Many of our guests make a special trip to stay at Old Town Chambers when they visit the city to enjoy the buzzing atmosphere of the NatWest 6 Nations. To whether their appetite in advance of this year’s championship, Mike Blair, former Scotland player and British Lion has kindly given us a preview of this year’s Six Nations...
The NatWest 6 Nations is often described as the premier international rugby competition of the world, more so than the southern hemisphere Rugby Championship. An impressive feat when the Rugby Championship involves New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Argentina. This isn’t necessarily a reflection of quality of rugby, although the autumn test series showed that possibly the north/south divide has become as tight as ever, but it is the drama and the history, that makes this competition so popular.
Supporters plan their travels a year in advance. By game day, they have had months of planning and a buildup of anticipation for the event. The camaraderie and national passion in the buildup guarantee a real occasion regardless of what happens during the 80 minutes.
On the field, the home nations probably have the most settled squads, with sprinklings of youth joining their experienced campaigners. Some of them might break through and make a big impression, while others will gain experience in the national squad environments prior to being unleashed on their summer tours, all leading into the 2019 World Cup. So what can we expect?
Scotland had a successful autumn campaign, culminating in a memorable win against Australia. Injuries will test strength in depth in some areas, although the backbone of the squad remains together. Exciting Edinburgh full-back prospect Blair Kinghorn finds himself in the national squad for the first time, while on the other end of the age spectrum 36-year-old hooker Scott Lawson, returns for the first time since 2014 after showing some great form for Newcastle Falcons. Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg will provide the spark behind the pack if they can be given quick, front-foot ball.
Wales will come into the NatWest 6 Nations with confidence after beating South Africa in December. They have adapted their attacking game recently and are playing more expansively. Key to this has been their link play and they have the luxury of being able to select from class openside flankers James Davies, Josh Navidi and Justin Tipuric. It might be that they decide to play with two, or even all three of them at some stages in games.
Ireland started the autumn with a thumping by South Africa which made world rugby sit up and take note. Leinster and Munster continue to excel on the European stage, making Ireland arguably the team best equipped to perform in high pressure games. Their coach, Joe Schmidt, isn’t known for throwing young players into the limelight too early, but the form and physical attributes of Leinster full-back Jordan Larmour, means that he might see some action despite only just over a dozen appearances for his province.
Despite their coach Eddie Jones saying the contrary, England will be favourites to retain the 6 Nations title. They have some interesting selection decisions to make at no.8, as a result of an injury to regular bulldozer Billy Vunipola, but the strength in depth with England make them the envy of most teams. They have the capability to play different styles of rugby when required, which is important in changeable spring weather. Key to this is Saracens stand-off/centre, Owen Farrell, who is the heartbeat of the team.
It will be difficult to predict the impact France and Italy will have on the competition. France have brought in a new coaching team, headed up by Jacques Brunel, after a disappointing autumn series. They have lacked a bit of cohesion in recent years but there is no doubt that they have the quality of players, such as 21 year old scrum-half Antoine Dupont, to be contesting the top spots over the next couple of months.
Italy have often struggled to produce the consistency of performance and fitness to push the other teams for the full 80 minutes. That said, there has been a marked improvement from their pro teams, Benneton Treviso and Zebre, in these areas, suggesting that there may be good times ahead. Keep your eye on explosive, young no.8 Renato Giammarioli.
This is what we know for certain. Little-known players will make names for themselves. Shock results will make the front pages. And the passion from the fans will be unwavering. Another exciting tournament awaits.
Did you know: Mike Blair was capped 85 times for Scotland and was the last player to captain Scotland when they last beat England, 10 years ago this year! Follow him on Twitter here.
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