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2020 Six Nations Preview

2020 Six Nations
Photo Copyright Steve Haag Sport

The 2020 Six Nations will be an intriguing competition with only France and England retaining their coaches from last year’s edition.

While there have been massive changes at the managerial level we could also see sweeping changes to the players. A number of coaches are already proclaiming they are looking to blood younger players with an eye on the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

England

The Rugby World Cup runners-up head into this one as hot favourites. Is this something of an overreaction by the books?

While we do think they should be favourites, they are too short at 8/10 considering that head coach Eddie Jones has indicated that a lot of new names being thrown in the mix.

“I’ll tell you what happens to teams – they evolve. Some guys will lose desire, some guys will lose fitness, some guys will get injuries and there’ll be young guys come through. So this team is finished now. There will be a new team made. We’ll make a new team for the Six Nations and that new team for the Six Nations will be the basis of going to the next World Cup.”

There’s also the Saracens issue to consider with the London giants having a number of international stars on their books. The club might try and negotiate a deal with Jones where a few of their big guns miss the weeks where the Gallagher Premiership runs concurrently with the Six Nations.

A move like this would make sense as it would allow Jones to lighten the workloads of the likes of Maro Itoje and Owen Farrell.

Key Player: Sam Underhill

The loose forward was an absolute beast at last year’s Rugby World Cup, winning a staggering 69 tackles.

He is a no-nonsense flanker who will be crucial to the English cause. He recently signed a new three-year deal with Bath and will likely resume his outstanding back-row partnership with Sale’s Tom Curry.

France

Le Bleu are likely to field a very young but highly talented side in this year’s edition of the tournament. The likes of Romain Ntamack and Dembe Bamba were thrown into the international stage last year and now look ready to lead a French renaissance.

The one point of concern is over French coach Jaques Brunel. While the mutiny rumours at the Rugby World Cup were put to bed rather quickly, you have to feel there was an element of truth to them. Has he lost the dressing room? Or was it a case of the now-departed senior core having thrown their toys out the pram?

Brunel will need to rebuild this squad as he has lost a number of players who turned out for the national side last year. Thankfully, there are more talented youngsters coming through the French ranks that could replicate the feats of the now firmly established Ntamack and Bamba.

Key Player: Romain Ntamack

The youngster started four of France’s five 2019 World Cup games and impressed. While he was somewhat off with the boot against Argentina during the pool phase, he looked good in all the rest of the games that he featured in.

He now has 12 international caps and looks ready to kick on in 2020. Keep in mind that the Toulouse pivot is just 20-years-old…

Ireland

Ireland will be looking to put the last year’s World Cup behind them when they begin life under new coach Andy Farrell.

There should be some continuity with Farrell at the helm as he worked under former head coach Joe Schmidt for just under three years.

It may not turn out to be the best thing having Farrell – who is something of a lurking ghost of the Schmidt era – taking over the helm as Ireland lacked ideas last season. Their stale gameplan was exposed by all and sundry in both the Six Nations and Rugby World Cup.

One also gets the feeling that Ireland’s stars really believed their own hype last year, and if Farrell doesn’t put a pin in their inflated egos, by selecting some outsiders and younger players, then this Ireland side is likely to have a poor Six Nations.

Key Player: Bundee Aki

He was one of the few players who really put up a fight in Japan. It was notable how porous the Irish defence became after he copped a ban for a dangerous tackle against Samoa.

With Johnny Sexton’s workload likely to be managed and Joey Carbery missing through injury, Aki is going to have a key role in guiding whichever Irish youngster steps up into the number 10 jersey.

Italy

Will the Azzuri finally end their winless Six Nations streak which stretches back to a Murrayfield win in 2015 or will it be more doom and gloom under new coach Franco Venter?

While the Italians are unlikely to win anything this year, they will be interesting to watch under Cheetahs head coach Franco Venter. It will also be good to see former captain Sergio Parise receive a proper send-off as his scheduled farewell game against New Zealand at the Rugby World Cup was cancelled due to Typhoon Hagibis hitting the country.

Player to Watch: Sergio Parisse

This is a very sentimental one and Parisse is only likely to play two games but there’s no doubting the former Italian skipper will put in mammoth shifts during those final two fixtures.

It’s a pity that the 36-year-old failed to make Italy’s 35-man squad as he still offers a lot to the Italian cause. That said, he is set for a home farewell appearance against either Scotland or England.

Scotland

Will this Scottish side finally live up to the hype or will it be another year of underachievement from the men in tartan.

Last year saw Gregor Towsend’s men finish way down in fifth place. And while they did play some great rugby at times (their come-from-behind draw against the English was one of the most eye-catching displays of 2019) they lacked consistency.

Their stars players will need to perform this term, particularly their back division who failed to deliver in both the World Cup and last year’s Six Nations.

Key Player: Finn Russell

Scotland are a much better side when Russell is on-song. Their only chance of winning this tournament is a firing Finn.

His move from Glasgow to Racing has reinvigorated his career and he has become one of the best pivots in European club rugby.

Wales

The reigning champions will be looking to kick start the Wayne Pivac-era in the exact same manner they capped of the Warren Gatland era; with a win.

The Welsh were a rather pragmatic side under Gatland and the early signs are that they’ll be a lot more expansive under Pivac.

Pivac has a handy squad at his disposal, with a nice blend of seasoned veterans and younger talents coming through. He needs to throw these youngsters into the mix to add life into what looked like a rather stale Welsh side during the closing salvos of 2019.

Key Player: Gareth Anscombe

Wales were really unlucky to lose Anscombe in the build-up to the Rugby World Cup as he is a player who can really get a backline firing.

He’ll be wanting to make up for lost time, and you can expect a big showing from the former Aucklander.

Prediction: 2020 Six Nations Winner

Ireland 7/2

The smart money is on England but we feel that the Saracens’ saga will affect them. They don’t seem worth backing at 8/10 with all the behind the scenes drama unfolding.

The Irish at 7/2 look a solid price – especially given the quality of their squad.

Scotland will blow hot and cold as they always do, while we reckon the Welsh will take a bit of time to adjust to a new system under Pivac.

France could surprise but it would take a brave man to back a side who are famously inconsistent.

The only certainty this year is that the Italians will finish last.

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