The 2016 Six Nations Championship will be the 17th time the rugby union tournament has been played in this format. Previously to this, the tournament was also known as the Home Nations Championship and the Five Nations Championship and combined, this makes 2016 the 122nd edition of the tournament.
As the name suggests, there will be a total of six teams competing in the 2016 Six Nations Championship that consist of England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales. The teams will play each other once during the course of the event, which starts on the 6th of February with a match between France and Italy in Paris. As teams only play each other once, the decision of who plays home and away is decided by reversing the fixture of the season before. For example, as Wales played England in the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff in 2015, they will have to travel to Twickenham, London to take on England this year. Due to the fact there are six teams, France, Ireland and Wales will have three matches at home, whereas England and Scotland will only have two matches at home.
As it stands, both Wales and England are the most successful teams in the history of the competition having finished on top 26 times each. France is third with 17 wins, Scotland fourth with 14 wins, Ireland fifth with 13 wins and Italy, who has only participated 16 times to date, is yet to record a victory. However, it’s not only the championship that is available to play for as there is also the Grand Slam, which is when a team wins all of its matches during the tournament. Currently, England holds the record with 12 Grand Slams closely followed by Wales at 11 and France at 9. The Triple Crown, which is contested between England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales is also dominated by the English and Welsh.
Coming in to 2016, the defending champions are Ireland, who finished on top of what was a very tight Six Nations Championship last year. In fact, Ireland, England and Wales all finished at 8 points but Ireland had the superior points difference, which meant they claimed the championship. 2015 also saw one of the most dramatic final weekends that Six Nations has ever witnessed and hopefully, we’ll be in for more of the same this year.
【2015 Six Nations Final Day Highlights】
So, heading in to 2016, which teams are the favourites to lift the Six Nations title? And will we witness a Grand Slam in the processs?
England starts their campaign under the guidance of new coach Eddie Jones. The Australian is the first foreign coach of the England rugby team and that brings its own pressure as not everyone agrees with his appointment since there are plenty of English coaches available. Perhaps winning the Six Nations will turn those doubters in to supporters and with both Wales and Ireland having to visit Twickenham, England arguably has the best fixture list this year. However, England still has problems in the centre positions and Jones has a big decision to make at fly-half, all of which will impact on the performance of the team. With big changes already made to the squad, which had a disappointing showing at the World Cup, including a change at captain, it remains to be seen how the England team will respond and therefore, at 7/4 favourites with sportsbook Bet Victor, the odds are not quite generous enough.
The defending champions, Ireland, come in as the second favourites with Bet Victor at 3/1 to win the 2016 Six Nations outright. However, they too suffered a setback at the recent World Cup losing to Argentina in the quarterfinals, which was a huge blow to the team despite the injuries. With Paul O’Connell now out of the fold and the Irish provinces not enjoying a good season, coach Joe Schmidt has certainly got a lot of thinking to do ahead of the first meeting with Wales in Dublin. Not only will Ireland miss O’Connell’s physical presence, they will also miss his leadership skills. Plus, there are still injury concerns surrounding several members of the squad. A lot may hinge of the opening match against the Welsh. Win it and Ireland could go far, lose it and a third Six Nations Championship in a row could well be out of reach.
This brings us to the Welsh, who have injury concerns of their own especially in the full-back position. Coach Warren Gatland was criticised for the way he handled the warm up matches before the World Cup and Leigh Halfpenny is definitely out, plus there are concerns over the fitness of Liam Williams and Gareth Anscombe. Scrum-half, Rhys Webb, will also miss the start of the tournament, however, there is some good news at centre with the return of Jonathon Davies who has looked good playing for Clermont. Fly-half Dan Biggar is also fit and a vital part of the Welsh set-up, so Wales should be strong in the midfield area. It’s a tough start for the Welsh in Dublin and they also have to travel to Twickenham but with great memories of defeating England in the World Cup, it should not hold any fear for the Dragons. At 3/1 with bookie Bet Victor, Wales could be a smart bet for the Championship this year.
【2015 Rugby World Cup: Wales vs. England】
France, who is available at 5/1, has a new coach in place for the 2016 Six Nations but is expected to face the same problem, a lack of consistency. One week they could defeat Ireland with a stirring display and the next go down to Italy. There is also a strange deal between the national team and the French club sides, which means it’s the clubs who have most control over the players, including the amount of time they can train with France. This is not a situation which is geared up for a team to win a tough tournament like the Six Nations and the best France can probably hope for is a fourth place finish.
Outside of these teams, Scotland and Italy are expected to contest for the “wooden spoon”. Scotland failed to pick up a point last year but did perform well in the World Cup and will gain much confidence from that. Furthermore, coach Vern Cotter has an almost fully fit squad to choose from and this gives the Scots a bit of an advantage over the other nations. The fitness of scrum-half Greig Laidlaw could be key to the continued development of the Scottish team and if the Gloucester man can perform to his best, Scotland could cause an upset this year. However, even if they manage to defeat one of the favourites, it’s unlikely they will finish any higher than fourth and even at 14/1 with Bet Victor, should not be considered for the 2016 Six Nations Championship.
Italy coach, Jaques Brunel, has selected a young looking squad for the Six Nations this year and this has partly come as a result of the retirement of Mauro Bergamasco and Martin Castrogiovanni. The Italians are not famed for their attacking approach to the game and favour a more methodical build up in the forwards, which can be very destructive at times. However, there is still not enough to suggest Italy can go any better than the two points they mustered in 2015 and with Scotland showing signs of improvement, expect Italy to finish at the bottom of the Six Nations table.
In terms of a Grand Slam winner, it’s very difficult to call. You have to go back to 2012 to find the last time a team claimed the Grand Slam, which was Wales and the way the fixtures have fallen this year, England is the only team that has a real shot at it. Even with England at odds of 4/1 with bookmaker Bet Victor, the smart money will be on no Grand Slam winner at 8/15. However, the Triple Crown could be a different matter, especially with England facing Ireland and Wales at home. If England can defeat Scotland at Murrayfield on the opening weekend, they have a decent chance with those two home fixtures to come and are rightly favourites with Bet Victor at 2/1.
In terms of the top try scorer market, Anthony Watson is the favourite with Bet Victor at 8/1 and the England winger was his country’s top try scorer at the World Cup. Watson has been playing well despite his club side Bath struggling this season and should secure a place in Eddie Jones’ team for their opening match in Scotland. George North, who is available at 12/1, could prove key if Wales are to succeed and although form has been inconsistent, he still has the ability to score tries. Welsh scrum-half Gareth Davies (14/1) and Ireland back Robbie Henshaw (40/1) are tempting bets if you fancy going for an outsider.
If the 2016 Six Nations can come close to matching the drama of last year, it’s going to be a thrilling tournament. England is poised with a new coaching set-up and a fresh looking squad whereas Wales is hoping to perform just as well as they did in the World Cup especially considering their injury problems. Ireland has to come back strong from their World Cup defeat to Argentina and Scotland will be confident following their performances in September. It’s safe to say it would be a big shock if France, Italy or Scotland contested for the championship although Scotland and France could easily take some points off of the other teams.
The 2016 Six Nations Championship looks right to have last year’s top three teams vying for a spot in the finals. Will the first fixtures featuring Scotland vs. England and Ireland vs. Wales prove to be vital once all is said and done? Get ready as the highlight of the rugby calendar is set to commence!
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