Scotty Donaldson, one of our Southern-Hemisphere contributors, takes a look at one of the most hotly anticipated competitions in the Northern Hemisphere from his perspective, at the other side of the World.
Six Nations 2015 is here and there is a buzz of anticipation about the pinnacle of Northern Hemisphere rugby supremacy this year. It is Rugby World Cup year and so the teams will be doing some fine-tuning before the world rugby showpiece. This means that teams will be looking to finalise combinations during the Six Nations and judging by the mixed form of the Six Nations teams in the November Autumn Internationals, then the Six Nations 2015 is a mouth-watering proposition.
Ireland and Scotland were the big improvers during the November Internationals with their New Zealand coaches, claiming some genuine momentum heading into 2015. England and France who are the usual favourites, were a mixed bag, while Wales showed that they still have the ability to win big games with a win over South Africa in their last game. Italy will struggle in the Six Nations 2015.
This year, I believe that four teams are genuine contenders, while Scotland has their best shot in years, although the draw will most likely favour the luck of the Irish, with key home games against England and France. Wales also has Ireland and England at home, which makes things difficult for England especially.
Ireland has the best draw starting away against Italy, but their key lies in their ability to win without their best first five eighth Jonny Sexton in the early games. With Paddy Jackson out injured too, they will have to rely on some makeshift talent in the Number 10 jersey, but this could help blood some depth and hopefully for their sake, they can win games without Sexton so that they can kick on and win the title when he returns.
England is completely destroyed by injury. They did show in their June Internationals in New Zealand, that they have developed plenty of depth, but when you can make a full XV out of unavailable players, then the Six Nations will be a stern test for Stuart Lancaster's men. It will be interesting to see if not having Farrell there is a blessing in disguise or not?
Coach Gatland's job is on the line and it will be interesting to see if Wales are past it or not? This team were brilliant in previous Six Nations, but the rest of the pack has caught and passed them. They don't seem to have too many injury concerns and Sam Warburton will bring up his 50th cap in this weekend's game against England. It will be interesting to see what role Gatland has for Gareth Anscombe.
France will be at their enigmatic best this year too. They managed some great victories last year without their captain Thierry Dusatoire, so it will be interesting to see how they go with him. Saint-Andre's men are predictably unpredictable which means they will probably not be consistent enough to win the title, but they will come close.
Scotland improved drastically in 2014 and will be more of a challenge for most teams this season. They should avoid the wooden spoon and my prediction is that they will win at least one other game in this tough competition. Scotland will be the glass in the paw of some of the other teams.
Italy has it tough now that their nearest rivals Scotland has improved. The Italians have a tough forward pack and will have three home games to try for an upset. They play Scotland away, so they will probably end up with the wooden spoon again.
My predicted finishing order
Who will win the Six Nations 2015?
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