Six Nations: In our opinion – six pundits, one from each country, tell us who they think will win
They have all played in this annual showpiece in the past, but is it head or heart for these commentators?
Saturday 25 January 2014
Jerry Guscott (England, 65 caps 1989-1999)
England, as always, can do a great job up front and then add the x-factors: Billy Vunipola at No. 8 this season, the maturity of Dylan Hartley, and Joe Marler the prop who everyone talks up as a different player when he’s with the national team. I see the difficulty as getting good ball to the backs, so I want them to stop chopping and changing scrum-half. Billy Twelvetrees and Luther Burrell look like decent footballers in the centres. And I think we’ll see a different Owen Farrell — more dominant. England can pip France and Ireland to second place.
Thomas Castaignède (France, 54 caps, 1995-2007)
The big concern from the autumn is that France were really well beaten by South Africa — they were stronger, quicker and just better than us. And it is bad news that Thierry Dusautoir is injured for the whole Championship because he is France’s key player. Philippe Saint André has a very difficult, complicated job as coach because there are not so many young players coming through in the Top 14, which is attracting the best players from around the world. But I think he is the right man and I’m sure he will lead the team to success in 2014.
Andy Nicol, (Scotland, 23 caps, 1993-2001)
I doubt heavily there will be a Grand Slam, and although Scotland winning the Championship would be a quantum leap, they can beat any country on their day. Scott Johnson will be very keen to hand over to new coach Vern Cotter [in the summer] with Scotland in a strong position, and we have a quality full-back in Stuart Hogg returning after missing the autumn injured. Jonny Gray, Grant Gilchrist and Tommy Seymour had their chances in the autumn, but we need guys like Matt Scott, Tom Visser and Alex Dunbar to be fit and Lady Luck on our side.
Keith Wood (Ireland, 58 caps, 1994-2003)
In fact it’s such a tough call that I’d prefer to sit on the fence, but there is a big possibility for Ireland to make their mark. The coach, Joe Schmidt, must consider how to handle the transition of Brian O’Driscoll into retirement after this season, and I’d like to see Connacht’s Robbie Henshaw given time on the field. With Sean O’Brien injured, Ireland’s key player will be Conor Murray at scrum-half. He’s been growing in stature — his tour with the Lions and the narrow loss to New Zealand in November proved that.
Shane Williams (Wales, 87 caps, 2000-2011)
It’ll go down to the wire between England and Wales, who are both stronger than last year. Wales lost to Australia yet again in the autumn but that will be a great stepping stone. I’ve been singing Warren Gatland’s praises from the start of his time as Wales coach [in 2008]. He’s stuck by his experienced players, he’s brought George North and Leigh Halfpenny through and it was a stroke of genius to make Sam Warburton captain. Warren is very honest with his players and he’s not afraid to take a few gambles.
Andrea Masi (Italy, 80 caps, 1999-present)
Last season was our best Six Nations; we played great rugby and in the fundamental area of physicality we matched the other teams. But the autumn was not so good — our defensive structure let us down — and I am expecting a difficult Six Nations. Starting away to Wales and France is very tough, so we will target Scotland at home for a win. It looks like Tommaso Allan from Perpignan will start at fly-half. I’ve never trained or played with him but though he’s only 20, he has character and confidence.
All but Andrea Masi are BBC pundits, where coverage will be available on TV, Radio 5 Live and Online
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