A quick glance through the history books of the Six Nations Championship (which doesn’t take long as we’re about to start the fifteenth edition only) and you’ll notice that France have won every tournament that has immediately followed a Lions tour (2002, 2006 and 2010). On two of those occasions they achieved the Grand Slam. So, in 2014, we can surely expect Les Bleus to walk away with it can’t we? Is it not written in the rugby stars that the ever-unpredictable French will go from Wooden Spoon flops to Grand Slam heroes in the space of a season?
Well no actually. Not on your nelly. No way Jose.
The French were so abject, so awful, so goddam clueless last year that even the most characteristically Gallic of turnarounds simply has to be ruled out this time around. Their cause is not helped by the injury-enforced absence of some of their key players including captain Thierry Dusautoir. Expect an improved showing from last year but it’ll be mid-table mediocrity rather than table-topping prowess from Philippe Saint-Andre’s men.
So if not the French then who will take this year’s title? There are positive noises coming from the Ireland camp following their impressive (yet ultimately heart-breaking) last run-out against New Zealand. The Irish will also be keen to get one over current champions Wales following last summer’s Lions tour and ‘Drico-gate‘. But, like the French, the Irish have some crucial players absent for the tournament (Keith Earls and Sean O’Brien are out for the tournament while Tommy Bowe will miss the opening two games). As such, and with two away games to London and Paris, the Irish may struggle to breach this year’s top two. Scotland could well match last year’s showing of two wins and join France and Ireland in the middle positions. Italy, I fear, will not have the best of tournaments following their lacklustre Autumn campaign. They’re my favourites for a wooden spoon tinted in whitewash.
That leaves Wales and England. Sound familiar? The showdown in Cardiff last year (as one-sided as it turned out to be) was, we must not forget, the championship decider and I expect this year’s Twickenham tussle will be the same. The question is what will be at stake come March 9th? Well, it’ll all come down to the first two rounds. We’ll preview the Round Two fixtures (and predict the winners) next week, but here is Red Rugby’s predictions for the opening round of the 2014 RBS Six Nations:
Saturday 1 Feb – Wales v Italy (2.30pm) – Wales to win by 20 points
Saturday 1 Feb – France v England (5.00pm) – England to win by 5 points
Sunday 2 Feb – Ireland v Scotland (3.00pm) – Ireland to win by 8 points
The standout result here is England’s predicted victory at the Stade de France. Why predict a win for the English? Well, they’re historically strong starters in the championship (they haven’t lost an opening fixture since 2008) while the French fluffed their lines against the Italians on day one of last year’s tournament. Another reason is that France are still yet to find a consistent pattern of play and a consistent starting line-up. At fly-half in particular Saint-Andre has tinkered with many an option – none of which have proved fruitful. If the French are to find their feet this year, the game against England may be a match too soon. Hence an English win.
If England come away with the spoils this weekend they could well remain unbeaten by the time Wales come to town later in the tournament. At that point, the Welsh could be in the same position. So Sunday March 9th – a simple title showdown or a Grand Slam decider? Either team is capable of achieving it this year.
But that’s all to come. For now let’s all soak up the atmosphere, build the anticipation and celebrate (safe in the knowledge of one fact: the French won’t win it).