Tomorrow (Saturday 4th of February) sees the start of the annual 6 Nations rugby competition. Despite the attempts of the southern hemisphere’s Rugby Championship to increase its appeal, there are few who would disagree that the 6 Nations is the greatest and most intensely contested tournament in World rugby. The 2017 6 Nations sees England start as both defending champions and favourites, and this despite Ireland’s autumn test series which saw them beat New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. Wales, quite deservedly, start as third favourites behind England and Ireland, which is where I would place them too.
England are not only defending champions, but also they won the 2106 6 Nations with a Grand Slam. Very few sides have won back-to-back Grand Slams, so England will be hoping that they can achieve this rare feat. They are also unbeaten since Eddie Jones took over after their disastrous showing in the 2015 World Cup; so each of the other 5 nations will be looking to get that first win under his leadership. England’s opening match is a home one against France. France used to be perennial contenders for the 6 Nations crown, but have fallen badly behind Wales, England and Ireland in the last few years. Few expect them to cause an upset at Twickenham tomorrow.Wales start their 6 Nations campaign on Sunday with an away match against Italy. No away match is easy in the 6 Nations anymore, and Wales have lost a few times in Italy. But, of all the away matches to start with, one against Italy is probably the most favourable. We have gone to Italy before and racked up points, and if we manage to do that on Sunday it will be a great start for us. Sadly, we usually start any campaign poorly, so I suspect that we will scrape a win against Italy, but it will not be a convincing one.
Our second match is against England in Cardiff on Saturday 11th of February. It would be a fairytale if we could be the first country to beat England under Eddie Jones’ leadership, and if this match were third of fourth or fifth in the campaign I would fancy our chances. But, I am not sure that we will be firing on all cylinders by the second match, and although I hope that we will win I fear a home defeat could well be on the cards.
Wales are, of course, going into this 6 Nations under the leadership of interim manager Rob Howley, as Warren Gatland is on leave to prepare for the summer’s Lions’ tour to New Zealand. We also won three of our four autumn tests under Howley, something that we had not done since 2004. But, we did not win any one of those three matches in a convincing fashion, and England and Ireland currently look streets ahead of us. But, at this level the margins are very very fine.
The Welsh squad certainly have the talent to be as good or better than England. In my opinion we have better players than England, but we are not functioning at the same level as they are as a team. The question is, can Howley iron out those little problems which were so apparent in the autumn series and see us get back to the level of play we showed under him in the 2013 6 Nations? Remember, that is the season when England came to Cardiff chasing a Grand Slam in the last game of the 6 Nations, and we annihilated them 30-3.
In some 8 days’ time, the game against England will be over and we will know if we are back to anything like that kind of form again.
Here is Wales’ schedule for the 2017 6 Nations. All times are GMT, not the local time (in Rome or Paris, which are one hour ahead of GMT).
- Sunday 5th February – Italy v Wales (KO 14:00 GMT)
- Saturday 11th February – Wales v England (KO 16:50 GMT)
- Saturday 25th February – Scotland v Wales (KO 14:25 GMT)
- Friday 10th March – Wales v Ireland (KO 20:00 GMT)
- Saturday 17th March – France v Wales (KO 14:45 GMT)
COME ON WALES!!!! DERE ‘MLAEN CYMRU!!!!