Tuesday, 28 November 2017
Six Nations 2018: Appetite Whetted
England and Ireland will go into the tournament as favourites - with England chasing a "three-peat" - but, for the first time in quite a considerable while, Scotland also find themselves in contention.
Runners and riders:
England - one narrow defeat (to Ireland in Dublin last year) in 2 years speaks volumes for a squad that Eddie Jones has made far more resourceful and resilient than in recent times. It's not always pretty, but they are damned difficult to play against and will probably start narrow favourites.
Ireland - dismantled South Africa earlier this month and are another mightily solid, if a tad unspectacular, group. If they can find the consistency lacking last year the Irish will be serious contenders for the title in 2018.
Scotland - the Scottish resurgence was started by Vern Cotter and is certainly gaining pace under Gregor Townsend. Fabulous in attack, doubts do remain over their defensive prowess which they will need to improve if they are to challenge England and Ireland.
Wales - Warren Gatland's conversion on the road to Damascus appears to have come 2 years too late. I can't decide whether the all-new attacking approach is merely a case of the Emperor's new clothes or whether it is genuinely likely to lead to a new era for Welsh rugby. I guess we'll find out soon enough.
France - who knows? There's plenty of noise about good young French players coming through, but there's been nothing in November to suggest that a French renaissance is imminent. Still, it's a post-Lions championship so France will probably confound us all by winning the damned thing.
Italy -I can't say I've followed Italy very closely in November, but results hardly suggest that they will be challenging for anything other than the Wooden Spoon. Again. The calls for the inclusion of Georgia - who were unlucky to lose narrowly against Wales this month - grow louder.