|Wales won the tournament last year, but I wouldn't |
put money on it happening this year.
(Pic : BBC)
But a word of caution – as proven last year, I generally get these predictions wrong.
It's a tough call. Wales' form over the last year since the 2012 Six Nations has been atrocious.Win against Ireland and it might make the difference between finishing in the top half or the bottom. With so many injuries, I think we're going to start to see a few more fringe players try and establish themselves as older members of the squad start to think about international retirement. So IMO Wales are probably entering another three-four year "quiet period" of transition. I don't think this is going to be a total write off. I just think this time around, France and England are going to be several steps ahead. Three away games too – including France.
Another tricky call. I'd put them down as the dark horses. Away trips to England and France will make this more difficult for them. They have some excellent individual players, but with question marks over their lack of depth. Some have suggested they're easily bullied too. Logically, you would think the Irish provinces' European competition form would translate to international level. History says differently.
There've been a few injury shocks to some players already, but this should be offset by an increasingly well-rounded England side full of potential. Those 2011 World Cup "issues" seem a distant memory now. It remains to be seen if – like Ireland – the English clubs European performances will translate to this stage. It does look as we're on the cusp of another period of English dominance, but I don't think it'll start this year. They need another year or so to mature. I think they'll miss out on the title by points difference to....
France played very well over the autumn, so they have reason to be cautiously optimistic about their chances. Their great strength is their physical size and they can literally form a wall to beat back opposing teams – which is probably why they did so well last year against the likes of Australia. They also have home advantage against Ireland and England. I don't think it'll be a grand slam, but if I were putting money on anyone it would be the French.
The Scots probably have more things to worry about than Wales at the moment. They don't seem to be able to create many try chances and have been overly reliant on kicking ability. I don't think they stand a chance to be frank and should be easy pickings for everyone except Italy. The new coach, Scott Johnson, is playing down expectations, but if they can start with a decent performance against England maybe things won't be so bad, and it might give them enough confidence against the likes of Wales.
Italy will prop up the table yet again, but as is often said they're gradually improving year on year. Some of the performances by Benetton Treviso in the Pro 12 have been heartening. They're still some way away from being a seriously competitive side, but I don't think it's too outlandish a suggestion that in 5-10 years or so they'll be pushing towards the middle. It'll probably be Scotland and Wales in their sights when they try to do so.