Thursday, October 28

State of the Unions: 2021 Six Nations Team-by-Team Outlook | Six nations


England

The champions are the favorites despite not having five leading forwards for part or all of the tournament, but the last time England won in Cardiff and Dublin in the same campaign was in 2003, when Eddie Jones was coaching the hosts of the tournament. World Cup that year, Australia.

There will be no hostile receptions for their current team in the two capitals, with fans confined to their couches, but if that blunts an advantage for the locals, Scotland and France will not see a trip to Twickenham feeling helpless despite not winning. there in the Six Nations since 1983 and 2005, respectively.

England haven’t had the best preparation: none of their players have had a taste of the action for at least a month, much longer for the majority of their Saracen contingent, while Jones and his forward coach Matt Proudfoot had to isolate themselves last month. .

England are enjoying their most profitable period since Italy joined the tournament in 2000, with three titles in five years and only outside the top two once in the last 10. Able to overcome injuries more fluidly than any of their rivals, but their attack turns. around kicks and counterattacks and they remain unconvincing when they catch up and have to improvise.

He’s not as comfortable with possession as France or even Scotland, but Jones is counting towards 2023, when he will expect every facet of his squad to be more penetrating at the World Cup in France. One step at a time, but there should be no limit to England’s ambition.

England in training earlier this week.
England in training earlier this week. Photograph: Dan Mullan – RFU / The RFU Collection / Getty Images

France

Second behind England last year in both the Six Nations and the Fall Nations Cup, The Blues He never resembled the uncaring group that roamed the tournament in the years following the success of the 2010 grand slam.

France is reborn, organized, focused, ready to express itself and elects playmakers in 10 again instead of deploying scrum halves or kickers in position. They won’t have Romain Ntamack, but the player who will have the most replacements is center Virimi Vakatawa, a straight running back whose ability to storm the win line provided a source of quick possession for Antoine Dupont to exploit.

The scrum half was the 2020 player of the tournament and has changed the position of France, which over France has used their number 9 as the leader of the band, instead of 10. Dupont can kick with the best of them, but it thrives in chaos, ready to run in a defense that is not fully charged.

France probably would have won the Grand Slam last year had it not been for a red card at Murrayfield and it was indiscipline that cost them at the 2019 World Cup. That is their nature, moments of individualism that count or cost. He is the closest to England of the other six and plays without fear or inhibitions.

Ireland

Last year seemed like a World Cup hangover as the Irish tried to shake off Joe Schmidt’s tactical straitjacket and fit into something more comfortably tailored by Andy Farrell and Mike Catt.

They played Wales and Scotland twice in Dublin and won each time, but lost twice at Twickenham without securing a bonus point and ended the Six Nations with a 35-27 loss in Paris, the most points they had conceded in a championship game for 14 years.

That summed up his transition from a side looking to hold the ball through various phases or test their opponents in the air. It was methodical, systematic and effective, but the break is now more of a contest for possession and against England and France they lost the physical contest.

Farrell has recruited former Ireland and Lions captain Paul O’Connell to add steel to the forwards, but they won’t feature number 8 Caelan Doris, a player expected to make an impact this year, at least during the game. inaugural in Cardiff. and that will hinder your desire to play faster.

Another problem for Farrell is in the middle, with Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray trying to defy the passage of time. France and England travel to Dublin, but Ireland must be conducted with absent spectators. A test for Farrell now is as a selector.

Ireland's head coach Andy Farrell.
Ireland’s head coach Andy Farrell. Photograph: Guinness Six Nations / Inpho / Rex / Shutterstock

Italy

Franco Smith spoke impressively at the Six Nations launch and hopefully the head coach’s employers were listening. The Italian rugby federation has thought too often in the past that all that was required was to change the person in charge of the team, but now attention is being paid to the lower levels thanks to Conor O’Shea, Smith’s predecessor. .

Italy have become a more important force at the U-20 level and while Treviso’s improvement in recent years has stalled this season, the club has assembled a strong roster of coaches for 2021-22, including Paul Gustard.

For once, Italy seeks to have a plan. While it may not bring them a first Six Nations victory since 2015, though at a time when the old normal has been suspended, anything can happen, an essentially young team shouldn’t be overwhelmed by past failures.

Although there are some bigger hands on Luca Bigi and Carlo Canna, Smith is investing in the future. Jake Polledri will be missed, but Italy’s progress will be measured less in results and more in whether they can go the distance, having tended to explode in the fourth quarter.

Scotland

The most intriguing of the six and, for once in a Lions year, Scotland should be worth more than a few token selections. Poor road form has cost them in the past, but their success at a crowded-free Parc and Scarlets last October, their first Six Nations win outside of Murrayfield, except in Rome since 2010, means they shouldn’t be walking sideways. tiptoe to Twickenham this Saturday.

England have lost only once at home in the Six Nations since 2012, but in the fall they tended to keep opponents at arm’s length rather than drive them away, winning through defense rather than attack. England will be the rustier of the two sides and if Scotland rediscovers the touch they showed in the second half at Twickenham in 2019, when they rallied 31-0 to take the lead in a 38-38 draw, they will leave their opponents smokeless. they weren’t taken out of their comfort zone during the Nations Cup.

Finn Russell is back, Cameron Redpath is a midfield option and Stuart Hogg is playing confidently, but Scotland is more than the sum of their backs, proficient now on set pieces. The question for them is how do they physically match up with the leading teams.

Gregor Townsend during Scotland's pre-tournament training.
Gregor Townsend during Scotland’s pre-tournament training. Photograph: David Gibson / Rex / Shutterstock

Welsh

Wayne Pivac’s first Six Nations game in charge a year ago was a 42-0 win over Italy, but his only successes since then have been against Georgia and Italy in the Nations Cup. Appointed as head coach with a mandate to make Wales play in style, he will settle for the results of this championship, starting with Ireland in Cardiff on Sunday.

The New Zealander took advantage of the fall to look at some emerging forwards such as Shane Lewis-Hughes, James Botham and Sam Parry, but Dan Lydiate and Ken Owens have been retired.

The future can wait, but Wales’ sense of adventure didn’t add up much last year, largely because their forwards didn’t deliver, especially at the lineout or breakdown. Wales were successful with Warren Gatland because they were able to physically prevail, at least in the Six Nations, and there is a sense that Pivac is trying to get that back, while, with Johnny Williams and Louis Rees-Zammit behind, it has added enthusiasm.

Two questions: how much more can Pivac get out of the veterans who served Gatland faithfully? And will they be able to find a way to generate the energy and ardor in the Principality Stadium that they failed to gather in Llanelli in autumn? A team with such a pedigree should be in the mix, but, like Ireland, Wales is in a state of flux.

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