Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Six Nations to start this weekend

In a few days European rugby fans will enjoy one of the best rugby tournaments – Six Nations. As usual, just before it starts, journalists are spreading gossips asking questions and trying to predict the outcome of it. Is the Heineken Cup performance going to be reflected in the national teams? Are any of the teams capable of winning the Grand Slam? Who is going to triumph this year? Can the Welsh defend the title? The questions are endless.

This year, home nations will be extra motivated. There is more to fight for than just the victory in the tournament. Good performance may guarantee a privilege to become the part of British and Irish Lions squad which will tour Australia in a few months. Apart from trophies, glory and fame, players will also be motivated by money. This year’s Grand Slam prize reached a record-high level of £ 5 000 000 which means almost £ 100 000 for every player.

The latest test matches and Heineken Cup games suggest that this year’s rivalry will be very tense. Favorites to win are England and France. After spectacular victory over All Blacks, England will definitely want to prove that it wasn’t a one-off performance. Stuart Lancaster’s talented team will set the bar high. Three home games at Twickenham should be an extra advantage for them to build up momentum. Unpredictable French team also looks very strong. They can beat any team in the world when everything clicks in the squad. They can produce masterpiece of rugby, however the problem with the French team is lack of consistency. France can surprise fans with producing two completely opposite performances.  They can become an unstoppable force if they play their top-level game in five matches, though.

Ireland and Wales have a lot to prove. They will not give up easily. Irish team seems to be in a bit better situation as the latest games they played were at the decent level. The Welsh who are the defending champions and the last year’s Grand Slam winners don’t have too many reasons to cheer lately. None of their clubs reached the Heineken Cup knock-out stage and national team didn’t win for long time. Six Nations may be a perfect opportunity for them to bounce back and silence critics. The squad is definitely talented enough to do it. However if the tournament will become another failure there will be some dark clouds over the  coach and players.

The wooden spoon candidates are the same nations as in the last few years – Scotland and Italy. Although both teams play much better rugby than they used to, and keep surprising the best opponents, they still seem to be a step behind their rivals. Scotland seems to be stronger; they have much more exciting game plan. They stopped relying on the points scored from the tee and started creating dangerous offensive opportunities. If they manage to win the first game in the English fortress, their campaign may gain momentum and surprise everyone. Italians will no longer be seen as easy prey. They were working for their reputation for years and are considered as a powerful, ambitious team which never surrenders. I doubt if they can get more than one win, though.

As usual this time of year, apart from conversations about teams selections and players form, there are questions regarding the structure of the tournament. Shall it be extended to add more countries? Shall it become a promotion and relegation system? Shall the bonus point be introduced? I am a bit conservative in this matter and I hope that Six Nations will not be changed at least for another few years. New ideas are not always better and I think that everyone should be extra careful with introducing new solutions, when a long history and tradition is involved.  At the moment, we can all enjoy the start of the tournament in the current shape. I am sure that this year’s Six Nations will, once again, produce an amazing spectacle and bring a lot of excitement. To all who would like to feel thrill even more I recommend taking part in the fantasy rugby league at http://espnscrum.fantasyleague.com or predicting scores at http://www.superbru.com