Six Nations: The key factors that could decide the Championship


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The Independent Online


Plan for the pitches…

There continue to be huge doubts about the pitches cutting up badly in Paris and Edinburgh; one blighted by a lack of sun, the other by parasitic worms. It’s the same for both sides, but every team at Stade de France and Murrayfield must be ready for the scrums becoming a lottery.

Taking a risk with an eye on 2015

England have had success with young players — think Courtney Lawes, Joe Launchbury, Owen Farrell, the Vunipola brothers — and Stuart Lancaster says it’s now or never to find contenders for the 2015 World Cup squad. So George Ford must be given a go at fly-half; ditto either or both Anthony Watson and Jack Nowell.

England’s conundrum – the back three

England are perming three from eight for their wings and full-back. They have used Mike Brown, an avowed No 15, on the left wing. Chris Ashton, Nowell and Watson all favour the right wing; Nowell and Watson also enjoy playing at full-back, where Alex Goode is another contender. Only Jonny May of Gloucester is a natural on the left, but he has also been a centre recently. A tricky one.

Get the back-row balance right

Scotland’s captain Kelly Brown is not even sure of a start but if he gets one it will be as a No 7, even though his club, Saracens, use him elsewhere in the back row. The wrong balance will kill the Scots’ plans. Ireland have lost a world-class  openside in the injured Sean O’Brien.

We came, we saw, we kept it tight

Italy’s coach Jacques Brunel was asked what he would do about Wales’s big backs. “Just keep it in the forwards!” Brunel smiled. And they just might. Monumental defence helped Italy overcome France last year, and Ireland went tryless when also beaten by the Azzurri’s physical effort in Rome.

Don’t underestimate the Italians

Italy’s captain Sergio Parisse says his team need to be playing at 100 per cent of their capability, and receive a slice of luck, to win Six Nations matches, whereas England and France can make do at 90 per cent. Opponents must not fall for this cute Azzurri psychology.

Be ready from the very first minute…

Wales blew a possible Grand Slam last year when they trailed 30-3 to Ireland after 45 minutes of the opening match and could not quite overturn that deficit. France were beaten in Italy on weekend one. “That set the tone for the whole year,” said coach Philippe Saint-André, whose team won only twice in 2013.

is it too silly to think of picking Stevens?

Already straitjacketed by not picking players from French clubs, England are short of cover at tighthead prop, with Davey Wilson among eight players injured. If something happens to Dan Cole and young Henry Thomas, protocol would rule out the internationally retired Matt Stevens. But protocol never pushed in a scrum.

Scott’s fitness for Scotland…

Possibly the most promising centre in the Six Nations is Scotland’s Matt Scott, but he has been injured since the first autumn international. “I wouldn’t put him in against Ireland unless he can go the distance,” says coach Scott Johnson. But can the Scots win without him?

France must find a fly-half

In a position dominated by foreigners in their league, France have rejected François Trinh-Duc and in-form Jules Plisson for Rémi Talès, who has five caps at the age of 29. Last year Fréddy Michalak got the nod. They need to find the right  fly-half and stick with him.