20 Bold Predictions for the 6 Nations
The Six Nations is predictable only for its unpredictability.
Which means your correspondent has about as much chance of discovering rocking horse droppings as he does of the predictions on the next 20 slides coming to pass.
Still, the old championship remains as intriguing, entertaining and enjoyable as ever.
Here's what'll happen.
France Will Win It
Because they always do the season after a Lions tour. The best players from Britain and Ireland are tired or injured, and Les Bleus swoop to pick off their aching bodies.
They also have three home games this season against England, Italy and Ireland.
They have to travel to Cardiff, where a Grand Slam could come unstuck, but the championship will be theirs.
The Top Points Scorers Will Be...
1. Remi Tales
2. Owen Farrell
3. Jonathan Sexton
4. Rhys Priestland
5. Greig Laidlaw
The Scrum Will Be a Mess
The tinkering goes on as the game’s law makers try to sort out the scrum.
Having experimented with the "Yes, nine" instruction from referee to scrum half as the signal to put the ball in, they have now ditched the wording, asking the official to use non-verbal communication to indicate they are happy for the player to insert the pill.
It is a cast-iron certainty this will make no difference to the time wasted, number of collapses or general mess we see at scrum time.
Fiddling while Rome burns.
Jules Plisson Will Shine for France
Philippe Saint-Andre has left out experienced fly-half duo Francois Trinh-Duc and Frederic Michalak.
In their place, he has selected Remy Tales, who looked impressive in the autumn, and Jules Plisson, the 22-year-old at the fulcrum of Stade Francais’ impressive surge up the Top 14 table.
If Saint-Andre gives Plisson the chance to strut his stuff on the big stage, we could be in for a treat.
Brian O’Driscoll Will Dazzle One Last Time
The old maestro will roll back the years and show the old championship a few last tricks from his box.
O’Driscoll has lit up the Six Nations too many times to recount here, and he is sure to add at least one more memory to the album before he takes his final bow.
Italy Will Lose Every Game
They haven't gone winless in the Six Nations since 2009, but this year the Azzurri will get a big, fat zero in the W column.
They crumbled against Australia in the autumn, when they were expected to give the Wallabies a fight, and lost to a weakened Argentina side.
It points to a miserable championship for Sergio Parisse and Co., despite hosting Scotland in Rome this year.
Alain Rolland Will Come Under the Spotlight
The man who sent Sam Warburton off in Wales’ 2011 semi-final against France will be in charge when the two meet in this year’s championship.
This time, Alain Rolland might think twice about issuing any hasty red cards to Welsh players if he wants to drive his car out of Cardiff on all four wheels.
The Final Standings Will Be
- France: They will get it together at last under Saint-Andre and take advantage of post Lions-tour tradition.
- Wales: Not quite firing on all cylinders, missing Jonathan Davies and with Jamie Roberts only just match fit.
- England: They're missing a lot of experience and still lack a cutting edge in attack.
- Ireland: O'Brien is a massive loss and Jonny Sexton is off colour playing for Racing Metro.
- Scotland: A lack of attacking ability will cost them, despite a promising pack.
- Italy: Not in good shape this season. Sergio Parisse can't do it on his own.
England's 'Voice' Will Choose Her Outfit Wisely
Before last year's clash between England and France at Twickenham, England's official anthem singer, Laura Wright, gave the 82,000 crowd more than just a display of her vocal talents.
Her outfit left little to the imagination as to her choice of undies, and what's more, she must have been freezing.
Expect Ms. Wright to have a new dress for the 2014 championship.
And a coat.
The Top Five Try Scorers Will Be
- George North
- Wesley Fofana
- Mike Phillips
- Brian O’Driscoll
- Alex Cuthbert
Brian Moore Will Get Angry
The former England hooker has become well-known for his tirades behind the co-commentator’s microphone during the championship.
Whether it’s frustration with a referee, annoyance at a crooked scrum feed or poor piece of play, or simply a disagreement with Eddie Butler over an on-field incident, Moore’s outbursts are as predictable as night following day, but far more entertaining.
Five Players We’ll Never See Again in the Six Nations
- The Toulouse-bound Toby Flood
- The jettisoned Frederic Michalak
- The improving-but-ignored Danny Cipriani
- The unselectable James Hook
- The deeply disappointing Joel Tomkins
Concussion Will Be a Hot Topic
There has been intense debate and much focus on the issue of concussion in rugby as of late.
Be in no doubt, when the first player gets knocked cold during one of the Six Nations games, the medical experts and coaches will be scrutinised closely to ensure they are putting the safety of the player over and above the needs of the team.
Five Most Likely Yellow Card Candidates
- Dylan Hartley
- Mike Brown
- Bradley Davies
- Tom Wood
- Mike Phillips
England Will Beat Wales
For every action, there is a reaction. England's players will surely be targeting the visit of Warren Gatland's men to Twickenham.
Last year's demolition job in Cardiff not only ripped away fanciful dreams of an English Grand Slam, the result saw a number of England players drop out of contention for the Lions tour.
Stuart Lancaster will need few words in his team talk for this one, and England will get some semblance of payback.
Most Likely Phrases to Be Heard About Each Coach
Stuart Lancaster: "Giving youth a chance."
Warren Gatland: "Favourite for the Lions job in 2017."
Scott Johnson: "In his last Six Nations."
Joe Schmidt: "In his first Six Nations."
Philippe Saint-Andre: "Doesn't know his best team."
Jacques Brunel: "Developing Italy’s style."
The Players Each Team Will Miss
For England, it will be Manu Tuilagi. The Leicester powerhouse became a major attacking weapon for Stuart Lancaster's side, and England are way less dangerous without him.
For Wales, the skills of Jonathan Davies will leave a hole that young Scott Williams will have a tough job to fill.
Ireland will not be the same side without Sean O'Brien's muscularity in defence and attack.
France will be missing the finishing power of Vincent Clerc on the wing and the cool head and accurate goal-kicking of Morgan Parra.
Scotland will miss Richie Gray if he plays and is below his best. They need the big man firing on all cylinders.
Italy will miss a decent fly-half. Luciano Orquera showed flashes of excellence last season, but they need a general at No. 10.
Player of the Tournament Will Come from These Three Men
If we're crystal-ball gazing about who will be the stand-out player in the coming championship, Wesley Fofana has to be one of the prime candidates.
He can do the lot at inside centre and will light up the tournament as France surge towards the title. He will be challenged by George North, who never goes long without a try that shows off all his devastating power and pace.
The third man who will contest the Player of the Tournament title will be Thierry Dusautoir.
With Sean O'Brien sadly injured, Dusuatoir will lead the back row forward in the championship in yards carried and tackles made.
The Most Likely Players to Come to Blows Will Be
For Scotland, Jim Hamilton is never far from the centre of things when it gets a bit tasty. Given his size, that's to be expected. If he was on your team, you'd let him get on with it as well.
In England's ranks, Dylan Hartley seems to prefer a row with an official rather than another player, and he can leave that to the likes of Courtney Lawes, Owen Farrell and Mike "Mr. Angry" Brown.
Ireland will possibly be missing Cian Healy due to injury, so Paul O'Connell may well become the enforcer once again.
The Team of the Tournament Will Be
15. Leigh Halfpenny
14. Yoann Huget
13. Brian O’Driscoll
12. Wesley Fofana
11. George North
10. Jonny Sexton
9. Mike Phillips
8. Toby Faletau
7. Sam Warburton
6. Thierry Dusautoir
5. Paul O’Connell
4. Alun-Wyn Jones
3. Adam Jones
2. Richard Hibbard
1. Nicola Mas