The former England and British Lions player Jeremy Guscott thinks Wales can win this year’s Six Nations and the bookmakers agree with that view as the holders are 9-4 favourites to retain the title. However, in the ante post betting markets there is little to choose between Wales, England and France and the combined odds for one of these sides winning the 2014 renewal are significantly less than even money.
Italy first played in the Six Nations in 2000 so this year is the 14th in which six sides have contested the championship. France have won the title five teams, England once less and Wales also have four wins in their record. Only Ireland broke the dominance of these three nations when winning in 2009. Scotland and Italy are yet to win the Six Nations.
France have won the most points from all matches, one more than England. Ireland are the next most points winning side, followed by Wales while Scotland and Italy have won fewest. England have the best match points difference and overall have the best attacking and defensive records of all six sides. Italy are the most inferior side in all points’ categories.
Guscott has pointed out that Welsh players were key to the British Lions winning tour of Australia last year. He thinks that experience will be crucial and also highlights the fact that Wales have three home matches this year. There will be a huge amount of expectation on England in the year before a home World Cup. The match against Wales at Twickenham could be key in the context of which side wins this years Six Nations.
In the latest world rankings England are the highest placed team from the Northern Hemisphere in fourth place. France are next in the standings, one place ahead of Wales. England have been second in the last two Six Nations which suggests an anomaly in the rankings as Wales should be higher placed.
Wales’ players can look at their opponents on the field and recall that in most cases they were selected ahead of them in Australia last year. The other sides now know how Wales play but that does mean to say they have worked out a way to beat them. The kicking of Leigh Halfpenny will be key and his success rate should be more than 90%.
Wales have developed a winning tempo and in Halfpenny they have a kicker who will take advantage of any ill-discipline. They also have massive team unity and a winning mentality. Halfpenny has been peerless over the last couple of seasons and he is the one player all the other nations would like in their side.
The only negative about Wales is the number of injuries in the squad. They have already lost key personnel and one more significant withdrawal would make the side far less formidable. However, head coach, Warren Gatland, is not afraid to make changes to back up his tactics. He dropped Brian O’Driscoll for the third Lions Test so if players does not fit into his system they will not be selected.
England are now at a point where the forwards are proving to be very strong and that is a good sign for the team. Guscott believes they don’t have stability at half-back where Owen Farrell has had two partners in the last eight games. The centre combination of Luther Burrell and Billy Twelvetrees haven’t played together before.
England’s main strength is good set-piece play from a settled pack. They had a good autumn campaign and almost beat New Zealand at Twickenham. Billy Vunipola could be their best player as he looks to build on solid performances in the autumn. He has the attributes to be a great player. The coach, Start Lancaster, can organise the side to be competitive and have some of the unity of the Welsh squad. On the downside the midfield three have not really gelled.
France can benefit from rested players who have had a break from Top 14 rugby. They should be better organised than last season and they traditionally do well after a Lions Tour. However, there is still a feeling that all the payers have bought into the coach’s philosophy. However, the centre, Wesley Fofana, has the ability to open up games and does not make too many mistakes.
Scotland have a real desire to play for their country and each other. They also have a competitive pack and a back three that can attack from all areas of the pitch. However, the half backs are unconvincing at key moments and they have a tough schedule. Lock Richie Gray will want to justify his tag as the ‘golden boy’ and his form with Castres has been good. Even so, it looks like the match against Italy will determine who wins the wooden spoon.
Italy’s base of players have plenty of experience in English and French domestic rugby. They are at their best in a tight game and prefer that to an open match. However, they are not the best at controlling the tempo and can be opened up by teams such as Wales who can control the game. Avoiding the wooden spoon will be seen as a good season but the odds suggest this will be beyond them.
The outcome of this years Six Nations could come down to points’ difference and the closeness of the three best sides in ability indicates there will be no winner of the Grand Slam this season. Wales should beat Italy and then win in Dublin to get the season to a winning side. England have to beat France in Paris to win the title and if they don’t it could be a tough campaign. However, if France win that match they become the favourites and they could even win the title after losing a game.
No side has won the Six Nations there years in succession and this might be beyond Wales so the match between France and England in Paris can tell us which side will win the 2014 Six nations.