Six Nations preview: Can Wales stop England creating history
Six Nations Preview Guest Post Exclusively Written by TOFFS
On February 3rd the 19th series of the Six Nations Championship gets underway and not only do England start as clear favourites they do so with history in the reckoning. Having won back-to-back crowns in 2016 and 2017 Eddie Jones’ men have the opportunity to complete an unprecedented treble and, injury concerns aside, all the omens look extremely encouraging that in mid-March against Ireland the Red Roses will once again be parading the trophy, on St Patrick’s Day of all dates. Those absences – namely Wasps wrecker Nathan Hughes, Elliot Daly and Manu Tuilagi – would weaken any squad but it’s almost an understatement to claim that England possess such quantity of quality in their pool that they can be compensated for. More so in Owen Farrell they have a player who Rugby World magazine recently declared to be the best on the planet.
If England unquestionably boasts the strongest squad they also have enviable momentum. Since Jones took over the reins in the aftermath of a disastrous World Cup campaign in 2015 he has masterminded 22 test wins from 23 and the recent signing of a two-year contract extension suggests he has the utmost belief in England’s capacity to over-take the All Blacks in the world rankings.
Indeed the only potential blot on the landscape at this current time, before a ball has been kicked into touch and optimism is rife among every competing nation, is a perceived lack of recognition for England’s achievements thus far. This week Jones cranked up the mind games in earnest by insisting that Ireland and Scotland are the media ‘darlings of European rugby’ and pointedly enquiring in a rhetorical fashion to what exaggerated extent people got excited ‘when the ball goes side to side with Scotland’. In comparison, England are too often damned for their functionality.
Here’s the Wales team in full to play Scotland on Saturday in the #SixNations.
What do you make of the team?
— BBC Sport Wales (@BBCSportWales) January 30, 2018
While the latter point has merit Jones’ comments were somewhat unfair on a Scottish fifteen that rarely fail to delight with their attacking adventure and easy-on-the-eye rugby. In full-back Stuart Hogg too they have one of the most exciting talents on show across the whole tournament and while it’s unlikely there are many neutrals residing out there those who do have little allegiance to any one country will surely be rooting for the Scots to complete their first ever Six Nations crown.
In their favour is a fixture schedule that this time out commits England to Murrayfield for the Calcutta Cup but if we’re seeking a realistic challenger for this year’s crown it’s difficult to look past last year’s runners up, Ireland. As ever Joe Schmidt’s thrilling side will be bolstered by the vastly experienced Lions pairing of Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton and with Ulster, Leinster and Munster all impressing in the Champions Cup that bodes well for a possible vintage year ahead for a nation that has won the Grand Slam on only two occasions, a meagre return given their riches of brilliant players down the years.
As for Wales, sadly their status on this occasion is of unlikely outsiders, their lengthy odds largely brought about by an equally lengthy injury list that has decimated the core of their side. Those expected to miss out reads like a who’s who of the finest Welsh talent and include such mainstays as George North, Sam Warburton, Taulupe Faletau and Dan Lydiate. This week’s withdrawal of Rhys Webb on top of all this was simply rotten luck compounding cruel misfortune. If there is one single positive slant however it’s that nobody responds to being the underdogs in the Six Nations quite like the Welsh.
This leaves us with France and Italy and while it would be foolhardy to dismiss the former given their immense pack just seven wins from their previous 21 games starkly reveals their present limitations. For Italy further establishment as competitors of note will suffice.
We began by trumpeting the prospect of history being made so for a tournament steeped in such heritage it’s only fitting perhaps that we end by looking back. Prior to the tournament’s expansion in 2000 to assimilate Italy the Five Nations format dates back to 1910. Before that England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales competed in the Home Nations Championship from 1883 on.
This then is the competition’s 135th birthday and to celebrate that fact Toffs have unveiled a number of t-shirts and sweatshirts emblazoned with badges from 1910 and 1926. What is most striking about these striking designs is that for all of the great many advances made in shirt technology in the intervening years the red rose, thistle, shamrock, Gallic rooster and three feathers have never looked better since.
It’s very possible that it could be England’s year in 2018 and if it’s not then it might well be the Welsh underdogs. These shirts though remind us all that every participant in this glorious, famed event has an awful lot to be proud of.