Published on February 3rd, 2012 | by Aaron McAllorum0
Preview: RBS 6 Nations Championship 2012
Ahead of Saturday’s first game of the Championship, here’s how Culch Towers thinks it will all play out.
‘Good but not good enough’ was Declan Kidney’s summary after a disappointing exit in New Zealand last year … that and an inability to change tack when things weren’t going their way helped bring about Ireland’s exit probably a game early at the 2011 Rugby World Cup. A semi final spot would have been a realistic measure of the current Irish rugby squad. Ireland’s 6 Nations Championship opener will come against more or less the same Wales squad that knocked them out of RWC11. With wounds from that loss licked but not yet fully healed, there may well be opportunity to take retribution on a weakened Wales side who travel to Dublin without key players – that must be considered a fortunate turn. That said, Ireland is not without its own issues, the much speculated replacement for Brian O’Driscoll issue was put to bed earlier this week when Keith Earls was handed the no.13 shirt, however a family circumstance has forced him to withdraw from the squad, Fegus McFadden will deputise.
Looking further into the 6 Nations Championship, a massive game in Paris (could be a championship decider) and an awkward trip to Twickenham await. The Scots and Italians as always must be respected but it will be hard to see anything other than wins for Ireland there.
Ireland, experienced and settled, are a genuine contender, a championship win is there for the taking albeit possibly without a grand slam achieved.
Stuart Lancaster’s appointment on an interim basis was well-received by the rugby public across the water. Lancaster has a firm desire rid the senior squad of the loutish Martin Johnson image as Danny Care and Denlon Armitage have already found out. Lancaster appreciates the importance of what fresh talent can do for a stale squad and the necessity to throw people in at the deep end sometimes. He has named eight new caps in the squad for their opening game against Scotland on Saturday evening, three of whom, Owen Farrell, Brad Barritt and Phil Dowson, will start in Murrayfield.
Like Ireland, England will face the mighty French in Paris. Away fixtures may be the undoing of ‘the old enemy’ in this championship, but foundations will have been laid to build on come 2013. If they can escape the Stadio Olimpico in round 2 with something positive , a mid table finish will be their best hope.
Andy Robinson’s men enter the oldest fixture on the rugby calendar ‘The Calcutta Cup’ facing a fresh-faced England side, hoping, as they do most years in recent memory, that this year will be different. Last year they avoided the wooden spoon by points difference only to Italy. This may be the best opportunity they have had in a very long time to really give their old enemy a right going over in Murrayfield. If the Scots can kick off this weekend with a win, it may set them up for a relatively satisfactory tournament, with an away trip to a patched-together Wales outfit and then hosting the French back home towards the end of the month. It will be testing but not impossible.
Philipe “Le Goret” Saint-Andre faces into his debut 6 Nations as manager of France with a favourable fixture list and the usual huge pool of Top14 talent to draw from. Saint-Andre cut his teeth as a coach in England at Gloucester and Sale and will be well aware of how the ‘home nations’ operate. Changes have come quick and fast under Saint-Andre with Morgan Parra and Imanol Harinordoquy benched while Wesley Fofana gets a chance to make a name for himself in the centre. Duasautoir will no doubt inspire as usual.
Their opening game is a perfect chance to address a defeat by Italy last year which they considered an embarrassment. The French should comfortably win and shake off any rustiness just in time for the vistit of Ireland for a game which may well be, as previously stated, a championship decider. Tricky away trips to Celtic cousins Scotland and Wales should be overcome.
Warren Gatland’s men would have entered the 6 Nations as outright favorites on the back of a very succesful RWC11 campaign however a number of injuries to key men will hinder them greatly. Gethin Jenkins, Matthew Rees, Lloyd Burns, Luke Charteris and Alun-Wyn Jones are all confirmed as out while Jamie Roberts and Rhys Priestland will start in the opener in Dublin after passing late fitness tests. A revenge mission by the Irish is expected, further bumps and bruises will probably be picked up with a knock on to the Twickenham game a week later which may derail any chances they have by mid February.
A new era under Jacques Brunel as he takes charge of the Azzuri from Nick Mallet. With a decent world cup behind them, they will look to build on last year’s championship after taking the scalp of France in one of the toughest away days for any team in the 6 nations at the Stadio Olimpico. Only a late Ronan O’Gara drop goal got the Irish out of the Italian fortress with the points in the bag.
Year-on-year since their introduction to the championship 12 years ago, coupled with the inclusion of Treviso and Aironi in the Rabo Pro 12, the Italian national side has become a moderate force in world rugby. Brunel has made sweeping changes to the Italian squad but will still rely on a familiar and ferocious pack led by Sergio Parisse. In all, there is seven changes from the side that were beaten by Ireland in their final RWC11 game.
Italy’s best chance of picking up any points will naturally be at home when they welcome England and Scotland respectively.
Finish: Wooden Spoon
Mark the following dates in the diary:
- February 4:
- France v Italy, 2.30pm
- Scotland v England, 5pm
- February 5:
- Ireland v Wales, 3pm
- February 11:
- Italy v England, 4pm
- France v Ireland, 8pm
- February 12:
- Wales v Scotland, 3pm
- February 25:
- Ireland v Italy, 1.30pm
- England v Wales, 4pm
- February 26:
- Scotland v France, 3pm
- March 10:
- Wales v Italy, 2.30pm
- Ireland v Scotland, 5pm
- March 11:
- France v England, 3pm
- March 17: (St Patricks Day)
- Italy v Scotland 12.30pm,
- Wales v France, 2.45pm and
- England v Ireland, 5pm
Stay up to date on the latest scores, fixtures, tables and news in general on the RBS 6 Nations App. It’s available for free in the iTunes App store.
And finally, make your own prediction in the poll: