Blogs & Opinion

The contenders

Dewi Morris Posted 1st February 2013 view comments

Expectations are high from England fans after that tremendous win against New Zealand in the autumn.

Many feel that France are the only team to worry England as they seem to have got the balance right under Philippe Saint-André.

However the Six Nations is like no tournament in the world and Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Italy can all spring a surprise or two.

Ireland have a team that can compete with anyone and will be quietely confident while Wales will be determined to shake of their seven losses in a row and show why they are defending Grand Slam champions.

Scotland are still rebuilding but cannot be taken lightly, while Italy coach Jacques Brunel is determined that his backs will make the most of the ball...

Dewi on England

Very simply they have to adopt the same attitude they had against New Zealand. They can't afford to be pragmatically boring and be happy winning games 9-6. They need to kick on irrespective of whether there are injuries or not. Stuart Lancaster needs to be prepared to lose games - by that I mean he needs to take a risk, to be adventurous. Freddie Burns may be injured but Lancaster must not be afraid to stick him in against France, Wales or Ireland. Let's see these guys and let's see how they go in a run of three or four games. It's not all about winning the next game; it's about preparing for 2015. He likes the youth and is prepared to back his young players. England are on a real high at the moment but they need to work out how to develop their game. If England get the performance right then the wins will come. They must be brave and put in some good performances.

Player to watch: Freddie Burns - I would like him to play at least the last two games to see if he can handle it. Matt Kvesic may be given a chance too - we are desperate for an out-and-out seven and he fits the bill.

Prediction: Second

Dewi on France

They have really changed and are playing some lovely rugby. They have picked two open sides to really compete for the ball. Frederic Michalak is back but I still think they have a slight problem at 10 and he will be crucial to their hopes. They have got a superb pack who can take on anyone but they need someone to control the pack and to make sure the right ball gets out to their backs. They are really spoilt for choice in midfield with the likes of Maxime Mermoz, Mathieu Bastareaud, Florian Fitz and Wesley Fofana all in fine form. I would have loved to see Gael Fickou in action this tournament but his injury has robbed us of all seeing a real superstar. The key game for them will be at Twickenham and they should be up for one huge fight.

Player to watch: Is there a better No.8 than Louis Picamoles at the moment? Kieran Read fans may have something to say but Picamoles has been in superb form for Toulouse.

Prediction: First

Dewi on Ireland

It's time they move on and thank Ronan O'Gara for his wonderful service and concentrate on developing someone like Ian Keatley. Johnny Sexton will be their main man but they need someone different to back him up. Ireland are a good team - they don't fear anyone and will be looking for a big tournament. They have some fantastic strike runners - Simon Zebo on the wing is definitely a danger man. Anyone who wears his socks down has to be a good player. They will need to remain pretty injury free though as they do lack a bit of depth - mainly up front. Mike Ross for example will be a big loss at tight head if he suffers an injury. Ireland will be welcoming back some big players though - Rob Kearney and Brian O'Driscoll would boost any team in the world. I am expecting O'Driscoll to have the tournament of his life. He has been rested and will be determined to get stuck in - I think he fancies one more tilt at a Lions tour.

Player to watch: Chris Henry has been phenomenal and has really put his hand up - he tackles himself to a standstill and his work rate is just superb.

Prediction: Third

Dewi on Italy

Italy always pull out one great victory or one fantastic performance. They will be targeting a win at home again this year. Their issue is that they still have not firmed up a halfback. They have a power pack who can compete - they will be led by the classy Sergio Parisse who will lead from the front and well backed up in the forwards with the likes of Martin Castrogiovanni.

However, it is that ability to use that ball that they struggle with. Their centres will be big and strong and just crash the ball up but they are lacking a play-maker. They are incredibly physical and will try and outmuscle you - that is part and parcel of rugby - but they need to move to the next level and they have not quite got the personnel to do that. They will have to take on France, England and Scotland away and will be targeting a home win against Ireland and Wales and possibly something special up in Edinburgh - they will still be extremely competitive and I think they will get one win.

Player to watch: Luciano Orquera looks certain to be the man in the No.10 jersey. He will have to steer the likes of Parisse, Castrogiovanni and Robert Barbieri around the paddock and trying to get the most of his backs.

Prediction: Sixth

Dewi on Scotland

I cannot wait to see what Dean Ryan brings to Scotland. McRyan will give them a fantastic structure, he is a bloody good coach and I cannot wait to see him walking out in a kilt...

Scotland will always compete up front and they have a very good back row too. The problem they have is at half-back. They will produce some good ball because they have a good set piece but they need to use that ball wisely and get over the gainline. Greig Laidlaw and Ruaridh Jackson are still pretty inexperienced at international level but have got to make the most of their possession. There will be a lot of attention put on Sean Maitland too who will make his debut against England. They could have a pretty decent back three with Maitland, Tim Visser and Stuart Hogg."

Player to watch: Kelly Brown. As Scotland's skipper he has to keep the team focussed and make sure they take their chances and opportunities. He also has a big role to play at No.7 and I expect him to bring his excellent Saracens form into play.

Prediction: Fifth

Dewi on Wales

Wales are really hurting under Rob Howley having lost seven on the bounce. They will still be good but they really need to get some confidence going and decide what sort of rugby they want to play. Wales are hurting, they have a few injuries, especially in the engine room, and will hope that the likes Bradley Davies is fit. They need to find a direction too - they can be far too lateral at times. The thing with their 'sexy' rugby is that they got found out. People just waited for them to make a mistake as they were going from side to side. As I have said before, the selection at 10 will be crucial. They have an excellent centre pairing with Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davis who will cause a lot of problems for defences. It is a big tournament for No. 9 Mike Phillips too - we know how strong he is but is his temperament right?

Player to watch: Sam Warburton has gone from the summit all the way down to base camp. For a No.7 to do that is a bit scary. I watched the game between Cardiff and Sale and only noticed him once. He may be playing in a bad side against a bad side on a muddy pitch but a No.7 should be everywhere. If he does not find his form then he will not be on the plane to Australia.

Prediction: Fourth

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