x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Six Nations Rugby: This year's teams in profile

A team-by-team breakdown of the international men's rugby teams that will open the Six Nations tournament on Saturday.

Maxime Machenaud, centre, and the France men's rugby team will open the Six Nations tournament against Italy on Sunday.
Maxime Machenaud, centre, and the France men's rugby team will open the Six Nations tournament against Italy on Sunday.

France

Predicted finish first

The favourites for the tournament on the back of a flawless November in which they thrashed Australia, Argentina and saw off Samoa.

Les Bleus are a settled side with some exciting young recruits ready to come in and take their chance. Frederic Michalak is no longer the mercurial youth and has blossomed for his time in South Africa. He is in fine form back in Europe and is a key component for the coach Philippe Saint-Andre. The match against England at Twickenham on February 23 is key. Win that and surely a sixth Grand Slam will follow.

Key player Thierry Dusatoir

 

Wales

Predicted finish second

Not nearly as bad as their shocking run of seven losses illustrates. No team has ever beaten more defenders in the tournament than Wales did last season and their backs can match the verve and skill of the French. Eli Walker is pushing Alex Cuthbert and George North hard for selection on the wing, and provides the coach Rob Howley with an exciting impact substitute. If Wales can beat Ireland tomorrow to stem the tide of poor results by the time they face England in March their legions of injured players could be back and they could be in contention for the title with France.

Key player Eli Walker

 

England

Predicted finish third

England's victory against New Zealand is considered by many to be a fortunate result against a tired side. England have had false dawns in November before - the 35-18 win over in Australia in 2010 is a case in point. Their draw sees them ease into the tournament with what appears to be a winnable fixture against Scotland but they have tricky trips to Ireland and Wales. England have not scored enough points against top sides since finishing second last year to suggest that if the title came down to points difference they could win.

Key player Manu Tuilagi

 

Ireland

Predicted finish fourth

Ireland played some good rugby in the autumn, bringing to a halt a decline which saw them lose five matches in a row before they beat Argentina comprehensively. It does not hide what is a creaking ship, however, and their coach Declan Kidney has still to successfully find replacements for his ageing stars. Ireland's backs scored 13 tries in last season's tournament and showed against Argentina that they can accumulate points. They could be dangerous but lack bite. It will be interesting to see how Jamie Heaslip handles the responsibility of captaincy

Key player Jonathan Sexton

 

Scotland

Predicted finish fifth

In Scott Johnson Scotland have a coach who will be a breath of fresh air in comparison to Andy Robinson, who resigned in November. Johnson is quick-witted and funny, in contrast to the dour previous incumbent. It could be exactly what Scotland need and with Italy and Ireland at home they have two chances to get that all-important win to finish above Italy. They ended their deflating autumn series with a home defeat against Tonga but face a big ask tomorrow when they meet England as they have not won at Twickenham since 1983 and they lost all five of their Six Nations games last season.

Key player David Denton

 

Italy

Predicted finish sixth

Italy have decamped to the impressive Stadio Olimpico, but where they will be watched by over double the amount of eyes but it is likely there will be half the passion. The Stadio Flaminio was small, intimate and fiery at times, whereas the Olimpico's athletics track could make for a more sombre atmosphere. They have three home games, but with Scotland away from home they look destined for the wooden spoon once again.

Key player Martin Castrogiovanni

sports@thenational.ae

twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE