Ah, the Six Nations. So much hope, so much optimism and a real sense of new beginnings for a few of these teams.
If you’re France, you’re confident that the combined experience of the 2019 competition, as well as the World Cup being under your panel’s belt, will fast-track their promise and abundant technical ability.
If you’re Ireland, you’re excited to see just what brand of rugby Andy Farrell brings to the table as the Joe Schmidt era once again saw Irish Rugby’s ‘potential’ not do them justice on the biggest stage.
If you’re England, you’re just praying that Eddie Jones has sat down and added some form of discipline to their game. They scored more points in first-halves of games in last year’s competition than any other team managed in the entirety of their games. They’re the best side here, but they need to keep their heads.
If you’re Wales, you’re wondering what new leaders will emerge post-Alun Wyn Jones’ departure – and if you’re Scotland or Italy – thanks for coming!
And hopefully, if you’re a punter, you’ll be excited to spend your winnings when this opening day double lands in the bank. All together now – ‘Swing Loooooow..’
There’s a part of me that thinks the rebirth of Italian rugby – at least in their minds – will have to be rethought.
If they’re to avoid embarrassment in this one, they’ll have to restrain Wales from spreading play out wide to Liam Williams and Josh Adams. While Wales are a different beast at the breakdown, it presents Italy with their best chance of success – forcing errors in the ruck – and kicking their points where possible.
Defensively, Wales are the best team in the northern hemisphere. This isn’t really a debate, but they’re going to take time to find their feet under Wayne Pivac. A transition from Warren Gatland is always going to be difficult – and this is perhaps the one time that Italy can sneak ahead early doors.
It’s likely that, should the scoreline not flatter the Welsh at the halfway point, they’ll turn on the style and benefit from their full back line understanding just how to break down a tired pack – but the first half won’t be overly encouraging for a strong Welsh following. Patience is their virtue here.
As above, moving on from Joe Schmidt is more than just a coaching adjustment – it’s a culture shock.
Ireland’s dominance at the lineout and carries from their back row might have seen them go over and create big wins in the past, but if the IRFU actually see Farrell as a long-term replacement and not just a stop-gap between world-class coaches, they’ll be accepting of a mediocre showing here.
While the Irish general election campaign plays a gorgeous backdrop to their Six Nations opener, it’s likely that the current government won’t be the only thing kicked to touch when all is said and done.
Scotland aren’t shy of ability in the skill positions, despite the kerfuffle around Finn Russell’s departure from the squad – and it’s only their surrender to willpower that gets them into trouble. Stuart Hogg and Blair Kinghorn all have game wrecking ability and as their previous encounter in last year’s competition, Scotland generally strike early thanks to a clever kicking game stretching Ireland’s resolve.
They can keep this close for a long time, and even though I suspect Ireland won’t move away from Schmidt’s phase-building-heavy blueprint, that’s a very tough approach to roll out post-World Cup. They’ll win, but it won’t be the blowout we’ve grown accustomed to seeing.
Scotland will be on a mission to recover for the embarrassment in Yokohama and this might, hilariously, be the ideal fixture for them to do so.