It’s back. The best European tournament in the world, maybe the best tournament full stop! When the 2019 Guinness Six Nations comes around each year during the bleak, dark and dry months of the year, it really is a ray of light, and with the World Cup just around the corner, the 2019 Six Nations will no doubt be a stunner.
Ah, the World Cup. Ah, the southern hemisphere brilliance. South Africa, New Zealand, New Zealand. Years of dominance. Sixteen long years since a pale, Northern hand has lifted the Web Ellis trophy. But things are different now…
Over the course of the four intermediary years between 2015 to now, European rugby has started to assert it’s dominance. It’s easy to forget, but not that long ago at all a single win over a southern hemisphere team was cause for rapturous celebration and giddy declarations of World Cup potentials, all to fall inevitably flat when searching for any modicum of consistency.
Now the European powerhouses are expected to win. The only team still evading the grasp of most is the All Blacks. Irritatingly, they haven’t fallen victim to decline like their neighbours, Australia and South Africa.
In the Autumn Internationals, England took the scalps of the Springboks and Australia, and came oh-so-bloody-close to beating the All Blacks, in a performance that made the World Champions look particularly ordinary.
Wales had a remarkable summer, winning all their games, including beating the Wallabies and the Springboks. And Ireland, well saving best till last here really. Ireland are the best team in the world now and everyone knows it, beating the All Blacks in a manner that is usually executed the other way round. From second one, whilst watching it we really felt that there was only one winner. The way the Irish controlled the game was so similar to how the All Blacks usually execute a game plan; didn’t panic, just did their jobs and let the scoreboard take care of the rest.
So, with so much riding on this year’s Six Nations, the question comes down to which team will rise to the occasion and which teams will falter.
Everyone loves a prediction, and so wrong they can often be too, but much to our regret, the result this year surely has to be another Ireland win. Whether they can clinch a second Grand Slam is another question, but if they beat England in Dublin on the opening weekend, you would back them to go all the way.
So here it is – HEKKTA‘s Six Nations 2019 prediction :
1 – Ireland
2 – England
3 – Wales
4 – France
5 – Scotland
6 – Italy
Let’s take a closer look at the teams, and we’ll explain our thinking.
Not exactly a controversial call this one. As much as we want to fall for deluded patriotism, Ireland are just the best team in the world right now and they deserve it too. What’s so impressive about this Ireland team, is although they have their superstars like Sexton and Stockdale, what makes this team so good if their effortless ability to click as a unit. Very characteristic of New Zealand, everybody does their jobs well and they are all in a symbiotic harmony. From one to 23, from Joe Schmidt to the kit man. And while most European successes tend to fall of a cliff after a certain point (England being prime example number one), Ireland have shown no signs of this at all. In fact, they appear to be consolidating their dominance with each game they play.
Being lucky to avoid many injuries in the squad, you’d be a fool not to back them all the way. If they can beat England in the opening weekend, the Grand Slam looks very likely. That first game is going to be a big one. England are travelling over the Irish Sea with serious firepower, and Billy’s return will certainly give Ireland some problems. But the home advantage will be crucial, and I think Ireland will take it. They are just simply too good at the minute. If they did claim a consecutive Grand Slam this year, it’s all eyes on Japan for this bunch.
Although England had an abysmal tournament last year, and some pretty horrendous performances afterwards in South Africa, England’s form has been on a gradual upward curve. People do forget that most of the squad for last few years can been plagued with injury, preventing any sort of consistency, particularly in the forwards. Despite this, England’s autumn was a really strong one. Not perfect, but strong. They played a game of rugby against the All Blacks that looked like England back to their best.
But this England side assembled by Eddie looks an absolute monster. As if they’d planned it, England’s pack went from a squad of “whose thats” and “never heard of him”, to one packed to the brim was seasoned quality. Launchbury’s back, Mako’s back, Billy’s back, Genge is also back. The backline is filled with such exciting players; Cokanasiga, Daly, Ashton, Nowell, May, Tualigi…and Farrell! We could hark on for days about the squad, but we won’t.
As much as this team excites us, the reality is they’ve barely had any game time together. You’d have to look back a good few years to find this kind of line-up all fit and playing. A bunch of superstars doesn’t always equate to a good team; just look at Manchester United (pre the hero Solskjær). If these players can all be on the same page and execute the right game plan, and make the right decisions under pressure, they have every chance of winning the tournament.
Regrettably, because we are not sure that England will hit such strides game one, we are saying they will come second, winning all their games bar the first. The underdog tag should be a good thing for England, as it will allow the players a bit more freedom than they otherwise might have. But one thing is for sure, Farrell’s England team will know this is the perfect preparation to get it right for that rather big tournament in eight months time. Just keep those frigging shoulders down, Owen.
Now between Wales, Scotland and France, it was oh so close for third. But Wales just always perform in the Six Nations. Don’t quite know why, but Gatland always pulls a bit of magic out of what has looked like a decidely average bag of players.
That’s probably a little harsh, as you don’t beat Australia and South Africa with average players. However, there are many key positions that still have question marks over such as the number 10 shirt. Against Ireland and England, I can see Wales struggling to affect the game in the backs, and injuries continue to trouble the side. Jenkins, Davies, Shingler, Faletau, Lydiate and Moriarty all out…and that’s just the back row! The 6,7 and 8 shirt is normally where Wales pick teams apart, but seeing their missing players will give major boosts to their opponents. Halfpenny is also out with concussions, aswell as Liam Williams, the bandy-legged magician.
However, Scotland are also struggling badly with injuries, and I think Wales will beat them again this year. The fixture that could go either way is the France game. The first game of the tournament on 1st February, this game has everything riding on it for the Welsh, as a loss could see them have a very poor Guinness Six Nations. Going to the Stade de France to pull off a win will be tough, but the French are normally slow off the blocks in this tournament. HEKKTA reckons they could do it.
I can’t imagine the headache the opposite coaches get when trying to prep their team before playing Les Bleus. You just have no idea what side is going to turn up. No matter what coach is in charge of the team, (currently Jacques Brunel) they look as if they are an un-coached side, full of a few mates having a laugh with the rugby ball. When the French-style of play is on a good day, they are absolutely devastating, with unbelievable backs such as Fofana, Fickou and Teddy Thomas. However, when they don’t click, they often look in compete disarray, not sure what to do next.
France have never played a structured game, and it would be a shame to see them lose their natural flair, which has seen some of the great tries of rugby. But this game they play will always leave them very vulnerable to the robot-like precision of the Irish, or superb game management of Farrell.
Predicting anything involving the French is tough, but due to injuries and their often chaotic style of play, HEKKTA sees a fourth place finish for them this year. But underestimate them at your peril; this squad is packed full of Top 14 superstars.
For such a promising side, and with Scottish rugby excelling at club level, this is a low finish for the side, and we could get surprised by the Scots too, but injuries have made the team look like a shell of what it was last year. Their captain, and turnover king, John Barclay is out which is a significant blow. Additionally, the other turnover king, Hamish Watson has recently been injured making him unavailable for at least the first two games. These two players were probably the main reason for their historic defeat of England at Murrayfield last year, catching England isolated all over the pitch and getting penalties. For this reason alone, they will lack the world-class skill set of these two players and will look lacklustre in the back row. Losses of Fagerson, Denton and Gray will also show up weaknesses in the depth of the squad.
That said, they do have their two superstars, Hogg and Russell, fit and raring to go. But in the modern game, backs cannot make magic off bad ball, as we have seen so often, and I think despite the quality running through this backline, they will struggle to affect the game if their forwards cannot match the packs of their opponents, and I think this will see Scotland underperform this year.
Unfortunately, it’s another bottom place finish for Conor O’Shea’s Azzurri. Not generating the magic he had hoped, he’s struggled to really affect the Italy’s historic place at the bottom of this tournament, and resurgent sides such as Russia and Georgia will certainly have the Italians looking over their shoulder as a possible relegation proposal. They really need a good Six Nations, but we just can’t see them having any luck. All the teams in the Guinness Six Nations have progressed and improved over the years, but it appears that the Italians have struggled. They have developed some quality backs, but the modern game continues to evade their grasp in performances.
With talisman Sergio Parisse indicating this could be his last Six Nations, they will want to put on a show for their captain. But the other teams are on a different level to the Italians, and I think they will recieve a wooden spoon.