The autumn internationals seem an awful long time ago now, not that the results have any great significance. Wales suffered defeats to Australia and South Africa (as did Scotland), France lost to New Zealand and South Africa, Ireland lost to New Zealand and Australia, while England lost to New Zealand but did manage to beat Australia. This underlines only the superiority of the southern hemisphere sides, rather than any great distinction between those of the north. Ultimately the Six Nations will come down to how relatively even squads perform on each of the weekends.
If there is any team with a slight edge in terms of player quality, it must be the Welsh side that provided the backbone to the successful Lions squad. However they do come into the tournament with disruption over contracts and the like threatening to affect the squad harmony which has been such a strength for them over recent years. They are aiming for an historic third consecutive title, something never achieved in the entire history of the tournament, going back to the original Home Nations tournament in 1883. England's constant talk of building a new squad and looking ahead needs to materialise into some kind of success rather than just "encouraging results". It remains to be seen whether this can be achieved by bringing in more debutants in place of the likes of Young and Ashton.
Obviously there is a significant variety each year in the fixture list, who has home advantage in the big matches, and who plays 3 home fixtures. Looking at the 3 favourites' fixtures:
Wales home to Italy, France & Scotland; away to England & Ireland
France home to England, Italy & Ireland, away to Wales & Scotland
England home to Ireland & Wales, away to France, Scotland & Italy
Looking at it, France probably have the best fixtures, with 3 home games, 2 of which are against harder opposition. In some ways, although Wales have 3 home games, they "waste" home field advantage against Scotland and Italy who they would probably beat anyway.
Unquestionably it will be a tighter tournament than the last couple of years, but whether Wales can make history will be a lot clearer in a month or so.
|Found this interesting table via the Daily Mail, the wider the line, the more tries each team |
scored that year. Bring back 2001/2 I say! (click on it to expand)