It is always the same with a post-World Cup Six Nations. Some are in rebuild mode and others seek continuity with a little change to prepare for the next one!
With the domestic and European weekends just finished, no end of talking points but mainly one which will reverberate for a while. I have plenty of thoughts but not for now.
Rounds 5 and 6 in both the Heineken Champions Cup and Challenge Cup were the best ever, even allowing for possible bias! The most cynical observers are wetting their lips in anticipation of the quarter finals – it remains the case that International Rugby in club jerseys has a supreme attraction for supporters and players alike. This season it filled gaps or cured hangovers from the Rugby World Cup.
This year I have decided to highlight a couple of thoughts per country – in a year of so much volatility it is as much as you can even start to predict. One thing I know is that it will not be a vintage year.
ITALY: Benetton could have won plenty of matches this season, and you hope that this will give them confidence. Parisse will depart the scene, cue much emotion but hardly helping the cold reality of their situation. Can a new coach change the trend? Surely Jake Polledri becomes a star this year.
WALES: Another new coach and a team with an injection of youth. I feel that a year of transition is upon them after years of outperformance. Louis Rees-Zammit gets a chance?
IRELAND: Worried about captain and new coach (again!) plus a team with plenty to prove but likely to win on home turf. Leinster unbeaten year to date, will it matter? Please can John Cooney start at 9.
SCOTLAND: Not enough depth to lose your playmaker for whatever reason. A call for a harder edge up front but difficult to see many wins this year. The Scots always spring one surprise a year. If only Darcy Graham could stay fit.
ENGLAND: Always favourites especially post World Cup. But what damage done from the Saracens fall out and constant questions about leadership? Not enough to stop a Six Nations Championship if they can beat France, though no easy task. England’s form player isn’t even in the squad!
FRANCE: I met Shaun Edwards when on my European travels. His defence coaching could be the missing link along with the stunning European form of many possible French selections. Toulouse and Racing backs could cut loose, Vakatawa currently the world’s best centre, The appalling weather forecast for the French capital could derail them in le Crunch.