogg is almost always in the running for the tournament MVP. The ice-cold Greig Laidlaw will resume scrum-half duties and return to kicking for points as one of the best kick takers in the game. Huw Jones and Sean Maitland look to be the try scorers in the centers and wings respectively. Scotland may continue to shock, but I think they may have been figured out.
Last years 2nd place team could fall off a bit. Not much has changed in the Welsh squad this year. A lot of the same pieces could result in having a predictable game plan. The Welsh will try to utilize George North and Jonathan Davies to score tries, while bruising and sucking in defenders with their loose forward. Leigh Halfpenny is by far the team’s best weapon as there is no better kicker in the tournament. Halfpenny’s boot will be the difference maker for this team.
I just don’t think the French flair is there anymore. The strength of this team should be in the centers. Mathieu Bastareaud, Wesley Fofana, and Gael Fickou are all hard ball runners and excellent defenders. Maxime Machenaud has surprisingly been left off the squad. Machenaud led the tournament with 50 points scored last year. Seems the French are backing their younger players, but at what cost? A lack of experience may come back to haunt Les Bleus.
Two words. DUMPSTER FIRE! Italy failed to win a single game and finished with a +/- of -111. Sergio Parise remains an outstanding 8 man and will probably go down as the greatest Italian rugger ever. Parisse and Ghiraldini are getting up there in age and the youngsters aren’t ready to take over. Tommaso Allen was the best player last year for the Italians and he still wouldn’t start at flyhalf for any of the other squads.