SIX NATIONS RUGBY
BY KEVIN CAIN
The biggest Rugby spectacular in the northern hemisphere started this month. The Six Nations Rugby tournament with the most powerful teams in Europe battling it out against one another:
England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales taking to the turf to prove who is the champion team for 2016.
6th February France v Italy Stade de France-Paris
6th February Scotland v England Murrayfield – Edinburgh
7th February Ireland v Wales Aviva Stadium – Dublin
13th February France v Ireland Stade de France – Paris
13th February Wales v Scotland Principality Stadium – Cardiff
14th February Italy v England Stadio Olympio – Rome
26th February Wales v France Principality Stadium – Cardiff
27th February Italy v Scotland Stadio Olympio – Rome
27th February England v Ireland Twickenham – London
12th March Ireland v Italy Aviva Stadium – Dublin
12th March England v Wales Twickenham – London
13th March Scotland v France Murrayfield – Edinburgh
19th March Wales v Italy Principality Stadium – Cardiff
19th March Ireland v Scotland Aviva Stadium – Dublin
19th March France v England Stade de France – Paris
This year both BBC and ITV will be sharing the live television coverage of the games while Royal Bank of Scotland will continue with the major sponsorship for the fourteenth year
Any Six Nations championship held after a World Cup year is normally littered with changes and this tournament will be no different.Coaching changes of Eddie Jones for England and Guy Noves for France take centre stage, whilst there are some sad farewell's to familiar players; Paul O'Connell, Gordon D'Arcy, Pascal Pape, Adam Jones and Ryan Jones to name but a few.
Perhaps Ireland will start the tournament as slight favourites to win it outright, and if they do it will be the third time in succession.The advantage of three home games for the Irish seems to point the finger firmly towards them. However, if 2015 was anything to go by then things could be closer to call than at first glance. Last year it all went down to the wire and on the final day of matches any one of four teams could have won the trophy. In the end Ireland managed to sneak home and grab the cup for the second year on the trot.The only thing that might hinder their success are the two tricky away games to England and France, but the home games in front of their fanatical crowd in Dublin look a certainty for victory.
Perhaps a dark horse for this year is Wales as it is a fact that the following Six Nations tournaments after World Cups in 2007 and 2011 Wales went on to win Grand Slams. They have arguably the best back five in the competition and with Dan Biggar kicking for them they have a potential tournament winner.
The new coaches at France and England will also want to make their mark on the Six Nations competition. Guy Noves for France has a formidable record with his Toulouse side, some said he fashioned them into a team that could win international matches. With players such as Louis Picamoles and Yoann Huget leading the team, France always have a chance. Whereas Eddie Jones is a seasoned campaigner and top coach. After England's dismal display in the World Cup, Jones has taken a chainsaw to the coaching staff and replaced the whole lot with a strong new team. In come Steve Borthwick, Paul Eustard and Ian Peel but I think a last day away game to France in Paris is a hurdle that will prove too high for the fledgling England team.
Italy and Scotland are expected to both be competing for the wooden spoon once again. Italy are no longer the pushovers that they were five years ago. At home especially, they can be a real tricky away day for any team. And in this year's competition Scotland have to travel to Rome, this could be the crux game to decide who holds up the foot of the table come the 19th of March.
So there is the mix of uncertainties that all go to contribute to what promises to be a wide open Six Nations tournament. It seems to be a very even competition this year and don't be surprised if we end with a great finale day just like 2015.