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05th Feb 2016

How to bluff your way through the Six Nations

Kevin Beirne

Spring is here again which means one thing for rugby fans – it’s Six Nations time.

But whether you’re a lifelong fan or recent convert thanks to the Rugby World Cup, it can be hard to keep up with the latest goings-on in the world of rugby.

From coaches to players, and even the names of the tournaments, things change quickly in this sport.

during the RBS Six Nations launch at The Hurlingham Club on January 27, 2016 in London, England.

The beginning of a new World Cup cycle means there’s plenty to look out for in this year’s tournament, as well as some old scores to settle.

But fear not, because we’ve put together a handy team-by-team cheat sheet to help you bluff your way through the 2016 Six Nations.

Let’s get started…


How they got on in 2015: After finishing second in the Six Nations on points difference for the third year in a row, England crashed out of their own World Cup following defeats to Wales and Australia. That led them to part ways with Stuart Lancaster, and the RFU have brought in former Japan coach Eddie Jones to turn things around.

Who to watch: Dylan Hartley – Jones has proven to be a controversial coach before his team have even played a game by naming Dylan Hartley as captain. Having missed 54 weeks during his career due to bans, the Northampton hooker’s disciplinary record is worrying at best – and if he loses his temper it could cost England dearly.

Hipster’s choice: Maro Itoje – If you want to impress your mates with a bit of club knowledge, simply big up the prospect of Saracens flanker Maro Itoje. The 21-year-old captained England to an U-20 World Cup title in 2014, and enjoys writing poetry in his spare time. If England look tired at any stage, complain that they’re missing Itoje’s youthful dynamism.

Helpful cliches: When it comes to Eddie Jones, be sure to mention Japan’s win over South Africa in the World Cup.

Prediction: With their two key games against Ireland and Wales taking place at Twickenham this year, England should expect to claim their first Six Nations title since 2011.

England v Australia - QBE International


How they got on in 2015: Wales finished worst of the three teams tied on eight points in last year’s tournaments and saw their bad luck continue into the World Cup after a series of injuries to key players. But a thrilling win over England saw them restore pride before a narrow defeat to South Africa in the quarter-finals.

Who to watch: Dan Biggar – In the absence of Leigh Halfpenny, Biggar stepped up during the World Cup to take over the kicking duties and established himself as one of the best fly-halves in Europe. The 26-year-old should be entering the peak of his career and will be looking to lay down a marker for the Lions jersey next year.

Hipster’s choice: Justin Tipuric – Impressive displays from David Pocock and Michael Hooper at the World Cup for Australia sparked a debate over starting two openside flankers at once. Tipuric has been stuck behind captain Sam Warburton for some time, but the Ospreys man has been given the nod over Dan Lydiate for Wales’ opening game against Ireland on Sunday.

Helpful cliches: If Wales are playing well, look for the tributes to their “returning heroes”, while if they lose you can expect to hear all about the “fallen heroes” missing from the squad.

Prediction: Unfortunately for Wales, the schedule is not kind to them this year with trips to Dublin and London on the cards. Another third place spot wouldn’t be a terrible result.

England v Wales - Group A: Rugby World Cup 2015


How they got on in 2015: A whitewash in the Six Nations meant expectations were low going into the World Cup, and Japan’s defeat of South Africa meant the Scots were in danger of not making it out of their group. But a generous fixture schedule saw them through to the quarter-finals where they were desperately unlucky not to beat Australia.

Who to watch: Stuart Hogg – Greig Laidlaw may be the beating heart of this team, but Stuart Hogg is its X-Factor. If you were picking Lions team to play this weekend, Hogg would feel rightly aggrieved if he were to miss out on a highly-competitive number 15 jersey.

Hipster’s choice: Finn Russell – Scotland have been screaming out for a quality fly-half for years, and Russell might finally have brought their search to an end. The 23-year-old already has international experience beyond his years, and is quickly developing into multi-threat option for Glasgow and Scotland.

Helpful cliches: If in doubt, credit the Scottish passion. If they win, it’s because of their amazing passion. If they lose, it’s because they had too much passion and let their emotions get to them.

Prediction: Despite Eddie Jones claiming Scotland to be the form side in Europe, they actually had a fairly poor World Cup in the pool stages. A home win over France or England and an away victory over Italy would constitute a successful season.

Australia v Scotland - Quarter Final: Rugby World Cup 2015


How they got on in 2015: The Irish retained the Six Nations for the first time since 1983 (back when it was the Five Nations) and were the only European team to win their World Cup pool. But injuries to key players took their toll and they were dumped out at the quarter-final stage by Argentina.

Who to watch: Robbie Henshaw – England fans are well aware of the threat that Henshaw poses after he finished spectacularly against them last season. The Connacht centre is expected to fill the shoes of Brian O’Driscoll, and his performances in the green jersey so far indicate he is up to the task.

Hipster’s choice: Josh van der Flier – Ireland have had an embarrassment of blindside flankers over the years, but the rugby gods have been less kind to the openside of the scrum. Van der Flier has been one of the stand-out players in a difficult season for Leinster, and could see some game time when Ireland’s annual back-row injury crisis kicks in.

Helpful cliches: Joe Schmidt’s sides are always well-drilled and tough to break down. Except for when they’re not, in which case they’ll just be missing Paul O’Connell, Peter O’Mahony and whichever Irish starter goes down injured (there’s always one).

Prediction: Two Six Nations titles in two years is unprecedented success for a modern Irish international team. While they certainly have the ability to claim a Grand Slam, it’s equally likely that they finish with just two wins. Ireland are always capable of one big performance and should do enough to finish as runners-up.



How they got on in 2015: Simply put, the only positive part of 2015 for French rugby was the end of Philippe Saint-Andre’s time as head coach. Two wins in last year’s tournament was just a precursor to the heaviest defeat in their history at the hands of the All Blacks in the World Cup.

Who to watch: Wesley Fofana – French fans have been waiting patiently for Wesley Fofana to realise his massive potential for years now. At 28, the Clermont centre doesn’t have much time left to find the consistency that has so far been absent from his international career. It’s now or never.

Hipster’s choice: Virimi Vakatawa – Vakatawa is the ultimate hipster choice for rugby fans since the Fijian-born winger isn’t actually contracted to any club in the 15-a-side game. The Sevens specialist has been selected for Saturday’s tournament opener against Italy, which is the perfect opportunity for him to showcase his skills.

Helpful cliches: The old cliche about France was that you never knew which side was going to turn up, but the new one appears to be that the old cliche no longer applies because you know France are going to be pretty crap. Still, they’ve got a new coach, so you never know.

Prediction: France have the talent to win the whole thing, but it’s doubtful they will. Guy Noves won four European titles with Toulouse, but you can’t help but feel that his appointment as national coach might be a few years too late. Home ties against England and Ireland give them a chance, but another fourth place finish beckons.



How they got on in 2015: Any year in which Italy don’t finish last is a success, especially if it includes an away win. The World Cup went as expected, with two wins and two losses sending them home early.

Who to watch: Sergio Parisse – At 32 years of age, we don’t have much more time to enjoy the brilliance of Sergio Parisse. The Italian number eight has achieved an amazing consistency over the last decade despite the talent surrounding him. You can’t help but wonder what could have been if he had declared for the country of his birth, Argentina.

Hipster’s choice: Anyone who isn’t Sergio Parisse – Every few years, Italy will come into a Six Nations with a bit of hype and mystique about them. This is not one of those years. With a few big names well past their best, only scrum-half Edoardo Gori commands special attention.

Helpful cliches: With Jacques Brunel departing at the end of the tournament, there will be lots of talk about the players playing for him – as well as speculation over whether or not Conor O’Shea will be his replacement.

Prediction: With only two home ties, the Italians will be targeting the Scotland once more as their best opportunity to avoid an 11th wooden spoon.