Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Six Nations one week away!

January 28, 2006

Next weekend the annual Six Nations tournament between the northern hemisphere's premier rugby powers kicks off. The tournament gets underway Saturday afternoon as Ireland welcomes returning captain Brian O'Driscoll from injury and they play host to Italy at Lansdowne Road.

The first titanic struggle of the competition kicks off immediately thereafter as defending champions Wales travel to world champions England. The game should be immense and could play a crucial role in deciding the outcome of the championship.

Looking at the recent November international tours from southern hemisphere sides, I rate the current pecking order of the 6N sides like this:

1. France
2. England
3. Wales / Ireland (tie)
5. Scotland
6. Italy

There are three games each weekend, but here are the highlighted tests that will determine who-and-what decides the 2006 Six Nations championship.

February 4:
England vs. Wales at Twickenham, London. England looked the stronger of the two sides against their southern hemisphere opponents in November, and one would have to give them the edge here, especially with home field advantage. RT picks England.

February 11:
France vs. Ireland at Stade de France, Paris. France were at their ruthless best dismantling South Africa and Australia, and playing at home one presumes the French will do even more damage to Ireland. RT picks France.

February 26:
Ireland vs. Wales at Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Looking three weeks down the road this contest is the toughest call of the tournament. I rate the teams as equals. The Irish are playing at home, and Wales are the defending champs. In all probability both teams will enter the test with identical 1-1 win-loss records. RT picks the home side.

March 12:
France vs. England at Stade de France, Paris. This is the Battle of the Heavyweights. With due respect to the defending champs, this game looks set to decide everything. These are the two super-powers of European rugby. Both should enter the game undefeated. And this game will assume an enormous significance as teams aim their chances at the 2007 World Cup. Whoever wins will get a huge psychological boost a year ahead of the World Cup. RT picks France.

March 18:
Wales vs. France at Millenium Stadium, Cardiff. This is a test where a jubilant France hangover could see them tripping up and losing to the stout Welsh playing in front of their fans. Wales will front and some players will be desperate to take something or make something positive out of the 6N and nail down their test spots. But France should leave nothing to chance. A victory over England is no guarantee for the title, because head-to-head is not the first tie-breaker; point differential is. Unlike most rugby union competitions, the Six Nations does not have a bonus point system. Match winners receive two points, with one for a draw and none for a loss. The first tiebreaker is point differential. So France will have to be very careful not to take Wales forgranted. RT picks France.

England vs. Ireland at Twickenham, London. The other huge test of that same afternoon should see England mopping up at home. If the Red Terror has his crystal ball all wrong, this match could actually be a decider. RT picks England.

Italy vs Scotland at Stadio Flaminio, Rome. The "wooden spoon" will go to Scotland. RT picks Italy.

Naturally, the home field advantage is always huge in the test arena. And looking at my rankings above, the list seems to match the ease-of-schedule. France is arguably the best side; inarguably they have the easiest schedule. Against their three toughest opponents, they play two tests at home. And in the head-to-head in their biggest test against England, they get an enormous home-field advantage. England also has an easy schedule, and they also play 2/3 of their toughest tests at home. But they play France on the road, and my formula says the #2 team playing the #1 team on the #1 team's paddock is too formidible a challenge for this England side. So England takes 2nd-place. Wales and Ireland meanwhile, both play 2/3 of their tests on the road. Ireland have the tougher sked, having to face France and England on the road -- that's a huge ask, pencil those in as losses -- while Wales at least gets the benefit of hosting France at Cardiff. Ireland gets home against Wales however, so that may give them the edge for 3rd place in the standings. Predicted winner: FRANCE.

[Standard disclaimer: RT picks can be changed as future circumstances warrant without advance notice!]


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home