Dyer’s 6 Nations Preview

Date: 01 February 2017

With the start of the 6 Nations on the horizon, we’ve asked media maestro  and ex Hoppers DOR Gareth Dyer to give us his thoughts on the tournament.

If last year’s Six Nations Championship was about Northern Hemisphere rugby rediscovering its credibility after a chastening World Cup experience, then the 2017 Championship is an opportunity to confirm that a shift in power from South to North is well and truly underway.

The Summer tours and Autumn Internationals suggested that the North is on track to take control of the World Rankings just ahead of the World Cup draw for the 2019 tournament in Japan.

But more than that, it is the opportunity to showcase whether the positive signs of progress in style and intensity displayed in 2016 are here to stay and more importantly continue to evolve. Bonus points have been introduced as a further incentive for teams to score tries.

One just hopes that the empirical evidence – that has previously shown the introduction of bonus points or increasing the value of a try actually leads to fewer scores – isn’t a curse to the well-intentioned but perhaps overly simplistic view that the changes made will result in positive intent.

The suggestion is that as many as five of the six teams could be potential winners this time around. I feel that is a little fanciful and in the final reckoning it will be between two teams but nonetheless, a growing sense of unpredictability means the tournament is in rude health.

For me, Ireland and England will be the two teams that will fight for the title. They have demonstrated the most improvement since the World Cup and their definitive wins over the Southern Hemisphere heavyweights would suggest they are a step above the other teams at present.

England have to go to Cardiff and have a mouth-watering last day visit to Dublin to overcome if they are to be Champions. They play the three blue teams (France, Scotland and Italy) at home and they should be regulation wins. They will be without the likes of the Vunipola brothers, Robshaw and Watson for all or part of the tournament but it is unlikely to weaken them to the point of fallibility. England have the squad depth to cope but they will hope that players such as Hartley, Haskell and Brown quickly rediscover their form after periods of suspension, injury and a loss of form. Aside from those few worries, they appear well set to build on their progress of 2016.

Ireland had the stand out win of 2016 with their first ever win over the All Blacks. That day in Chicago will go down as one of the great rugby games. That they could then beat Australia and run the All Blacks close again in a ferocious contest in Dublin confirms that the new breed of players such as Furlong, McGrath, Henderson, Stander, Ringrose and Henshaw are of the highest quality. They play a very structured game so it will be interesting to see if anyone can disrupt those patterns and with it find out if they have a Plan B. The Scots at Murrayfield in the tournaments opening game will be hoping that they can ask the necessary questions and that Ireland, as yet, don’t have the full story.

Scotland are talking a good game and appear confident. If this Scots team is really one of substance, then they must win at least three games in this year’s tournament. They will want to win their home games and so wins over Ireland, Wales and Italy would lend weight to the view that this Scottish team is really the best since their last Championship winning side in 1999. They have found a cutting edge in midfield with the likes of Russell, Dunbar, Scott, Bennett and Jones all fighting for places, whilst in Jonny Gray and Stuart Hogg they now possess two World Class performers.

Wales are in a curate’s egg position. Statistically the Autumn series was their best for over a decade but in terms of the level of performance it was a hard watch. The move from a physical style to a fluid one seemed to cause confusion in 2016 and it might be that an Englishman, new coach Alex King is able to bring the necessary clarity to allow Wales to discover a cutting edge that their playing talent should be able to produce. England and Ireland both have to visit Cardiff, but Wales know they will have to step up at least a couple of levels if they are to make home advantage count.

Similar to Wales, France appear to be trying to return to a style of old with greater pace and freedom having now been given to their players. At times in the Autumn they put phases of offloading intuitive attacking rugby together that suggested they were moving in the right direction. However, they still have a fragility about them that stems from a lack of leadership and an opening day trip to Twickenham could have them under pressure before their campaign even flickers into life. Keep an eye out for new scrum half Baptiste Serin. He looks a star in the making.

Finally, Italy too might be showing signs of improvement. Under the leadership of Conor O’Shea and the canny brains of Brendan Venter and Mike Catt, they scrapped to a momentous win over the Boks in the Autumn. Alas, they quickly followed this up with a disappointing defeat to Tonga just as you hoped that they might finally be starting to emerge. Still, they generally have their better performances at the start of the tournament and will hope that the Welsh curse of starting tournaments slowly gives them an opportunity to secure a confidence boosting win that sets them up for another home game against Ireland a week later.

The Six Nations is the Tournament that gets the pulses racing of even the most infrequent of rugby fans. Watching the games in a proper rugby environment only adds to the experience and there is no better place than the Hoppers clubhouse to be part of a real rugby atmosphere.

All the games are being televised and with numerous large screens available there is no need to chance going anywhere else and be shoe horned into a corner whilst the round ball takes centre stage!

Whatever your country, good luck everybody and let’s hope this year’s tournament really is as good as we all hope it can be.

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