Published on January 31, 2013 | by Lloyd Adams

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Six Nations Preview

Arts London News looks ahead to the Six Nations championships, with a rundown on each of the competing countries.

England rugby in team

The autumn internationals will be seen as something of a tale of Jekyll and Hyde. Following an impressive Six Nations campaign and a bruising tour of South Africa optimism was high. But after the warm-up demolition of Fiji (52-12 victory) it was back down to earth after ill-discipline and costly decision-making led to two successive defeats – first a 20-14 loss to Australia followed by a 16-15 setback against South Africa. England’s final test of the series was the daunting task of the world champions New Zealand. In a scintillating match, England against all the odds halted the All Blacks’ unbeaten run of 20 games, producing one of the finest hours of English rugby, leaving Twickenham 38-21 victors.

Head Coach: Stuart Lancaster
With the first year under his belt and some impressive results, Stuart Lancaster has established himself as the right man for the job. Backed by his coaching staff and the players, it is onwards and upwards as he now seeks his first Six Nations championship.

The Captain: Chris Robshaw
Not everyone’s cup of tea but with the backing of the players and coaching staff he continues to lead England. Chris Robshaw’s talent is there for everyone to see but he still has areas to improve, such as his decision-making. However, Robshaw has time on his side and with every minute he plays, more experience and wisdom will no doubt find its way to him. Time is the key ingredient to whether he is the right man to lead England, but in this game, results are important and they will no doubt be the deciding factor.

Player to watch: Courtney Lawes
The Northampton lock has been missing recently on the international scene due to his well-documented injury problems. His big hits, stature in the line-out and ball-carrying skills have been sorely missed but will surely be welcomed back with open arms within the English set-up. Expect the big man to give everything for his country and if he can stay injury-free, he could be the difference between success and failure.

Key factor: Consistency
England and consistency have been entwined together since the very idea of rugby began. When on their game they are capable of producing performances of the highest order but it’s like the 29th of February – it only seems to come every four years.

Within this squad of elite players the blend of youth, experience and raw talent is evident. England boasts a physical and mobile set of forwards that are complemented by an exciting and talented back division. To win any tournament, consistency and wins are a must. Lancaster and his backing team need to make sure the team can deliver on both fronts if they want to succeed in the Six Nations as well as the future.

Prediction: 2nd

Ireland rugbyThe preparation for the Six Nations has been about bringing in new Irish stars. The promotion of wingers Craig Gilroy and Simon Zebo from the Wolfhounds are an example of this.

Ireland found themselves on the losing end of a 16-12 game against South Africa. They then showed why you should never write off this plucky nation by destroying Argentina 46-24. Six of their seven tries in the match were scored from their backs and none from Brian O’Driscoll, who was out injured, giving them a new-found dangerous attack.

Head Coach: Declan Kidney
Kidney took over Ireland in 2008 and led them to the Grand Slam in his first year. Since then, however, success has become a little bit harder to find. The future of Kidney looks to be in doubt with the media build-up to the Six Nations more focused on Ireland’s struggles. It seems unfair for the man who has brought success to Irish rugby but it is a case of what have you done recently. Even minor success will be beneficial to Kidney keeping his coaching role.

Captain: Jamie Heaslip
Taking over from possibly Ireland’s favourite son is no mean feat, especially when O’Driscoll was expected to retain his captaincy after his injury lay-off. But preparations have begun for 2015 and the experience of a player such as Heaslip will be very important for Irish chances. Being a no-nonsense number eight he’ll lead his troops from the frontline with a never say die attitude. Heaslip seems to be perfect replacement for O’Driscoll.

Player to watch: Craig Gilroy
The bright light from the autumn internationals was the Ulster winger. Scoring a hat-trick of tries in the uncapped win over Fiji led to his debut-try on the international stage against Argentina. Yet there is a feeling there’s more to come from the young winger.

Key factor: Paul O’Connell
The lock was instrumental to the success of the 2009 Grand Slam. Ireland’s success or failure is directly related to O’Connell’s injuries. With O’Connell on the field the Irish seem more physical. When things get messy O’Connell is the first man into contact to sort out the situation and rally his troops on. He personifies leadership and Ireland looks to be in good hands with O’Connell.

Prediction: 3rd

Scotland Six NationsScotland lost all five matches in last year’s Six Nations. They then suffered another three losses in the autumn internationals including a 15-21 loss to Tonga in the final match. The losses led to Andy Robinson leaving his post as Scotland manager and a year to forget for Scottish rugby in general.

Head Coach: Scott Johnson
After seeing the resignation of the man who brought him into the Scottish set-up, Johnson will now lead Scotland into the Six Nations away to England at Twickenham this weekend. The former Wales skills coach has much experience in the competition after five years with Wales. Considering his short time so far at the helm he seems to have won over his players with fly half Greig Laidlaw telling BBC Scotland: “In the modern game he’s probably one of the best coaches I’ve ever worked with.”

Captain: Kelly Brown
Brown has been outstanding for Saracens for a few seasons now and is retained as captain for this year’s Six Nations campaign. An immense, no frills leader up front he is an example to all in the Scottish side.  His heart and determination shows many how they should play for Scotland.

Player to watch: Tim Visser
Although Visser is Dutch-born, he is every bit a Scottish player. This past summer he burst onto the international seen by scoring his first two tries against Fiji, four days after completing his 36-month residency in Scotland. He then continued his fine form scoring another two tries against world champions New Zealand on his Murrayfield debut. Visser also had success in the autumn internationals where he scored 4 tries in five games. Visser looks to be one of the bright stars on a dark night for Scotland.

Key factor: Mike Blair
Scotland’s most capped scrum half of all time says it all. He was a thorn in many teams’ sides over the years but has decided to retire, so others can stake a claim for the 2015 World Cup. A noble gesture from a noble player, but the question is, who can replace him? Scotland isn’t overwhelmed with great scrum-half’s so the choices are few and far between. Greig Laidlaw is Johnson’s preferred choice for the game against England this Saturday but with this his very first start in that position will it pay off?

Prediction: 6th

Wales rugby teamSince the Grand Slam success 12 months ago it seems as if nothing is going right for the Welsh. The loss of Warren Gatland to Lions duty has led to an interim manager appointment. Since then Wales have suffered, losing seven straight matches. They’ve also had bad luck on the injury front in recent times. The build-up to this Six Nations campaign could not of been worse. Among those loses were  surprise defeats to Argentina and Samoa. These losses have led to Wales falling to Tier Three in the 2015 World Cup draw and sees them paired against England and Australia.

However, confidence in the Welsh camp seems high to end this long losing streak and the hope of retaining their Six Nations crown is their goal. Whether or not they can is the question, but as always, where Wales play, entertaining games are sure to follow.

Head Coach: Robert Howley
The one win in five matches stat surely gave Howley some restless nights during his reign at the helm. Normally an integral part of Gatland’s set-up, and an accomplished coach in his own right, the wind hasn’t seemed to favour Howley so far. Howley feels that sharing the top job in Welsh rugby has “contributed” to Wales’ woes. Maybe sole custody will bring much needed stability to the Welsh camp, stability they have not had in the recent past.

The captain: Sam Warburton
Being a Grand Slam winning captain says it all really. Warburton possesses great leadership skills matched only by a great hunger to succeed on the international stage. Warburton’s maturity has coincided with his rise to the top of his game. Having this losing streak over his head has led to doubts over his credentials for the captaincy role. A victory at the Six Nations will help prove those doubters wrong.

Player to watch: Toby Faletu
Faletu is possibly the best number eight in world rugby at the moment. He commands his forwards throughout the entire 80 minutes. Faletu leads by example at the breakdowns and set-pieces whilst being ruthless in attack, especially in the loose. Toby is such a powerful player and is a good example of the way rugby players are revolutionizing the game in terms of how much fitter and stronger they are becoming. Watch out for his power bursts and monstrous defence.

Key factor: Injuries
Wales’ injury list has not been a top-secret affair but it’s certainly going to reduce the chance of them retaining their Six Nations crown. Howley will now be without lock quartet Davies, Alun Wyn Jones, Ian Evans and Luke Charteris, and also star fly-half Rhys Priestland. The loss of experienced star players has led to a number of younger players being given a chance to play for Wales. They could bring a different and unexpected side to Welsh rugby, or the loss of the more experienced players might be too much to overcome.

Prediction: 4th

France in action against Ireland in 2012Les Bleus remained undefeated throughout the autumn internationals, winning all three of their games. The first hurdle was Australia, which France easily cleared, demolishing the Aussies 33-6.  By doing so they sent out a message to their future opponents. Next came bruising encounters against Argentina (39-22) and Samoa (22-14) with the latter having pushed the French the closest.

Head Coach: Philippe Saint-Andre
Like Lancaster, Saint-Andre now has that first year under his belt to which he has now created the environment he wants. After finishing fourth in last year’s Six Nations, France continued to improve and finished the year unbeaten. Expect Saint-Andre to have his players run the game in every sense. Attractive rugby with the idea of counter-attacking, aided by a dogged defence with a never-say-die attitude is what Saint-Andre preaches to his team.  And France is full of believers.

Captain: Pascal Pape
Possibly the biggest talking point of French rugby in recent years. Pape is the new French captain after leading the team during the unbeaten autumn internationals. He replaced the then injured Thierry Dusautoir as skipper, with Dusautoir the man who led them to the 2012 World Cup final. Maybe a new leader is what the French need, although Dusautoir will still be ever-present in the team. Pape, however, will bring fresh ideas to the captaincy role.

Player to watch: Mathieu Bastareaud
Missing since the 2010 Six Nations, the big man is ready to return with a bang. His form this season for Stade Francais has been amazing and he is fully deserving of his place in the French team. The powerful centre will be extremely hard to handle for the opposing defences. Powerfully built with pace to match, he is Jonah Lomu of the centres.

Key factor: Aurelien Rougerie
He is versatile on either wing or centre and will be extremely missed by the French. His combination of power and pace would have made him a problem for any opposing side. With Bastareaud in the French side the potential partnership of those two would leave any rugby fans’ mouth drooling. They would have produced a formidable defence in the middle whilst in attack it could have been magical.

Prediction: 1st

Italy in action against Ireland in 2012Italy will be coming into this Six Nations with renewed confidence after finishing fifth in last year’s tournament. Their victory over Tonga (28-23) in the autumn internationals and their valiant display in defeat to Australia (19-22) gives them much optimism that the Italian game is improving.

Head Coach: Jacques Brunel
Brunel was never going to revolutionise Italy’s style overnight. But slowly and surely they are changing, following on from the work Nick Mallet had done. The next step for Brunel is to have the Italians last the full 80 and see off teams. Something they failed to do last year in Rome against England. Brunel is starting to turn Rome into a difficult place to play for visiting teams and under his guidance they will continue to progress.

Captain: Sergio Parisse
A number eight of great handling ability, Parisse’s positional sense in the lineout and flair for getting across the gain-line has marked him out as a special player in an often struggling Italian team. Being the Italian captain since 2008, Parisse has 91 caps in which he has scored 48 points. He is the shining light of Italian rugby and has summed up the current Italian situation saying: “It’s no longer enough for us to play well, to be improving and be involved in good matches. The gap between us and the other teams is closing, but for the credibility of the team we need results.”

Player to watch: Luciano Orquera
If you remember his horror display against England at Twickenham in 2011 you wouldn’t be putting him as a player to watch. But since then the 31-year-old has eradicated his mistakes and is finally looking close to the complete package. His form currently for his club team Zebre this year is hot and he needs to continue it into the Six Nations and kick those crucial points.

Key factor: Mauro Bergamasco
Bergamasco is the talented flanker whose skills have also led him to play on the wing and as scrum for Italy. Whenever watching Italy one name you hear none stop other than Sergio Parisse at the breakdown is his. His tackling and ball-carrying skills are second to none and after many years at Stade Francais he is finally showing what a world class player he is. Even at the age of 33 he is going to be missed by Italy and that in its self is credit to a player that was and still Is at the top of his game.

Prediction: 5th

 

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