Six Nations: The Opposing Squads

Like a Big Fat Gypsy Wedding the 6N is sidling into view, all bright lights and funny accents.

As Andy Robinson prepares to kick off our campaign and puts the squad through its paces I will look at the squads that the opposition teams have picked and assess their strengths, weaknesses and how controversial some of their selections have been…

(just click on ‘Squad Selection’ to see each squad…)

England

Coach: Martin ‘I hold trophies like an Ogre’ Johnson

Skipper:Up in the air, right now. Easter is being touted and Sir Tindall of Smashed-Puss is a candidate but only ‘The Ogre’ really knows. I would love to see Flutey get it, but somehow that seems unlikely…

Squad Selection: In a sense this squad is a case of ‘as you were’ with the only real surprise inclusions being Simpson from Wasps (yet another darting young 9 who will run with the ball more often than he really should) and the rapidly ageing and woefully out of form Simon Shaw.

The injury to Lawes means that England must promote another lock, an area where they really do lack quality without Lawes. Meanwhile the knocks to Croft and Moody means that, as well as needing a new captain, Fourie may start at 7 in the tests and Stefan Armitage or Phil Dowson may be called up to the full squad from the Saxons.

On top of this Delon Armitage could be in trouble after taking a game of musical chairs with a Drug Tester a bit too seriously. We will wait and see how this one plays out but he has almost certainly pencilled in Ben Foden in at 15, himself.

Form Horses: Flood and Cueto have come onta a game, recently.

Style and Chances: With a nostalgic coach who loves a gritty b*****d (see Hartley, Shaw, Worsley and Tindall) expect grinding, patient play 3 phases in with plenty of kicking options and expect crashes and missed passes from any lineout.

Easter loves a pick and go without setting up a ruck (an English friend of mine once said upon hearing you couldn’t collapse mauls anymore, “Yes! Nick Easter has a purpose again!”) and they will look to suck players in before 13 or 10 unleashes a short pop-pass off of their outside shoulder to Foden or Ashton running through the gap.

Look out for England. They are likely to win a few games without playing particularly well. Will they win the whole thing? This depends on which France turns up…

France

Coach: Marc ‘mettre la queue sur l’âne’ Lievremont

Skipper: Thierry Dusautoir. Loves a tackle.

Squad Selection: Will Lievremont ever select a settled side?! He is about as predictable as a dog that’s just necked a bottle of Tabasco. He has left out classy centre Florian Fritz and recalled an ageing Marconnet at Prop.  Yoann Huget will not be a name many are familiar with but the Boyonne player will be in the selection tombola with all the other wingers and full-backs.  Don’t expect to see the same three back-three players two games in a row. Huget, Medard, Clerc, Rougerie, Pallison and Poitrenaud must feel like contestants in ‘Deal or No Deal’ at the start of every team meeting.

Aside from this Lievremont has the core of a world-class unit. With Mas, Servat, Papé, Thion, Dusautoir, Harinordoquy, Para, Skrela, Traille, Jauzion, Clerc and Poitrenaud France are capable of beating anyone in the world, on their day. The only problem is France dislike travelling, their own fans can turn like milk and Lievremont may well play a second row at full-back, just for banter.

Form Horses: Mas is pushing Woodcock for the title of best (fit) loose-head prop in the world and form doesn’t seem to apply to Jauzion.

Style and Chances: Expect the French scrum to dominate every other team in the tournament and also expect Harinordoquy to pinch a lot of lineouts.

Expect the French backs to carve open defences at will and expect kicks to be pinpoint accurate.

Don’t worry, though. The French will temper such Champagne rugby with nightmarish instances of skill unbefitting a game of under-13s tag rugby. Sometimes they just look like they’re playing a different sport.

On form France could be runaway champions. Off form they should still be pretty close to winning it all.

Ireland

Coach: Declan Kidney

Skipper: Brian O’Driscoll. Philosopher. Captain. Slowing Genius.

Squad Selection: Since Tomas O’Leary is playing like a drain right now and is demoted to the Wolfhounds (worse team name ever?) squad it is a chance for Reddan and the unshakeable Stringer to contest the 9 jersey.

Also, in a pack shake-up, O’Brien (flanker), Ross (prop) and Ruddock (flanker) all get called up from Leinster as Mike McCarthy comes in from Connacht.  With an influx of back-rowers they look to finally be changing the old guard. With Ross, Court and an omitted Buckley, however, they seem to be failing at getting rid of the old ‘Bull’ John Hayes.

Bowe and O’Driscoll can conjour up magic but the loss of Murphy and Kearney at full-back could be telling after a couple of games.

Form Horses: Tough one. Earls appears to be playing well enough but a lot of pressure will be carried by Jamie Heaslip as he must continually be Ireland’s best performer, especially with ‘The Undertaker’ Paul O’Connell so match rusty. Cronin must surely start at hooker.

Style and Chances: This looks like a transitional period for Ireland. They will play with the same tempo, but with aching bodies and greying heads maybe the squad changes for this 6N should have been made in the Autumn. When was the last time you saw O’Driscoll play well and walk off fit at the end of the game?

The atmosphere hasn’t been great at The Aviva Insurance Dome, or whatever it’s called, so home games are no longer a dead cert. Scotland could be sniffing a chance of a win at Murrayfield, too.

Flirting with danger, but could turn over Wales and should thump Italy.

 

Italy

Coach: Nick Mallett.

Skipper: Segio Parisse.

Squad Selection: Truthfully, I don’t know much about the Italians. However, there are 16 players from Treviso and Aironi so these players should be quite familiar to us.

Mauro Bergamasco falls off the flank, injured. Psycho Craig Gower has presumably fallen off a bar stool somewhere so fellow Aussie Burton jumps in to contest the 10 jersey with Orquera. The Italians must be delighted Parisse is back, but Zanni proved last season that he is a very good player so assume they will both start. Dellape and Del Fava form an experienced and menacing second row pairing.

Form Horses: Barbieri may be handy back-up to Zanni and Parisse, and has played a lot of minutes in the ML.  Fernandez-Rouyet is a squad man who does the dirty work tirelessly at the end of games and Canavosio is capable of a snipe. This is a team of tryers, but few magicians.

Style and Chances: Poor old Italy will finish bottom again, but expect them to bludgeon a few teams and they could even win one. Who will it be against, though? Ireland could get a fright out of the blocks. How will Wales do against them? Will we score tries? There are just so many unanswered questions about Italy.

If they kick aimlessly they will get horsed. This has always been the case. However, with structure and guile they can score tries. Structure for them will come from relentless carries from figureheads like Parisse, Ghiraldini, Del Fava and Castrogiovanni (who despite being grossly overrated at scrummaging is possibly their most feared and recognisable player).

Wales

Coach: Warren ‘The Smile’ Gatland.

Skipper: Who knows? Alun Wynn-Jones? Maybe…

Squad Selection: The squad won’t be announced ‘til Sunday. There are some quality Welsh players, though. Gethin Jenkins, Adam Jones, Richie Rees, Teenager George North, Gavin Henson, Tom Shanklin, Andrew Bishop and Shane Williams. Ohhh Wait! They’re all injured! In fact none of those players should start in Wales’ opener against England.

We can only speculate (and we will) on the Welsh squad but the biggest issue is the scrum. Last week we were hearing about how strong the Welsh pack was at scrummaging. Now that Adam Jones and Gethin Jenkins are out they may struggle. Yapp and Paul James are not good enough/safe enough tight-heads for international rugby. They may have to pull out some surprise selections.

The question also remains, what will the centre pairings be?

Form Horses: Rhys Priestland will surely be in the squad. He is playing really well. In the forwards Bradley Davies is doing his reputation no harm.

Style and Chances: No matter who is out for Wales they will always be a counter-attacking threat. Their set-piece may have holes, but we will wait and see. Byrne (if he plays and survives…) will have a huge weight on his shoulders, as will Mike Phillips.

In the end Wales could be more focussed on the World Cup than the 6N and this could show. Not that the Whining Welshman Jonathan Davies will ever admit this. Their competitive edge may have collapsed with Adam Jones’ elbow.

(No doubt they’ll pull a victory over England out of the bag, just to spite me…)

So what do you reckon? Who are Scotland’s biggest threat….?

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4 comments on “Six Nations: The Opposing Squads

  1. Allan on

    Scotlands own house needs to be put in order before we start worrying about the opposition. Christ knows what will happen if they play like they did againts the ABs.
    I firmly believe that we should beat Italy, Ireland and Wales this year if we play to our potential but when do we ever? Even beating the boks was a complete and utter fluke (be honest!) We still have no effing clue with the ball in hand. Wales are gash but still score tries because they go out believing in themselves and play a fast direct attacking game. we do not. I cant remember the last time I saw a scots player run into the line at FULL speed and take a ball passed IN FRONT OF HIM. Its bloody obvious folks. Dont call yourself a professional sportsman if you cannot do the basics.
    Anyway, rant over, Ireland, old and going through “the change”, should beat them up front and therefore deny BOD and GDA the ball. Wales, rubbish pack (Jones is no loss as he is guff anyway!). Italy, bloody awkward but beatable if Parks stops acting like a dick by kicking all our good possession away. England and France, forget it, too much power from England and too much class from France. Foden is the number one back in the UK, bar none. Am hoping for some tries and a bit of excitement for a change, I hope we dont end up doing our usual and grinding away for 60 mins and playing sh*te for 20, camping on the try line then knocking on in contact around thr fringes instead of passing wide, buggering up lineouts in our own 22, scrummaging like the Womens Guild against Italy, etc etc, God, I am depressed!

  2. Rory on

    Foden may be great but he is one man. I don’t think Johnno has the cojones to pick Sinbad-Daniel on the wing, despite his form. So they may go back to being largely unthreatening, unless Foden gets bored and goes looking for work…

  3. A.D. on

    In a quick 6N round-up:

    England have called up Wood and Dowson (Saints) to cover back-row, and Skivington (Leicester) comes in for Lawes. The extravagant b*****ds are also in Portugal for training camps (we are in a drizzly St. Andrews…).

    Wales select front rowers Paul James (Ospreys), John Yapp (Blues), Craig Mitchell (Ospreys), Ryan Bevington (Ospreys), Scott Andrews (Blues), Matthew Rees (Scarlets, capt) and Richard Hibbard (Ospreys) but these are not quality options (with the exception of Rees and maybe James at loose-head). Looks like England will destroy the Welsh Scrum and an injury to Davies or Wyn-Jones could render set scrums an embarrassment.

    The (reasonable) 8 week ban for Delon Armitage is to be appealed, but he is likely to take no parting the 6N.

    As with EVERY tournament, event, fayre, car show and Sunday trip to the newsagents Warren Gatland has opened his gob to tell the world his views. He is quite fond of embarrassing himself. He is slagging off Dylan Hartley (who is a bit of a gobby lad himself). Hopefully they both scrap, rolling out of the 6N together in a fury of missed punches and proclamations of how impressive they both think themselves.

    In Scottish news the Scotland squad are to play a game behind closed doors on Wed. against a team comprising of pros and academy lads not involved with the full squad or the As. So good luck to those poor souls…

    France are currently working with a new coaching team, and the first game will see if Lievremont’s new approach to coaching works and will stay for the WC.

    All quiet in Italy.

    Ireland have lost Trimble for the opening game. Tommy Bowe is getting a knee scan soon. We could see some new faces in the Ireland back three… ones unaccustomed to International rugby.

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