Dyer’s 6 Nations Blog, Week 1

Date: 28 January 2013

So it’s that time of year again when the annual Northern Hemisphere rugby jamboree that is the Six Nations rolls into focus. Due to popular demand (Ed: Popular? Really? GD: Well John Bamber liked it..) our Director of Rugby Gareth Dyer will provide his thoughts on the weekly rounds and give his predictions as to what he thinks will happen across the tournament. Last season he correctly predicted the result in 9 of the 15 games and he will be looking to improve on that ratio in what seems one of the hardest tournaments to call for many a year. Remember, the views expressed are those of the individual and not those of the club (Oh and he is Welsh!)

So, with one week to go it’s the time of year that all rugby fans in the Northern Hemisphere look forward to more than any other. The Six Nations is about to start and the passion, national fervour and bragging rights will be raised a few notches over the next two months as the rivalries are renewed in their annual fashion. As with last year I will provide my thoughts on each of the five rounds of games and give you my predictions as to what I think may happen over the coming weeks. Last season I managed to keep my Welsh bias mostly under wraps and I will try to remain objective again this time round!

So with the squads having been announced the waiting is almost over. The tournament would seem to be the most open in years and I am sure we will be in for an entertaining ride.

My first prediction is that I do not think we will see a Grand Slam this year. There are certainly some tough away fixtures for each and I believe that all teams will drop at least one game. I think the potential winners may be the team that wins four out of five and has the best points differential come the end of the tournament.

Momentum is a massive part of having a successful campaign so the opening weekend will be crucial, no more so than in the opening game in Cardiff where Wales host Ireland. If Ireland win then they will then have both England and France to come in Dublin. If Wales win, then they will go to Paris for the second round of games in good heart but they have not won there since 2005 and I doubt that they will do so this time around. England will be confident of beating Scotland first up at HQ but have to then go to Dublin before travelling to Cardiff in the last round of games. France looked good in the autumn but must go to both London and Dublin and whilst I’m sure Scotland and Italy have improved, it would be a major shock if either won more than two games.

So I’ll start with the opening game which is Wales vs. Ireland in Cardiff. My view is that the game will be very tight and could go down to the wire. Wales are out of form and have injuries whilst Ireland, despite the continued strong showing of their regions in Europe, are shorn of key personnel in O Connell, Ferris and Bowe. The question marks about the strength in depth in their front five and make up of their back row remain. Ireland also continue to lack size behind the scrum and this was the key difference in the game in Dublin last year where the heavyweight Welsh backline simply ran over their underpowered hosts. Whilst I wouldn’t be surprised with a win for either side (or even a draw for that matter) I’m going to go for an Irish win. My key man for Ireland is (unsurprisingly) Brian O Driscoll. This could be his swansong and if it is he will be determined to go out on a high. He is still capable of the incredible and I think one moment of BOD magic could swing it the way of the visitors.

For Wales to win, they will have to dominate up front and the return of Adam Jones is a massive boost. However they look short of options in the second row and I don’t think they will have enough to put Ireland away as a result. My key man for Wales is Sam Warburton. He has struggled with injuries and if he doesn’t hit top form then I don’t think Wales will either. He is in the frame for the Lions captaincy and I think this is added pressure (plus the possibility that the missing Lydiate may see him moved to the blindside to accommodate Tipuric) and the missing guidance of the Lions bound Gatland (don’t get me started on that one!) will see him and his side come up short. I hope I’m wrong but I’ll take Ireland to win by 4.

At Twickenham I think the result will be clear cut. England are in buoyant mood after their win over New Zealand and will be keen to show that it was no flash in the pan. Stuart Lancaster retains an impressive sense of perspective and I can’t see England being allowed to become complacent. Scotland have yet another change of coach with interim Head Coach Scott Johnson stepping up, ably supported by the well regarded Dean Ryan. The Scottish pack, set piece and kick & chase game are up there in terms of competitiveness but the question remains: can they score tries in attack? A recent statistical insight into International Rugby confirmed the obvious in that if you do not score tries, you do not win games. The Scottish backs have been impotent for several seasons but Johnson is well rated as an attack coach and played a significant role in Wales renewed ability to score tries during their 2005 slam. He will have his work cut out but if he can inspire some creativity then the Scots may finally start to hurt teams. With Tuilagi ruled out I think the key man for England is Brad Barrit. Criticised heavily before the NZ win he came to the party in big style displaying touches not previously seen. The English forwards will provide a steady stream of fast ball but if England are to retain their cutting edge then Barrit has to continue in the same vein against the Scots. For Scotland, whoever they pick in the pivotal 10,12 access will have to ensure the team goes forward and can implement the attacking structure put in place by Johnson. I’m not sure they have the personal to do this and as a result I can’t see them getting their first win in London for 30 years. It may be close for 40 mins but I expect England’s power and pace to be too much in the second half and for the home side to win by 12-15 clear points.

The final game of the weekend sees perennial strugglers Italy take on pre-championship favourites France in Rome on Sunday. France had a most impressive Autumn showing huge power and pace particularly in their win over Australia. Italy on the other hand are improved under coach Brunel but like Scotland, they suffer from a lack of creativity behind the scrum. The ageing Azzuri pack may also be on its last legs. France under Saint-Andre appear to be better organised than under the previous regime and have sacrificed some of their individual flair for a more direct territorial game. I can’t see anything other than a French win with the key man being the giant Toulouse number 8 Louis Picamoles. He was brilliant in the autumn and gives Les Bleus the go forward behind a powerful front five. With Michalak impressing on his return to national duty it could be a long afternoon for the home side. Italy, as ever, will rely on key man Sergio Parisse to give them go forward and aggressive defence but it appears that they have still yet to unearth any half backs of international class and with the outside backs being more of the “solid if unspectacular” variety then they will again struggle to break down the well organised defences of the big teams. After weathering the opening passionate storm of the home side I expect France to settle in for a comfortable win. I’ll take France to win by 20.

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