Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


2022 Guinness Six Nations Tournament Preview

2022 GUINNESS Six Nations Championship Launch 26/1/2022 Pictured (Top Row) Dan Biggar of Wales (Middle Row) Tom Curry of England and Stuart Hogg of Scotland (Bottom Row) Tom Curry of England, Italy's Michele Lamaro and Jonathan Sexton of Ireland Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/GUINNESS Six Nations

In what was to be a common theme during a virtual launch where each representative was safe in their camp rather than wandering around a conference centre in their kit and trainers like previous iterations, the talk was also pretty safe. It was standard chat around striving for constant improvement from one game to the next, not looking beyond the weekend and so on. Players are rarely drawn into admitting they’ve thought about that 100th Cap or the possibility of winning the tournament. But then it’s an easy tournament to lose, much harder to succeed and the 2022 version promises to be no different.

England‘s soundbite specialist Eddie Jones may be the coaching equivalent of Marmite these days but he duly gave us a fine “best rugby tournament in the world” quote for all the posters at the outset of the day. His particular brand of “sound and fury, signifying nothing” is not to everyone’s taste but you can see the urge to try and make the process of press conferences at least partly entertaining for himself at least.

Next up was Andy Farell and Jonny Sexton of Ireland, who spent large chunks of their allotted time fielding questions about Owen Farrell who had been ruled out through injury only moments before.

Fresh off a bruising win over New Zealand, Ireland are going into the tournament with a full squad to pick from with the exception of Iain Henderson. James Lowe is still out but Joey Carbery is a lot closer to return than perhaps expected and has just resumed contact training.

The week after the Japan game or the All Blacks game they [the results] were irrelevant. We’ve got to be constantly improving to be sure we’re in with a chance.

Andy Farrell, Ireland Head Coach

Despite the presence at his side of veteran Jonny Sexton – who will be 38 at the next World Cup – Farrell clearly sees his team on a journey to the 2023 event that started properly last autumn, but cautioned that despite such thinking the Six Nations “always takes its own course”.

Former All Black fullback Kieran Crowley has taken the reins at Italy, after coaching Benetton Rugby for five years. This follows stints coaching Canada and the undefeated 2007 New Zealand Under 19 side, so his coaching pedigree is not as raw as you might think.

Still, with all the other sides knocking off Southern Hemisphere scalps in the Autumn he had to be content to take the positives from a win over Uruguay.

“If you have a win you have a win, it’s test match rugby… We have to use that result as a springboard.”

Kieran Crowley, Italy Head Coach

Whether Italy can bounce off the bottom of the table remains to be seen, but Italy’s new coach spoke in favour of the new law changes around eligibility. Italy are currently looking at a very narrow pool of one cap who might theoretically be tempted to swap allegiances after a three year test-match absence, namely Alex Lozowski, who hasn’t been capped for England since November 2018.

He also touched on (son of Michael) Louis Lynagh or Paolo Odugwu declaring for Italy but revealed that neither man has thrown their hat in the ring yet.

With the spectre of Sergio Parisse’s return there was a lot of talk about captaincy and leadership, with Crowley touching on some inspirational All Black leaders he served under in the past that indicate the type of inspirational characters he wants to lead Italy forward, even if he’ll have to be content with the resources available for now.

“They’re still a young team, hopefully we see performances this year that show they have improved. This is going to be the most competitive Six Nations ever.”

Kieran Crowley, Italy Head Coach

The theme coming from Wales (but not the Welsh camp) was wondering whether underperforming regions affect how the national team prepare and perform. Head Coach Wayne Pivac refused to be drawn into that particular mire but said that while it wasn’t ideal, the players would be given anything to play at the best of their abilities.

Speaking of the good start Wales had last year – including a win over Scotland, who had until then hoped to build on their historic Calcutta Cup win – Pivac highlighted the importance of early momentum in this tournament, as wins put you into the driving seat and allow for the sort of confidence that often sees Wales outperform the sum of their parts, at least in terms of regional form.

“Every team is coming into the tournament in really good form which hasn’t happened for a number of years. It’s up in the air for anyone to go and win the tournament this year.”

Wayne Pivac, Wales Head Coach

Having ripped the All Blacks apart in the autumn, the implacable Fabien Galthie’s France are possibly further along their own journey as pre-tournament favourites, and their coach spoke of looking to make that last step up in level to being consistently good – the sort of consistency that wins tournaments.

He’s not currently helped by the loss of a good number of players including new captain and fashionista Antoine Dupont to Covid protocols., with Gaël Fickou taking on press duties in his absence.

But with everyone dispersing to their clubs straight after that famous win, the coach doesn’t expect us to see if the New Zealand result will improve player confidence within the France environment until training resumes properly, or perhaps even until their opener against Italy. France apparently approach each game with a fine toothcomb analysis of each team’s culture but whether that means style of rugby or a more zen-like appraisal of things like attitude, leadership or how many tinnies you’re allowed to drink per day in camp, only Galthie really knows.

And what of Scotland?

Head coach Gregor Townsend spoke of the excitement at seeing fans back for the “biggest fixture of the year” in “a brilliant tournament” as a great boost for Scotland, a sentiment echoed by Hogg around the prospect of belting out the national anthem in front of full BT Murrayfield.

There was little in the way of controversy or great news around the squad. Duhan van der Merwe and Kyle Rowe are on the road to recovery from the illness (though the hulking wingers Instagram suggests he’s been on holiday) that saw Sean Maitland called up as cover this week. Bath back-row Josh Bayliss has begun return to play protocols after going off with a head knock in the loss to Leinster at the weekend.

Speaking on the momentum-killing loss to Wales last year, Townsend felt that Scotland were a “tap tackle away from winning that game”. But can’t escape from the fact that failed to follow up on a great result at Twickenham. Inconsistency is still the enemy of Scotland and it stalled their tournament challenge. On the other hand, unheralded Wales profited from it greatly on the journey that would see them on the way to the Six Nations crown.

Although last year’s first away Calcutta Cup win in 38 years “counts for nothing this season”, skipper Stuart Hogg said the camp were hugely excited for the visit of England next weekend. Scotland have now won three out of the last four encounters with England and will find it increasingly hard to assume the mantle of underdogs especially at home.

Townsend felt most of the insights gained from his Lions experience as a coach over the summer were used preparing for the South Africa game in November but felt that insights into the opposition from Scotland’s largest Lions contingent in 32 years would actually be the more important in terms of helping Scotland profit from the tour in this tournament.

Asked if a gradual improvement in results up to last year’s historic away double at Twickenham and Paris meant it was now “win or bust” in terms of what constituted a successful tournament for Scotland, Townsend, like Farrell before him, preferred to think of it as being on a continuous path to improvement.

“Win more than 3 games you’ll finish in the top 2. We’ve had the experiences, we’ve got the players and we’ve got the belief but the teams around us are all playing really well.”

Gregor Townsend, Scotland Head Coach

What Scotland fans really want to see over the next few weeks is a steady upward curve rather than a rollercoaster between high and low spots – never easy when the 2022 tournament looks a tougher prospect than ever.

44 Responses

  1. Very exciting times. Scotland are undoubtedly on an upward curve with a lot of players in fine form but the recent showings from Ireland, France and England have me thinking this’ll be a very tough tournament and the games will be very tight. A very good outing for me would be comfortable wins against Italy and wales plus a win over England and France at home (though a win and a loss is probably more realistic). I think Ireland away is out with our reach unfortunately.

    Hogg, Graham, Harris, Johnson, VDM, Russel, Price, Bradbury, Watson, Richie, Gray (if fit), Cummings, Fagerson, Turner, Shoeman
    Ashman, Sutherland, Nel, skinner, Fagerson, darge, vellcott, kinghorn

    1. A comfortable win at a packed Millenium is some way off unfortunately IMO. Here are my predictions:
      1. England (narrow win on the basis that we have a fully fit squad and are England’s bogey team. Tooney seems to have a knack of outfoxing EJ and we could catch them off guard before they click)
      2. Wales (narrow win – despite last year’s 6N win, they are a team on the decline unless they can get one of our players sent off again!)
      3. Italy (comfortable win)
      4. France (narrow loss – they are a team on the up and we play them one week after our exiles return from playing for their clubs. Unless Jamie Ritchie can goad one of their players into throwing another right hook)
      5. Ireland (uncomfortable loss – no evidence to suggest anything other than this and we are likely to be missing a few key players through injury come the last week whereas the Leinster talent conveyor belt will aid them)

      1. I think this is a pretty good set of predictions.

        My takes:

        We should be aiming to win both our home games and Wales & Italy away.

        We should be going in confidently against France and England.
        England have a much more unsettled side at the moment with key experienced players out injured and a few talented but young premiership stars getting up to speed with international rugby. In a complete inverse of this fixture normally, we’ve got a more powerful pack and better kicking game, whereas they will likely be attempting to play more expansively with Smith at the helm. I expect us to grind a win out and England to look much more dangerous next year.

        France is an odd one because they have the most naturally talented team and are capable of tearing apart anyone. But we’ve said that for two years in a row and each time they’ve struggled. Something about Scotland’s scrappy/annoying play doesn’t suit them and I think with a full Murrayfield we should be aiming for a win (although not expecting one).

        Wales are not very good and I’ll be very upset if we lose to them again. Their club sides are in dissaray and they’re also seriously struggling with injuries to important players. As we all know, it’s never fun at the Millenium though so expect it to be tight.

        Italy in Rome has comfortable scoreline / uncomfortable viewing experience written all over it. Expect it’ll be tense and frustrating but we’ll pull away at the end.

        Ireland will be a bridge too far. I desperately want to beat them as they’ve got a similar air of arrogance to Gatland-era Wales. They’re a very good side though and think it’ll be a pretty brutal afternoon in Dublin.

    2. Is VDM available? Was Maitland brought in to just cover this week? VDM and Rowe missed this week due to illness

      1. Townshend said at the presser that he expects both to be available for selection, although that obviously rests on passing fitness tests. No idea how unwell they were.

      2. Both of the ‘ill’ wingers are named in this weekends squads. As is Sutherland, who I thought was still serving a suspension. Hutchinson, Hastings, Harris, Hogg, Redpath, Rae, Hunter-hill, Jones, Gray, Skinner, all also making a start.

      3. VDM and Sutherland both played on the weekend for Worcester and played well. Unless I was watching an old game highlights! :-)

    3. My utter guess is


      1. In which case why is Darge held back? (unless Watson has an injury). Looks like a 6:2 split coming up.

  2. Think it’s only one loss to England in the last 4 but one of the 3 “wins” was that 38-38 draw?

  3. I think it will be a very competitive and close 6N, it always is I guess however it feels like it will be more so this year. Ultimately, I’d guess it will be between Ireland and France.
    If we lose the opener v England I think we’ll struggle to get 3 wins let alone the 4 GT is talking about in the press. That said, autumn international selections/performances /results can be pretty deceptive.
    Should be a tense and exciting tournament to watch tho… and hopefully we at least do ourselves justice in each match.

    1. Agree. A win in Dublin would be a historic feat against an opponent that looks at the top of their game.

      Lose against England and we’ll be in for a torrid championship indeed. Good start and we can go to Cardiff in fine fettle

      Even Italy in Rome will be harder than many expect, we are rarer dominant there and Garbisi is growing into an exceptional 10. There’s a lot to like in the squad but they remain weak in the tight 5. If we go there vulnerable or not in the right mindset we could be the victim of a mugging. Italy will break their horror record eventually and they’ll be targeting us as it is in Rome and somewhat conceivable.

  4. Talk of this being Scotland’s strongest squad for years may well be correct but we will do well to finish third!

    1. Agreed, there’s a lot of confidence in these forums which is always a worry as it usually precedes a Scottish implosion.

      1. There’s a lot of writing off Wales in these comments but the key takeaway (I may or may not have made this clear) is give them a sniff and they’ll run on momentum alone. Though the loss of caps may hurt them unless AWJ makes another comeback. We could win or lose every game and as we saw last year the margins are so tight.

  5. I think France and England will be coming to Murrayfield knowing that if they are not on their game they could be in trouble and will take us seriously. England in particular are under pressure against us and we need to control the first 20 so they dont build confidence. We need to hit the ground running and I would expect few surprises and a lot of familiarity in our team.

    Ireland will believe they can just steam roller us. It will be interesting to see if there is any hint of something developing that will help us get out of our World Cup group.

    Wales will always believe they will beat us at home. Their home support will help to influence the referees so I think that more than any other game is where we need to manage our discipline and be patient to silent the crowd.

    As for Italy, even away, we should have the measure of them. Just hope we don’t take them for granted and get too experimental. Our pro teams know that Benetton are capable of taking scalps.

    1. Thinking back to the Ireland game last year our lineout unexpectedly imploded. If we can mitigate POC coaching then we might have more of a chance. Id be tempted to have Richie Gray in the squad just for that game.

  6. Sorry separate subject: Exeter Chiefs new logo – regardless of the issues around the old one – the new one looks terrible…

  7. I have to say I’m hacked off that at the launch of the 6N not one journalist has bothered themselves to ask what happens in the event of a covid cancellation. Given the scandalous events of last year, which as I said at the time, Scotland winning in Paris allowed it all to be brushed under the carpet. Covid is still very much with us and the tournament should have a clear plan in place for a covid cancellation.

  8. I’m not going into this tournament with much confidence, yes we’ve got a great back line that can cause any teams problems but I felt the pack went significantly backwards in the winter internationals and I think we’ll get bossed around by England and Ireland at the very least. Without a solid pack you can’t win, but I hope my analysis is way off.

  9. Looking at the Glasgow and Edinburgh sides for tomorrow, I feel you can see who, and who not, are being considered for next week against England

  10. Like many of us, maybe most of us, I sat in front of the television for last year’s Calcutta Cup just hoping for a good performance against the pre-6N ludicrously hyped ‘white wave’. Decades of disappointment and frustration at Twickenham, despite the brilliant 2019 comeback, gave me little confidence that we could win.

    And yet, there was something about the first 15 minutes of that game that got me sitting bolt upright and saying out loud, ‘Flip me, we can win this, and if we carry on like this we will win it.’

    If we can get the same kind of start and stamp on the game that we did last year at Twickenham, it could be a good day for us. I posted recently on another thread that while we were outplayed up front by SA in November, we weren’t totally battered. Whereas England were smashed up front and did brilliantly to conjure up a win out of a total beasting.

    So, first 15 up front will imo set the scene for the whole Test.

  11. Aye,too much “treble”,not enough “bass”,consequently we sound “tinny”.
    If it has to be “pop” rugby.
    More Barrie white, less Leo Sayer.

    1. I think this has more bass (Fagerson for Watson would be overdoing it however):

      Hogg, Maitland, Harris, Redpath, VDM, Russell, Price, Bradbury, Watson, Richie, Gray, Skinner, Fagerson, Turner, Shoeman

      I think Maitland straight in. Redpath straight in. Skinner for Cummings was the toughest call – club duo swung it over a little extra height.

  12. The way I see it is that Italy should be a win – the other 4 could go either way including the misery of 4 defeats and the ecstacy of 4 wins. Ireland away must be the least likely win, you’d think

    To be honest, not very optimistic, alas

  13. Hogg, Steyn, Harris, Redpath, VDM, Russell, Price
    Bradbury, Watson, Ritchie, Gray, Gilchrist, Nel, Ashman, Schoeman.

    Hutchinson, Kinghorn Vellacott
    Darge, Skinner, Z.Fagarson, Turner, Sutherland

  14. I am going against the grain with an apprehensive sense of foreboding. Reasons? France and Ireland are clear favourites and both look ominously strong. We were pretty lucky (and impressive) in our win against France last year – and both they and England are due a performance and result against us. I’d be happy to win one of those games. Ireland away appears unwinnable given their strength and our record against them, particularly given their clubs dominate ours. I feel more confident about Wales, but again, haven’t win in a packed Millennium for god knows how long – anything could happen. And Italy? Benetton’s form has me worried that they may be about to finally break their hoodoo……hopefully they beat someone before we go there and have already got the monkey off their backs – and helped us in the process!

    This is a very, very good Scotland squad – but the 6N has never been stronger across the board. We’ll have to lift to another level as I think Ireland, France and England all will.

  15. I think we may have now reached the point, talent wise and psychologically, where (outside the coaching staff) we can afford to just focus on ourselves…

    Play well we can expect to win – in all 5 games. Play poorly we can expect to lose – in all 5 games.

    We need no luck or tricks nor opponents having an off day…just good execution.

  16. Looks like England will be missing a few key players. Given their depth I’m not sure it’ll leave them much weakened but without doubt they’ll be much less predictable with a new FH, back row and midfield. So I’m struggling to muster much confidence for this game, particularly as Smith is such a game breaker.

    Probably only a couple of positions up for grabs in the Scotland team – loose head prop, number 8, inside centre, right wing.

    I think I’d start Schoeman, Bradbury, Redpath and Graham, but I wouldn’t be concerned with Sutherland/Fagerson/Johnson/Maitland. Redpath has had three games back I think, so should be match fit really.

    Hoping Toonie doesn’t pull a real curveball and chuck in someone like Sione at 12. The Calcutta Cup is no time for us to experiment, although I’d be tempted to find a space for Darge on the bench at least.

  17. I know everyone seems to be of the assumption that young Marcus will be starting at 10 but I’m not so sure.
    Even though Ford wasnt in original party I wouldnt be surprised if ,with all these necessary injury changes -always contrary Eddie -starts him- as their form together for Leics has been v good this season.
    One big issue is what bench split there is, together with 11, 12 and 14.
    I hope Gregor takes a punt on Redpath-if hes matchfit he offers so much more than Johnson and Steyn and Maitland would be best starting wings IMO.
    a back 3 of Hogg Graham and VDM has too much of a Hail Mary about it for this game, certainly in defence.

    1. He’s not going to leave out a fit VDM! Maitland would fit well for this game on the other wing though I’d be happy if it were Steyn.
      Think Graham (and Bradbury) did nothing on Saturday to push their case for selection.

      1. Think Graham (and Bradbury) did nothing on Saturday to push their case for selection: Agree, thought they were very poor

  18. Just seen Maitland no longer in the training squad with the return of VDM and Rowe so ignore all that! I’d go for Steyn then to partner VDM.

  19. The “most obvious” selection, in MHO, looks like this:
    Schoeman, Turner, Fagerson, Gray, Cummings, Ritchie, Watson, Fagerson;
    Price, Russell, VDM, Redpath, Harris, Graham, Hogg
    With a bench of Sutherland, McInally, Nel, Skinner, Darge, Vellacott, Kinghorn, Steyn (or possibly 6/2 split with Bradbury instead of Steyn, covering 8 & 6).
    So there is no way on earth that will be anything like the selection.

  20. I wonder how much the weekend games will have influenced Toony’s thinking. He’s not had the 1872 games to compare the head to heads of a lot of the players so the weekend might have swung a few players in and out of Calcutta Cup contention. I think it might have swung it from Graham to Steyn on the wing and Bradbury might have slipped up while a few other have confirmed match fitness. Always think its tricky for the players the weekend before an international do they try and play out of their skins to get into the team or take it steady to avoid getting injured. Actually think if you’re not 100% committed then you are more likely to pick up an injury.

    I think Scotland might have an advantage with a big chunk of the squad playing at the weekend. All the England players will be rested in camp but will they be fully match sharp. I’d much rather play them in the first game of the season than the last but i don’t think they will be caught as cold as last year.

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