Saturday, 6 February 2010

It’s 6 Nations Time Again!

Rugby’s own European Championships, the 6 Nations begins today. While Scotland are not in action until they host France on Sunday, today's fixtures will still see some close clashes.

Ireland begin the defence of their 6 Nations championship (and Grand Slam, left) with the visit to Croake Park of Italy.  Ireland should win easily here, Italy have improved in the 10 years since they joined this championship but not enough where they are not perennial favourites for the wooden spoon.

Today’s evening game sees the 2005 and 2008 champions Wales go for 4 wins on the spin against England.  At the turn of the decade England were vying with France for every championship.  However in recent years England have slipped backwards since winning the World Cup.  It’s not that they don’t have the players.  Matthew Tait , who is back in the team for the Wales clash, was a key player in England's recovery and run to the World Cup final 2 years ago as was the likes of Mark Cueto and the injury free talisman Jonny Wilkinson.  For some reason they lost form and focus.  It is this focus, allied to the spark of creativity which Ireland and Wales have captured. 
Until last year, Ireland were the nearly men of Northern Hemisphere Rugby, winning the Triple Crown 3 times (losing out on Grand Slam’s with losses to France) in the past decade.  Their Grand Slam win should banish the memories of the nightmare that was 2007 for them, when they lost the Grand Slam within 20 second half minutes against France and went on to exit the World Cup at the group stage.
Wales also had a disappointing World Cup in 2007, but this was sandwiched between the two Grand Slams of 2005 and 2008.  With Gavin Henson out of the squad, Tom Shanklin not playing today and Mike Philips injured, Wales look like they may be looking to the future.  From the 2008 Grand Slam team, they still have Lee Byrne, who's position has only been enhanced after the Lions tour last year, and Stephen Jones.  Included as a Centre for today’s game is James Hook, clearly the welsh are going down the Gregor Townsend rout of including him because…  well he’s too good to be left out.
As if the England V Wales game does not have enough spice, the RFU have also decided to use this game to celebrate 100 years of rugby at Twickenham, funnily enough that first game was also against Wales, a 11-6 win in January 1910.  I think Wales will win, probably by around the same 7 point margin they won by in 2008.

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