Six Nations: Ten things that could make the difference
Sunday 27 January 2013
The Six Nations has something about it that makes it just that little bit more special than any other annual tournament. Our antipodean friends might feel differently about this, but the approach of the Six Nations always conjures up images in my mind of Jason Leonard with his ears taped and his collar up, of Brian Moore with his face smothered in Vaseline and his collar tucked in, and of Dean Richards running games singlehandedly with his socks around his ankles. There is heritage, genuine rivalry and, above almost all else, good old bragging rights. So this year, with as much at stake as there ever was, what might make all the difference?
Referees have copped some stick lately but, with margins tighter and criticism more public, they are more important than ever. Let gorillas scrummage and they might just self-regulate. But if you micro-manage the unmanageable, it might just cost you your anonymity.
Put simply, if Adam Jones (plays, Wales might just reverse their horrid recent form. If he doesn't, they will stand far less chance. The mighty, Haystacks-haired Merthyr man's brute strength and staunch mindset has seen him become the most valuable player in Wales.
The Irish back row
Yes, Stephen Ferris is a world-beater and is not playing, but in Chris Henry, Ireland have a man on a mission. Henry has for some time been an influential force in the Ulster machine, but recently he has hit new heights. He has quietly been one of the most destructive, intelligent players in the Heineken Cup this season, and his inclusion will see the loss of Ferris tempered somewhat.
The French temperament
This has been one of the less explicable nuances of the game for a long time. I am told by Frenchmen with whom I have played that this all stems back to days when inter-town rugby was tribal in its ferocity, when defending one's home meant everything. Either way, we are still left wondering what kind of French team will turn up. I worry that the side led by Pascal Papé might be rather a good one.
Good old-fashioned mind games
Scott Johnson has started it already and I love it. Not since the days of Brian Moore has pre-match banter had any real spice, so I hope I am not alone in hoping someone from Camp England says something inappropriate soon. Not likely…
The Lions tour
All of the home unions' players will be praying for performances good enough to make the big tour this summer. But most of them will know that being a strong team player is what will get you there. All any team need is one bloke to try too hard to impress alone and the other 14 are compromised. Beware the aspiring Lion.
The Italians do not win very often, but after beating Scotland in Rome last year they will be eyeing a young Scottish team with foam at their mouths this time around. The Azzurri are a gnarled, awkward, abrasive bunch and, frankly, they are a new boy's worst nightmare. So the Scots had better be on their guard.
Ten uncapped players in any squad is a big shift but remember that, for the forwards at least, there is a new coach to get to know as well. Dean Ryan is a brilliant mind and an experienced leader, so expect his team to play with nous and steel. But I still think Scotland might struggle for sheer firepower when Wales and Ireland drop in for a rumble.
I know England lost twice in the autumn, but the demolition of the All Blacks was more than just a great win. That performance will have catapulted the players' confidence into another realm and, when added to the old-school ethics and belief that run through head coach Stuart Lancaster, in my view Twickers once again looks set to become a place that opponents rightly fear.
Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts
I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title
Footage shot by a passerby shows moment an ill man was carried out of his burning home
Peter Biaksangzuala died from his injuries in hospital on Sunday
'Adel Taarabt is about three stone overweight. I can't pick him' - Harry Redknapp
Indian footballer Peter Biaksangzuala dies after injuring spine doing somersault celebration
QPR vs Liverpool match report: Liverpool snatch victory in seven late minutes of madness
West Ham manager Sam Allardyce calm over lack of new contract
QPR vs Liverpool player ratings: Who was the star man? And did Mario Balotelli emerge with any credit?
- 1 Ebola outbreak: What is bushmeat – and is it to blame for the disease that has killed thousands?
- 2 Star Wars memorabilia called a 'bit of plastic' on Antiques Roadshow by Fiona Bruce valued at £50,000
- 3 Drink alcohol and eat meat to improve male fertility - but cut down on coffee, studies suggest
- 4 Russell Brand might seem like a sexy revolutionary worth getting behind, but he will only fail his fans
- 5 Kentucky gang rape: 15-year-old boy left in critical condition after sexual attack by group at party
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Sorry Judy Finnigan – Ched Evans is no less sickening than an alleyway rapist
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
Workers 'could be forced to pay £5 a week' to get benefits
Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters
Amal Alamuddin calls for the return of the Elgin Marbles from Britain: 'Injustice has persisted for too long'