Marseille will be magic but this Six Nations is wide open – Andy Goode

Marseille will be magic but this Six Nations is wide open – Andy Goode


The opening game of the Guinness Six Nations between France and Ireland under the Friday night lights in Marseille might be billed as a title decider already but that’s not necessarily the case.

We often see some surprise results in the tournament after a Rugby World Cup when teams have made a few more changes than normal, and England have won the last two Six Nations following World Cups.

They are also the team that went furthest in France just a few months ago and they have their toughest two fixtures against Ireland and France in the last couple of rounds so they can play their way into the competition to a certain extent.

Stuart Lancaster discusses Owen Farrell’s move to Racing 92

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Stuart Lancaster discusses Owen Farrell’s move to Racing 92

Actions speak louder than words but it’s great to see new skipper Jamie George talking about reconnecting with fans again. All eyes will be on the style of play adopted by Steve Borthwick but it wouldn’t be a shock at all if they won it.

Wales won the previous two titles after World Cups in 2008 and 2012 and nobody is expecting them to be in contention because of the age profile of their squad and the big names missing nowadays, but Warren Gatland is still there.

Team Form

Last 5 Games

5/5

Race To 10 Points

2/5

People shouldn’t make the same mistake football’s Alan Hansen did all those years ago when he said about Manchester United, ‘You can’t win anything with kids’. But you do fear for Wales if things don’t go well for them against Scotland in Cardiff in their opening game.

That one will set the tone for the Scots as well. Last year they won their opening two games of the tournament for the first time since 1996 and, with a couple of matches at Murrayfield to follow, they will back themselves to be real contenders if they win in Wales.

Of course, the same conversation about Scotland has taken place ahead of every Six Nations in recent years but there hasn’t been a great deal of turnover in players since the World Cup and maybe it is the Lionel Messi of rugby’s time, Finn Russell, to finally lead them to a title.

Netflix’s Six Nations: Full Contact documentary has received mixed reviews mainly because certain unions didn’t allow as much access as they could have, but it has added an extra element of excitement ahead of this tournament.

It was in the top three programmes viewed on Netflix in the UK last week so hopefully we will see a second series with unions more on board and giving greater access and a few new fans will be attracted to the sport in the meantime.

I don’t see it as a two-tier Six Nations with Ireland and France at the top ahead of the rest. If anything it’s a top four with Wales and Italy perhaps beneath them, but you can’t argue with the French and Irish being favourites after they have been the top two for the last couple of years.

Their meeting on Friday night is going to be epic and it will be fascinating to see who can banish their World Cup heartache and if either has a bit of a hangover. It’s almost bittersweet that it is the opening game but it’s a hell of a way to kick things off.

There is an enormous hole in both the France and Ireland sides for this tournament but Antoine Dupont will prove to be a bigger loss than Johnny Sexton because he is head and shoulders above any other player in the world at the moment.

France

Ireland

Sexton was the figurehead of Irish rugby for a long time but Andy Farrell has built such a well-oiled machine that Jack Crowley can slot in without too much of a drop-off, whereas Dupont can win a game on his own as well as setting the tone for France. Maxime Lucu is a really good player but he just isn’t Dupont.

If France beat Ireland in round one, they will go on to win the Grand Slam but the Irish have a tough away fixture at Twickenham as well and it could blow the tournament wide open if they win in Marseille.

If I’m honest, I do see Wales and Italy scrapping it out to avoid the wooden spoon in Cardiff on the final weekend but I really do think any of the other four teams could be lifting the trophy in mid-March.

People might think I’m crazy but Six Nations tournaments following World Cups are notoriously unpredictable anyway and I just think this one is as hard to call as any I can remember.

Everyone expects France and Ireland to come out the blocks strongly but one of them might just experience a hangover and miss their talisman more than people think, while Scotland are lurking and England are waiting in the wings too.

It might all fall flat on its face but England are talking a good game. A change of mindset and a few fresh faces might just spark them into life in terms of the way they play and I certainly wouldn’t rule out the possibility of them going to Lyon on the final Saturday with the title on the line. Far from it.

Head-to-Head

Last 5 Meetings

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