January has just about had its lot which means that the Guinness Six Nations tournament start is imminent. Hawkeye Sidekick previews the tournament and looks for the early story lines which could dominate the general sport media platforms in the coming weeks.
2023 Rugby World Cup Seeding
We have only just finished the 2019 Rugby World Cup but given the decision to schedule the 2023 Rugby World Cup in November, the all important rankings come into focus.
Not the opportune time to provide debutantes starts but this is the fine balancing act that test match head coaches need to juggle in the coming weeks. With summer tours scheduled, early test match victories for the Guinness Six Nations team are paramount.
How is the England camp post Saracens fall out?
We will soon find out this answer as soon as Sunday as England face a potentially tricky opening road trip fixture to France. How has the England camp gone in the light of the Saracens salary cap fall out and their relegation from the Gallagher Premiership at the end of the season?
I think the media may make more out of this story in the coming weeks particularly if Eddie Jones’ charges fall to an opening round weekend in Paris but given their 2019 Rugby World Cup exploits, the England squad will want to continue on the upward curve and win some silverware to finish off the season.
Wales Post Gatland Era
It is going to be very strange not to see the television camera pan to the Welsh coaching area and no Warren Gatland anywhere in sight. Wayne Pivac and Stephen Jones will look to continue the outstanding work left by Gatland and his coaching staff.
An opening day fixture against an Italian side who look in transition should provide a glorious opportunity for Wales to start the tournament well. The game plan will alter, wondering how expansive Wales will look to be in this tournament?
Scarlets attacking game plan under Pivac has been easy on the eye and if the national side can execute to that level then Wales will have a terrific chance of retaining the championship crown.
Can Andy Farrell remove the Joe Schmidt game plan shackles?
The start of this tournament is hugely important for Ireland and Andy Farrell. Let us be blunt; the 2019 Rugby World Cup tournament was a massive disappointment. The side failed to fire on all cylinders and were picked off easily by Japan and New Zealand in the tournament.
Andy Farrell summoned to the head coaching, a decision made before last year’s 2019 Rugby World Cup. The question will be asked how will Farrell differentiate from the Schmidt era.
The opening test match selection is not much of a surprise but will the game plan evolve to look to execute a more expansive game plan vs. the pack / set piece orientated Ireland game plan under Schmidt. Farrell needs a fast start, otherwise the Irish media pack will be quick to crank up the pressure.
France look explosive and youthful
It is about time that France deliver a strong Guinness Six Nations tournament and looking at their squad development in the lead up to last season as well as their showing in Japan, they are primed for a strong showing provided they can stamp out the unforced errors and disciplinary lapses.
The back line looks incredibly young and explosive; the half back pairing of potentially Dupont and Ntamack is massively exciting. This squad has youth on its side. 2023 is firmly on the horizon for Galthie, coaching and playing staff. They have to send a statement of intent this season, expect fireworks! The tournament needs a strong French side and I suspect we will get it this season.
Scotland to cope with Finn Russell absence?
I am looking at this Scottish side and you would think that Scotland are coming to Dublin without a prayer but this looks a solid side, a side who will be keen to exact revenge on Ireland after the World Cup. Exciting back line options with Hogg, Kinghorn and Maitland in the ranks.
The elephant in the room is the absence of Finn Russell. He is a superb fly-half operator but Adam Hastings just needs to play his own game and allow those around him to settle into this test match this weekend.
The Russell absence is a blow to the side but surely Scotland have sufficient resolve to deliver a competitive performance this weekend in Dublin. If they do not, then Gregor Townsend may be under increasing pressure to reconcile with his talisman to save his job potentially!
Round 1: Predictions
Wales to put Italy to the sword in the third quarter after an even opening quarter. Bonus point try assured. Wales 42 – 21 Italy.
Ireland to win but expect Scotland to be competitive for long periods. Andy Farrell may need to be astute in tactical switches down the stretch to secure the win. Ireland 24 – 17 Scotland.
The tie of the round. The clash of the traditional heavyweights of this competition. Hoping for France to deliver a performance full of flair but unforced shit house lapses will not be far away so England to edge the win thanks to slicker back row and pack platform work. France 14 – 20 England.