Eire and Wales meet in Dublin on February 5 to launch the penultimate Guinness Six Nations earlier than the 2023 World Cup.
Right here the PA information company examines 5 speaking factors heading into an occasion that sees France or England as favourites to grab Wales’ crown.
Eddie’s quest for consistency
England’s rollercoaster experience underneath Eddie Jones took one other plunge downwards final 12 months within the kind a fifth-place end within the Six Nations, on factors distinction their worst efficiency since Italy joined the competitors in 2000. The workforce has been reshaped into ‘New England’ in a real overhaul that has seen go-to gamers of the Jones period such because the Vunipola brothers and Elliot Daly culled. A clear sweep of autumn victories over Tonga, Australia and South Africa has restored confidence however one other end close to the mistaken finish of the Championship desk can be unacceptable.
Smith takes centre stage
On the coronary heart of the thrill constructing round England’s new route is Marcus Smith the extremely gifted playmaker who has but to place a foot mistaken in 5 caps. He confirmed actual maturity in a 27-26 victory over world champions South Africa in November, rising from his hardest take a look at but together with his popularity enhanced. The 22-year-old’s aptitude in assault has all the time been apparent, however it’s his generalship that has proven the best enchancment. A primary Six Nations gives a brand new problem, nonetheless, as Smith should show he can ship on the highest degree when the gap is a marathon and never a dash.
Dupont’s France on the march
Of all of the groups concerned, it’s France who’ve the best capability to animate the match as they proceed constructing for the 2023 World Cup they’re internet hosting. In Antoine Dupont they possess the world’s most interesting participant who has redefined the function of a scrum-half, whereas an array of attacking threequarters are offered ample high quality ball by one of many sport’s strongest packs. A primary victory over New Zealand on house soil since 2009 lit up their autumn and has lifted expectations heading into the Six Nations.
Wales face mission inconceivable
Wales are the champions who’ve constantly punched above their weight by changing into the competitors’s most profitable aspect since 2005, however certainly even this exceptional rugby nation can be unable to defend their title. Seasoned campaigners Alun Wyn Jones, Josh Navidi, Justin Tipuric, Ken Owens and Leigh Halfpenny have been dominated out of the whole match via damage, whereas two extra stars in George North and Taulupe Faletau might additionally miss out altogether. The depth of Wayne Pivac’s squad is being examined to its limits, but it surely additionally presents the stage for newcomers within the mould of Taine Basham and Louis Rees-Zammit to showcase their skills.
Scotland trace at new period
Whereas Wales have excelled, Scotland’s epic quest for Six Nations glory continues. It’s been 22 years since they final lifted the crown – Italy weren’t even a part of the competitors then – however might this be their 12 months? Victories in London and Paris in 2021 is proof of a aspect now in a position to combine it with one of the best and after supplying a big contingent to the Lions tour of South Africa, there may be an abundance of expertise of their ranks with the magical Finn Russell unrivalled as an attacking fly-half. It’s an thrilling time for Scottish rugby, however their previous is suffering from false dawns so cautious optimism is suggested.