Bold predictions for the 2019 Six Nations
January 25, 2019
With the Six Nations just on the horizon, here is a bold prediction for each of the team heading into the opening weekend.
Wales to win the Six Nations
In Warren Gatland’s time at the helm, Wales have risen from tenth to as high as second and currently sit third in the World Rankings, while they’ve won the Six Nations three times and the Grand Slam twice, finishing in the top three eight times in his 11-year tenure. This campaign will be the New Zealander’s last in charge of the Welsh and he will undoubtedly be eager to finish on a high with a fourth title and maybe even a third Grand Slam.
It’s very achievable for the Welsh as well, they are one of the in-form teams coming into this year’s competition having enjoyed their best ever Autumn test series, winning all four matches including games against Australia and South Africa. It means they are 10 tests unbeaten coming into the tournament, two away from their record that they set way back in 1910.
“The whole thing about Six Nations is the momentum, If you can win your first couple of games, you have a great chance of being in contention on the last weekend,” claimed Gatland in a recent press conference.
Wales have plenty of momentum already and their championship schedule makes good reading for more momentum to come. An away trip to Paris is followed by another away trip to Italy, meaning the Welsh have an easier start to the campaign compared to England and Ireland who face each other on the opening day before matches against France and Scotland respectively. Their biggest tests come in the final three games where they will face England and Ireland at home, with New Zealand the only side to beat Wales at home since the end of 2017 and an away trip to Murrayfield, a venue Warren Gatland has never lost at.
Should Wales remain top from the opening rounds, expect their experience – there are no uncapped players in Wales squad, nine of them have won 50 caps or more and eight of them were in the last Lions squad – and Gatland’s grit to get them over the line.
Ireland to suffer Rugby World Cup setback
Ireland’s preparation for the upcoming World Cup in Japan over the last 12 months has been flawless. A Grand Slam in last year’s Six Nations, a series win in Australia, and an unbeaten Autumn series where they beat Argentina and most notably, New Zealand.
Should the defending champions carry their blistering form from 2018 into the New Year, there will be no stopping them from retaining the championship and further threatening the All Blacks place atop of the World Rankings. Here’s the catch though, no side are flawless heading into the World Cup (look no further than the world champions for proof of that) and we are still waiting for a hiccup from this Ireland side.
The Six Nations is a really difficult tournament to win and even harder to retain, the last time Ireland entered the tournament as defending champions, they needed a wild final weekend to keep their hands on the title. If simply winning the title is difficult, remaining flawless enough to win back-to-back Grand Slams is near unheard of with the last two time Grand Slam sides being France in 1997 and 1998 five years after England did it in 1991 and 1992. Ireland have a gruelling schedule this season opening the campaign against England at the Aviva before travelling to Murrayfield, a place where Ireland have struggled in the past. An away trip to Rome provides the only respite as its followed by a home match to France and then an away trip to Wales which could very well be a title decider.
Joe Schmidt’s side have played rugby like machines for the last 12 months and it would neither be a disaster or a surprise if the Irish looked a little human during this tournament.
England to lose to Ireland in the opening round
Oh, how things can change in 12 months. This time last year, England were two time defending Six Nations champions and favourites to win a third that February. Indeed, talk had already started to bubble up about Eddie Jones side World Cup chances. Since then, the optimism surrounding the England camp has dissipated considerably. A miserable Six Nations defence which saw them finish 5th was followed by a series loss in South Africa and a gut-wrenching defeat to New Zealand during the Autumn Internationals.
Nonetheless, 2019 offers a fresh start for England and there was enough in the Autumn Internationals to believe that the English will be a force in this year’s Six Nations especially considering they enter the tournament without any major injuries barring Dylan Hartley which makes a change from previous years.
Unfortunately for the English, they probably won’t be finding any joy on the opening weekend against Ireland. If there is two things Ireland under Joe Schmidt hate, it’s losing at home and losing to England. Currently, the Irish are on a 12 game winning streak at the Aviva and have won three of their last five against the English. In fact, England haven’t won at the Aviva since 2013, before Joe Schmidt took charge of Ireland. The New Zealander lost only two of his four encounters against England, both of those losses coming at Twickenham.
Most of this Ireland squad are in the verve of beating English opposition, outside of internationals, the Irish provinces won 10 of their 13 matches against English clubs in Europe so this season, drawing won and losing only two.
Scotland to finish amongst the top three while France falter.
On the subject of European form and international form correlating, Scotland recorded a 75% win ratio in the pool stages of the Champions Cup this year, second only to Ireland. Gregor Townsend’s first year at the helm of Scotland has been more than encouraging so far; a third-place finish in the Six Nations, a first Calcutta Cup in nearly decade, and encouraging performances against South Africa, Australia and New Zealand saw the Scots rise as high as fifth in the World Rankings, the highest they’ve ever reached. Coupled now with the European form of Edinburgh and Glasgow, not to mention three of their four Six Nation matches being at home this year means hopes are high for Scotland to impress.
The Scottish national team aren’t strangers to this feeling, though, in fact there has been a good feeling around Scottish rugby for what feels like a lifetime and yet they have failed to really capitalize outside of that Calcutta Cup last year.
At a minimum, many would expect the Scots to finish third over the French whose fortunes over the last 12 months are quite the opposite to Scotland’s. French international rugby has been maligned for quite some time now; they haven’t won the tournament since 2010 and haven’t looked anywhere close to winning it for almost as long. It’s a dangerous game ruling out the French, but their form through 2018 gives little reason to suggest that they’ll challenge this year. They won just three tests last year, finishing 2018 with a first-ever defeat to Fiji.
France squad features five uncapped players and five key injuries including winger Teddy Thomas. Their first four matches feature Wales, England, Scotland and Ireland meaning that there is no time for the French to find their feet, something they desperately could have done with after a painful 2018.
Italy to take the Wooden Spoon
The final prediction of this article is neither bold nor really a prediction anymore. With Scotland’s rise over the last two years and Italy’s further decline, it will likely take nothing short of a miracle for the Italians not to finish bottom once more. Connor O’Shea was recently backed by the Italian Rugby Federations ahead of the upcoming championship, however despite some initial positive performances under the Irish coach, Italy have only won two of their last 13 games and six of their overall 28 games O’Shea has been charge of, none of which have come in the Six Nations.
One does wonder how much longer must Italian rugby suffer an annual battering at the hands of their fellow Six Nations competitors before the competition’s governing body takes some sort of action to change it. One can have a certain amount of sympathy for the Italian rugby federation, who undoubtedly need the money that the Six Nations provides, however, no amount of financial backing is going to repair the damage that consistent defeat is doing to the popularity of the sport in Italy.
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Author: Kristofer McCormack
Kristofer is a freelance sports writer who has written about football over the last year for Fansided, These Football Times and The Real Champs. He is also a passionate Irish rugby fan. You can find him on Twitter at @k_mc06