Six Nations preview (Round 1)
England will be aiming to make a bright start to a new era when they take on Scotland in their Six Nations opener at Murrayfield on Saturday, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Scotland vs England
Plenty of hype has accompanied England’s build-up to the Six Nations, with Eddie Jones’s widely-heralded arrival holding the potential to initiate what many believe will be a bold new approach from the Red Rose brigade.
Jones has spoken about England rediscovering a hard edge to their play, and the appointment of abrasive hooker Dylan Hartley as captain speaks to the new no-nonsense culture they’ll be looking to adopt.
The coach has suggested Scotland will be favourites coming into Saturday’s clash as a result of England’s limited preparation time since coming together as a new group, but realistically it’s the visitors who should be fully confident of emerging victorious.
Scotland have lost their last seven Six Nations games, and have not beaten England in this Calcutta Cup fixture since 2008, but they will have taken plenty of encouragement from their World Cup display last year.
They were just a minute away from beating eventual runners-up, the Wallabies, in a thrilling quarter-final, and it’s that sort of inspirational performance that they’ll be looking to draw on this Saturday.
Jones has played it relatively safe with his first team selection, sticking with the tried and tested, and although the English should prove to be too strong for the Scots, coach Vern Cotter has also been able to select a settled side that will be determined to give a good account of themselves.
England – 15 Mike Brown, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Jack Nowell, 10 George Ford, 9 Danny Care, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 James Haskell, 6 Chris Robshaw, 5 George Kruis, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley (c), 1 Joe Marler.
Subs: 16 Jamie George, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Paul Hill, 19 Courtney Lawes, 20 Jack Clifford, 21 Ben Youngs, 22 Alex Goode, 23 Ollie Devoto.
Scotland – 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Mark Bennett, 12 Matt Scott, 11 Tommy Seymour, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Greig Laidlaw (c), 8 David Denton, 7 John Hardie, 6 John Barclay, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Willem Nel, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Alasdair Dickinson.
Subs: 16 Stuart McInally, 17 Gordon Reid, 18 Zander Fagerson, 19 Tim Swinson, 20 Blair Cowan, 21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 22 Duncan Weir, 23 Duncan Taylor.
Ireland vs Wales
Despite having won the last two Six Nations titles, Ireland have only been installed as third favourites by bookmakers this season.
Besides a relatively underwhelming World Cup campaign that saw them suffer a 23-point defeat to Argentina in their quarter-final, Ireland have also suffered a number of injury worries in the lead-up to the Six Nations.
Iain Henderson, Peter O’Mahony, Luke Fitzgerald and Tommy Bowe are all out injured, while Paul O’Connell has retired, but flyhalf Jonathan Sexton has overcome a concussion worry and will have a key role to play.
Ireland will be desperate to ensure they start their campaign with a home win, but Wales will come to Dublin feeling quietly confident after welcoming back some important players from injury.
Wales endured a dreadful run of injuries at the World Cup, but produced a series of gutsy performances to progress from the so-called group of death before nearly defeating the Boks in the quarter-finals.
The dual threat of flankers Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric at the breakdown will add another dimension to the Welsh approach, while World Cup star Dan Biggar will look to continue controlling matters from flyhalf.
Ireland – TBC
Wales – 15 Gareth Anscombe, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Tom James, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Sam Warburton (c), 5 Alun-Wyn Jones, 4 Luke Charteris, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Rob Evans. Subs: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Gethin Jenkins, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Bradley Davies, 20 Dan Lydiate, 21 Lloyd Williams, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 Alex Cuthbert.
France vs Italy
This clash marks the start of Guy Novès’s tenure as France coach, with the long-serving former Toulouse coach hoping to inspire a revival for Les Bleus.
France endured a torrid time in the Six Nations during the reign of the widely unpopular Philippe Saint-André, with many critics lamenting the uninspiring style of play adopted over the past four years.
However, Novès has said France will begin to embrace an attacking brand of rugby again, and has made a number of bold selections for this match, handing debuts to Paul Jedrasiak, Sébastien Bezy, Jonathan Danty and Virimi Vakatawa, while three more uncapped players – Camille Chat, Jefferson Poirot and Yacouba Camara – are on the bench.
Only five players remain from the side that was absolutely thrashed by New Zealand in last year’s World Cup quarter-final, and there’s no doubt a new-look side will be determined to make their mark in the opening match of this Six Nations.
Italy have also welcomed a number of newcomers into their squad, but the fact remains that they will be regarded as rank underdogs heading into virtually every match of this campaign.
While there aren’t many reasons to feel particularly positive about their prospects of causing an upset on day one, an injection of youth could at least provide a different edge to their approach.
France – 15 Maxime Médard, 14 Hugo Bonneval, 13 Gaël Fickou, 12 Jonathan Danty, 11 Virimi Vakatawa, 10 Jules Plisson, 9 Sébastien Bezy, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Damien Chouly, 6 Wenceslas Lauret, 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Paul Jedrasiak, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Guilhem Guirado (c), 1 Eddy Ben Arous. Subs: 16 Camille Chat, 17 Uini Atonio, 18 Jefferson Poirot, 19 Alexandre Flanquart, 20 Yacouba Camara, 21 Maxime Machenaud, 22 Jean-Marc Doussain, 23 Maxime Mermoz.
Italy – 15 David Odiete, 14 Leonardo Sarto, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Gonzalo Garcia, 11 Mattia Bellini, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Alessandro Zanni, 6 Francesco Minto, 5 Marco Fuser, 4 George Fabio Biagi, 3 Lorenzo Cittadini, 2 Ornel Gega, 1 Andrea Lovotti. Subs: 16 Davide Giazzon, 17 Matteo Zanusso, 18 Martin Castrogiovanni, 19 Valerio Bernabo, 20 Andries van Schalkwyk, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Kelly Haimona, 23 Luke McLean.