Guinness Six Nations Preview
The countdown to Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan is well and truly on, but before then we have the northern hemisphere’s greatest tournament to enjoy.
The level of competition in the Guinness Six Nations has arguably never been higher. Last year, Scotland finished the competition in third place, with wins against France, England and Italy.
Former Scotland captain Chris Paterson gives us his thoughts on the current form of Scotland’s opponents in the 2019 Guinness Six Nations.
The standard of rugby and the standard of the opposition is higher than it’s ever been. Previous Six Nations in a Rugby World Cup year have been a bit guarded - teams have held back and didn’t want to show their hand, but this year I think it’s different, it’s all about the here and now, it’s about winning the next game.
There are ten Zebre players and 18 Benetton players in the squad and Benetton are doing really well in the Guinness PRO14. Italy had wins over the last 18 months against Fiji, Japan and Georgia, but by their own admission they’ve struggled to beat the top tier teams. The next stage for them is targeting a win against a top team which they’ll get the opportunity to do during the Six Nations. There’s always a difficulty in the first game of the tournament. No-one’s played international rugby for two or three months; everyone’s played a lot of rugby in the local derbies and Europe, but it’s not international rugby. The first game being at home is really important, that’s a bonus for us, but it’ll be manic, the first game always is.
If we do get off to a good start against Italy, then a positive is that we have two home games in a row. You don’t have travel, your recovery ought to be easier from the first game to the second and you should have more preparation time, but you’re going to need it against Ireland. They are brutal in and around the contact area, they are so physical and every challenge and every contact will be maximum. In my opinion they are the favourites for the tournament, they have a lot of consistency in how they play and they have a winning mentality. But they did lose here last time so it’s something that’ll be fresh in their minds and it’s something that’s fresh in our minds as well.
It’s our first away game. You’ve got two weeks at home and then a fallow week so you’ve got more time to prepare but it’s really difficult to win away from home. We’ve not won in Paris since 1999, although we’ve come close a few times. France were fourth last year and it’s the consistency - you’re not sure what you’ll get from France. I used to love playing against them because they’ll let you play more. Against an England, Ireland or Wales there’s quite often a more aggressive defence, whereas France want to play attacking rugby so it gives you you more space and you often get a really good game, especially in Paris.
For round four we’re back at home. The thing I’d say about Wales is there’s a familiarity there, we played them in the autumn, we played them in Cardiff during last year’s Six Nations, and while both games were disappointing in the second game there were more reasons to be positive. Wales had the perfect autumn for the first time in their history, winning four games in a row against Scotland, Australia, Tonga and South Africa. They’re away from home in their opening two fixtures against France and Italy and they get a lot of their strength from playing in Cardiff. Because the Six Nations is very momentum-based, if you get off to a poor start and you’re chasing a victory and you’re feeling the pressure it can be quite a difficult place. They’ve not had great results here the last couple of times, but they are in form, they’re a settled team, and all the Welsh guys raise their performance in the red jersey so they’re always a tough nut to crack.
England are so strong - they’re physically strong and they have so many quality players to choose from. They play Ireland in Dublin in their opening game and going back to that momentum thing, it depends what happens there. I think that result will have a big knock-on effect on the tournament as a whole. Our record isn’t great at Twickenham, certainly two years ago was a big disappointment and that will be in a lot of the players’ minds if they experienced it. I think England’s threat could be more potent if they played a wider game, guys like Henry Slade and Ollie Devoto linking in the midfield, but they play a physical game under Eddie Jones. It’s hard to deal with that physicality away at Twickenham but I would rather face that than some of the sparkling attack-minded players that they possess.
LAST YEAR’S CHAMPIONSHIP
Scotland achieved 3 wins and 3rd place
Wales 34-7 Scotland
Scotland 32-26 France
Scotland 25-13 England
Ireland 28-8 Scotland
THIS YEAR’S FIXTURES
- Scotland v Italy, 2.15pm Saturday 2 February, BT Murrayfield
- Scotland v Ireland, 2.15pm, Saturday 9 February, BT Murrayfield
- France v Scotland, 2.15, Saturday 23 February, Stade de France
- Scotland v Wales, 2.15pm, Saturday 9 March, BT Murrayfield
- England v Scotland, 5pm, Saturday 16 March, Twickenham