Natwest Six Nations 2018

ON THE EVE of the 2018 Natwest 6 Nations championship, Wooden Spoon’s National Rugby Manager, Matt Mitchell, shares his thoughts on what we can expect in the coming weeks.

Women’s Six Nations

Italy start their 6 Nations competition by hosting The Red Roses, who are a pretty safe bet when it comes to the championship, but 7s contracts might disrupt selection for a number of nations. England are reigning Grand Slam champions and were runners up in the World Cup to the best team in the World whose name sounds like Switzerland, but we no longer permit to be mentioned!

France are widely backed to be the only team that could upset a back to back grand slam. Both teams are reported to have been holding training sessions with their male counterparts which is interesting; though it is unclear which teams will have benefited more! The French will want to avenge their poor performance in the World Cup Semi Final where they only managed to score a solitary penalty.

Meanwhile Ireland has fallen in the rankings after a poor show in the home World Cup, but have largely a new team formed by new coach Adam Griggs who has appointed a new captain in back row Ciara Griffin who in her own words says “the rebuilding starts this weekend”.

Ranked 12th by World Rugby, Scotland beat Wales last year but are still ranked below Spain who are the 6th ranked European team and seem to have a fair case to be included in a 7 Nations competition. The Auzzuri will be a mix of experience and new caps after holding senior team members together to ensure the best performance in the World Cup so look out for some unpredictable performances.

It is great that the BBC will be live streaming matches and we should also wish the very best of Championship luck to our London Honorary President Rachael Burford and to all the players who represent Wooden Spoon on the 7s circuit.

Men’s Six Nations

England must be favourites and the team to beat being champions for the past couple of years. They also have strength in depth and over the past day or so been relieved to become relatively unaffected by injury although bans are still in place.

But this is the Six Nations, Grand Slams are rare, the question is, who will topple the reigning champions? New wheels were road tested in Argentina and a win against Australia in November means they are on a roll. Six Nation rugby matches must be, of all the games in sport, the one where you are more likely to lose if you have won the game before! Perhaps not their opening match but sooner or later a Celtic or guts out performance has every chance to sit the champions down.

Both Ireland and Scotland on a wet day at home will give England a run for their, significantly greater, money and resources. Scotland have the home advantage but the weather is in the hands of a superior power. Not even the in form Finn Russell has that sort of connection. I wish I did! I might of managed to get a ticket for the match, which will be a cracker. Teams may have too much power for them in the set piece whilst operating on a second / third chose front row but this will be made up for elsewhere. A rallying call to arms by coach Gregor Townsend and with Hogg to clear the lines they will be more optimistic than ever in recent years.

The Irish will have some untested backs appearing throughout the competition who are yet to prove themselves but they are fearless and tenacious. And why not they have beaten all of the top Southern Hemisphere teams recently. With a head of steam forged by coach Schmidt and a class half back combination (Murray & Sexton) the new boys may find themselves making quite a name for themselves. Especially if the team can protect Sexton and upset the favourites at Twickenham.

Wales have an injury fever, with Biggar, Priestland, Webb, Warburton and Felatau out. But have blooded players over previous years and have selected a large antidote of Scarlets and a young and potentially dynamic back line, who could surprise a few.

Watch out, cliché alert! Which team will Les Blues send to play in the Six Nations this year? Who knows! I am always loath to malign the French until after their first match, then I’m happy to either wade in or sit up and be concerned. Selecting a teenage debutant 10 in the opening match is typical of the best French teams who played without regard for custom or tradition. The best have invented new creative boundaries and sparked brilliance. A recent new coach may have the desired effect but sadly, I feel not this year and even the Italians will look to capitalise on this opportunity.

If Conor O’Shea has done his homework (and he always does) then teams need to be wary. With old man Parisse (34) soon to be available for the World Vets XV, still charging around and making himself a nuisance to opponents there is always hope for Italy who have put a temporary halt to jokes about how quickly Italian tanks can reverse especially given a powerful tight five – but results need to put the joke to bed.

I’ve taken up a great wager with a Wooden Spoon colleague… he has England to win; I have the other five Nations. The odds must be close but when the table is complete I think the drinks will be on me.