Six Nations 2021: Predictions

Six Nations 2021: Predictions

Evening all. It’s that time of the year again when rugby comes along to dominate the world of sport for six weeks or so. I fucking love the Six Nations. Some of my happiest childhood days started with frosty school rugby games in the morning. I would come home, bloody-kneed, and my dad would send me up for a shower before producing a bowl of hearty soup with bread and butter for lunch. We would then install ourselves in front of the TV for a couple of Six Nations matches, only getting up to prepare cups of tea and raid the biscuit tin for chocolate digestives.

Of course, this year’s tournament will feel different. Instead of stadiums packed with singing rugby fans in fancy dress, there will be thousands upon thousands of empty seats. Just like any sport, the Six Nations will not be the same without the fans, but the situation is what it is. Spectator-free rugby is better than no rugby.

One of the great things about the Six Nations is that practically every match is a clash of the titans. With the obvious exception of Italy, every team is capable of winning on any given day. Imagine the Premier League with just the Big 6, or the Australian Open featuring Djokovic vs Nadal from Day One. The last team to produce back-to-back Grand Slams, for example, was the French side of 1997-98. If a team appears dominant, it doesn’t usually last for very long.

With the tournament’s unpredictability in mind, I thought I’d open myself up to ridicule by attempting to predict where each team will finish this year. Let’s get into it, starting with last year’s champions:

England (last year: Champions, 2021 prediction: Champions)

With three wins in the past five tournaments, and a 2019 World Cup Final appearance thrown in to boot, its hard not to pick Eddie Jones’ team as the favourites again this year. Reliable stalwarts like Owen Farrell, Ben Youngs, Tom Curry and Jamie George are still in the prime of their careers, while centre Ollie Lawrence and prop WIll Stuart add a fresh new ingredient into the mix. They are missing big players – Sam Underhill, Kyle Sinckler and Mako Vunipola for example – but if any team has the strength in depth required to overcome those absences, its England. The match against France in Round 4 will be crucial, but I fancy the defending champions to edge over the line at Twickenham.

France (last year: runners-up, 2021 prediction: runners-up)

I was extremely close to pipping this exciting young French team for the title this year, but a couple of things turned my decision. First, Les Blues will be without talismanic fly half Romain Ntamack for at least the first couple of games. His understudy Mattieu Jalibert is highly rated, but Ntamack is so crucial to the team’s fluid style and will be sorely missed. Secondly, the French have an unfavourable fixture list with three away games, including at the Aviva Stadium and a potential Grand Slam decider at Twickenham. Still, with stars like Antoine Dupont, Gael Fickou, Teddy Thomas and Gregory Aldritt in his ranks, coach Fabien Galthie will rightly fancy his chances of securing France’s first title since 2010.

Scotland (last year: 4th, 2021 prediction: 3rd)

While it was fairly clear who I would choose in the first two spots, the next three were quite difficult. There’s not much to choose between Scotland, Ireland and Wales, but I just fancy the Scots to clinch this mini-tournament. Under the guidance of Gregor Townsend, this young team is getting better all the time. Captain Stuart Hogg, Jonny Gray and Sean Maitland provide the experience while the return of Finn Russell – who was left out last year – at fly half will be huge. Starting with the Calcutta Cup might just play into their hands: the knock-on effects of a first win at Twickenham since 1983 would be incalculable.

Ireland (last year: 3rd, 2021 prediction: 4th)

With world-class players like Gary Ringrose, Peter O’Mahoney, Conor Murray and Jonny Sexton in their ranks, it feels strange to put such a strong Irish side in the bottom half of the table. But such is the quality of the tournament this year. They start with a tricky trip to Wales before facing daunting home ties – without the benefit of the vociferous Dublin support – against both England and France. The Round 4 fixture at Murrayfield is a mouth-watering prospect on paper, but I think the rejuvenated Scots will judge nick it. That said, the Irish have a knack of producing a surprise or two, just like in 2018 when they came from nowhere to win the Grand Slam. I wouldn’t rule out something similar this year.

Wales (last year: 5th, 2021 prediction: 5th)

Just like Manchester United with Alex Ferguson or Arsenal with Arsene Wenger, Wales have really struggled to cope with the departure of legendary coach Warren Gatland. The Kiwi led Wales to four Six Nations titles – including three Grand Slams – in a stunning 12-year reign from 2007. Wales had good teams during that period, of course, but Gatland massively overachieved and new boss Wayne Pivac was always inheriting a poisoned chalice. In Dan Biggar, George North and Justin Tipuric, they still have an immense amount of talent in the squad. But I think it will be a few more years before we see Wales challenging for the title again.

Italy (last year: 6th, 2021 prediction: 6th)

I know, its not exactly the most bold statement to predict that Italy will take home the dreaded wooden spoon spoon this year. After all, they have done just that in six of the past seven years. They do have some talented players, with captain Luca Bigi leading from the front and lightning-quick winger Monty Ioane (nephew of former Wallaby Digby) expected to make an impression this year. But aside from the Round 4 fixture against Wales in Rome – which will be their cup final – I can’t see them being competitive. After more than 20 years of the Italy experiment, the authorities need to look at a relegation or rotation option for the sixth spot in the tournament because things are just not improving.

Right, I’ll leave it there for today. Have a good, rugby-filled weekend all and I’ll be back here on Monday.

—Who do you think will win this year’s Six Nations? Let me know in the comments section below!—