Everyone likes a spoiler nowadays don’t they. It seems in our world of instant communication that the need to ‘skip to the end’ has become a perceived virtue. So it is with the Six Nations with broadcasters and fans alike looking five matchdays ahead to a perceived winner takes all game at Twickenham (on St Patrick’s Day no less) between England and Ireland. Of course, that’s more than likely to be the decider (they’re Europe’s top two after all) but to focus on that game six weeks too early robs us of the excitement of what’s to unfold before. Who expected the England v Italy game last year to be so wonderfully tense? The Wales v Ireland match was the best of the tournament, yet neither were crowned champions. When it comes to the Six Nations, my advice on those cold winter afternoons is to sit back and enjoy the ride: the trophy will take care of itself.
However, there may still be some out there who will be itching for finality: results and scores instead of drama and narrative. To soothe that itch, Red Rugby has transcribed how the Six Nations 2018 will play out…so you can enjoy the matches as they unfold without the pressure. You’re welcome.
The 2018 Six Nations champions will be…
What leads us to make such a bold claim? Well, two points. Firstly, this year’s tournament will come down to those elusive away wins. Bar trips to Rome, the only side to win away last year was England in Cardiff – a match that clinched the title for the Red Rose. Assuming, as we rightly can I think, that Italy are heading for the wooden spoon, home victories for the other five teams would result in each ending up with 3 wins a piece. Whoever grabs a victory away from home (and away from Rome) will win the title. Secondly, this is the year where bonus points could really make a difference. Last year’s introduction of the well established BP system was largely inconsequential, albeit fun. This year, with scores likely to be tight across the board, the team that does not beat their opposition by more than 7 will be handing them an advantage. Likewise, if you lose by more than 7, your claims to the title will significantly diminish.
This is how the 2018 Six Nations will be won…
Scotland head to Wales to seek that crucial away win (what would be their first in Cardiff since 2002 and their first ‘non-Rome’ victory since 2010). Their chances are fair given their recent form, but an advantage in the tight-five sees Wales win narrowly. Games between France and Ireland in Paris have been very close in recent years (with usually no more than 2 points in it). The French home form has been patchy, with them winning just twice at the Stade de France in 2017 (they also drew with Japan). Ireland have a golden opportunity to grab the first away win of the tournament…and they take it, to kick off their campaign with a bang. Elsewhere an uncharacteristically nervy England just about squeak a bonus point win in Rome against a battling Azzuri side (minus a cheeky offside/not offside tactic).
The next round starts with a routine thumping of the Italians by Ireland in Dublin who easily get the bonus point and rack up their points difference in the process. Attention then turns to Twickenham for the battle between England and Wales. The Dragons have had notable wins at Twickers in recent times (and have won 3 games there in the last decade). They’ve yet to get the better of this Eddie Jones-era side though and they end up beaten (albeit narrowly). Gatland’s 10th anniversary game doesn’t get the fairy tale treatment. The French will look to get their tournament back on track at Murrayfield – a place where they’ve enjoyed success in the past. Les Blues victories in Edinburgh have historically been very tight (by 2, 6 and 9 points in their most recent wins). Scotland are a different beast at home nowadays though, and in 2017 their average margin of victory at home was by 17. The French are sent packing, having lost two from two.
Week 3 and France finally get a win with a Friday night flourish against Italy in Marseilles. They fail to get the bonus point though with the Italians picking up their first point of the championship in defeat. The 2016 edition of Ireland v Wales was a strange affair that ended in numb draw. History tells us that this match swings between a narrow victory for the Welsh and a good old hiding by the Irish. The draw of two years ago looked then like Wales had fluffed their opportunity for another narrow win. They don’t get another opportunity this time around with the Irish continuing their imperious home form and prevail comfortably. Scotland haven’t beaten England in the Calcutta Cup since 2008 and the English, unbeaten at this stage, head north of Hadrian’s wall with confidence (having thrashed the Scots last year). The result that’s been a long time coming finally arrives though and England lose for just the second time under Eddie Jones (by a score). It ends up being the match of the tournament.
In the penultimate weekend, the Scots party is brought down to earth in Dublin. The Irish by this point are only two wins away from a clean sweep and Gregor Townsend’s charges are unable to stop the green momentum. The Scottish wait for a win in Ireland extends to ten years. England travel to Paris in the unfamiliar position of being one defeat away from losing their Six Nations crown. They play angry, they play tough, they win…by two clear scores in an otherwise tense but low-scoring occasion. Wales host Conor O’Shea’s Italy in Cardiff and duly get the ‘W’…but only just.
Super Saturday commences with the Scots having a field day in Rome – their attacking flair coming to the fore on a balmy Saturday in March. It’s an entertaining opener to the championship showdown between England and Ireland – the ending that had been predicted from the start. In a reversal of last year’s final round, Ireland head to Twickenham looking for a Grand Slam. They arrive in South West London on 17 points. England are second in the table on 14 points. Ireland know that all they have to do is gain a losing bonus point and keep England from scoring four tries to win the title (thanks to their superior points difference following substantial wins against Italy and Wales). England have to beat Ireland by 8 or more (and keep them away from four tries). The final ten minutes arrive with only a score between the teams. England huff and puff to extend the lead…but to no avail. They win the battle but not the war. Joe Schmidt’s men win the Six Nations on points difference. Following this exciting conclusion, an anti-climatic epilogue is played out in Cardiff with Wales securing three homes wins out of three by beating the French (who end the tournament on a miserable six points and just one win). The rugby world collectively give thanks that the match ends on cue, with added time well under 20 minutes – people have stuff to do on a Saturday evening after all. The Welsh enter the streets of Cardiff looking to celebrate their third-place finish with a Guinness, only to find supplies have been frantically diverted to London following a sudden dearth for some reason.
And that’s how the 2018 Six Nations was won…
…Or not. Who knows? Don’t worry about it.
Final 2018 Six Nations Table
Ireland – 18*
England – 18
Wales – 14*
Scotland – 14
France – 6
Italy – 1
*on points difference