Old enemies prepare for new battles as the big kick-off looms

After the World Cup in New Zealand it is time to plunge back into the glorious chaos of Europe, says Chris Hewett

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Successful World Cups do not always lead directly to a strong showing when the Six Nations comes around. Ask Sir Clive Woodward, who led England to the Webb Ellis Cup in 2003 but could not defend the European title the following year. For this reason, if for no other, the Twickenham set should be feeling good as they prepare for another seven-week shindig.

Whatever England did in New Zealand last autumn there was nothing successful about it. It is many years since a red-rose team started from a lower base. The only way being up, there are reasons for the more rational breed of Twickenham man to be in decent cheer. This tournament is the first act in a drama leading all the way to a home World Cup in 2015. The players making Test debuts in the coming weeks will be better next year than this, and better again 12 months further down the road.

Whether Stuart Lancaster (below), Andy Farrell and Graham Rowntree remain in place as a coaching threesome is, in a sense, neither here nor there. They are likely to find themselves in the bottom three, but England will have blooded a fresh group of players.

Scotland are England's first opponents, this weekend. Andy Robinson could be innumerate and still know how many Six Nations victories he has to his name. You don't need to be Stephen Hawking to count to two, after all. The Scotland coach is equally embarrassed by two fifth-placed finishes on his watch. Privately, he believes a similarly poor return this year will leave him no option but to head for the door.

By comparison, the coaches of Ireland, Wales, France and Italy are in a settled place – especially Philippe Saint-André and Jacques Brunel. Both are French and both are coaching international sides for the first time. Saint-André clearly has what it takes: he is a master team-builder, so his French players will be fit and ferociously committed.

Brunel, with Italy, has less in the way of refined talent with which to work. But he achieved a hell of a lot in Perpignan and he believes he can push the Azzurri into the upper echelons within three years.

Ireland and Wales each have a recent Grand Slam. The Irish are a strong bet this season, while the Welsh are riddled with injury. There again, Welsh tempo and imagination did for Ireland at the World Cup and could do for them again in Dublin this Sunday.

Isn't that the fun of the Six Nations? That no one knows anything for sure?