The greatest annual sporting tournament is about to start, so it's time for me to throw in my pennyworth on the predictions front. In the Six Nations any team can beat any other team on any given day, but it is about hanging five good performances together to beat five good teams, that's what makes champions.
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Italy start the tournament against France, ~ arguably the weakest team against the strongest, England is the only Nation that Italy have yet to beat but they've not beaten France since 2013, and I can't see that changing this year. This is a tough start for Italy, then a week later they have to host an England team that will be either rampant, or angry. I think this is going to be another hard year for the Azury, I suspect that the best they can hope for is some good tries and good performances in defeat.
Every year I think "this could be Scotland's year" they have wonderful half backs, attacking options across the back line, and some strong forwards, last year they won the Calcutta Cup in a deserted Twickenham, even though they start their campaign at home and are now a serious challenge, England must still be the favorites, much will be made of the two star fly halves, both have mercurial talent, excellent vision and game control, they will be the stars, but, I think this game will be won and lost "up front". If Scotland lose the Calcutta Cup then it will be a long tournament fighting back for them, with a trip to Cardiff the next week.
The other game the first weekend is Ireland - Wales, this could be the game of the weekend the Irish are on a high after the Autumn, and very nearly at full strength, Wales are battered and bruised, with injury problems of their own, but they are the reigning champions with a point to prove, I think the outcome of this game could dictate who comes third or fourth.
So to my predictions
Italy ~ Last with no wins, at the moment they are simply not good enough, but they will battle valiantly and score some good tries.
Scotland ~ fifth with two wins, always entertaining, but lacking the strength in depth to maintain their challenge across five matches.
Wales ~ fourth with three wins, they could equally well be champions, but I think they will suffer injuries, they already have 8 British and Irish Lions side lined, that's got to hurt any team.
Ireland ~ Third also with three wins, the Irish look like they are starting strong, they have some good second string players, they are rampant after the Autumn and the regions are doing well in Europe. So why only third? I just think that at the moment England and France have too much to offer.
England ~ Second with four wins. England are the real thing, they have beaten the best in the world and will again. With Marcus Smith the fly half question has finally been answered, the pack is awesome, not just big and strong, but with some super footballers there as well, with Itoji, Lawes, Marler and Sinkler there is no shortage of leaders, skill and dynamism. Sure there will be injury problems but the English strength in depth is second only to South Africa's
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Having said all that last year Wales were 33/1 to be champions and they only missed a grand slam by a smidge. One injury, one kick, or one rain storm could change the whole tournament. But the trick is to play well over the five matches, establish some momentum and be clinical.
I hope I'm wrong, I'd like England to win, but I think this year it will be France