ESPN SCRUM

/ Six Nations 2014

/ Features

Tom Hamilton

Tom Hamilton Tom Hamilton RSS FeedFeeds

Tom Hamilton was brought up near the stands of the Recreation Ground and joined ESPN in 2011. He is now Associate Editor of ESPNscrum.
Follow him on Twitter @tomESPNscrum

Six Nations
Dreams made or broken on opening weekend
Tom Hamilton
January 31, 2014
The captains of the Six Nations © Getty Images
Enlarge

It's that time of the year again; the moment in the calendar when dusty, weathered jerseys are brushed off. There is a palpable feeling of nostalgia in the air; the Six Nations is back with the countries going toe to toe for a trophy with a capacity of 3.75 litres - enough to hold five bottles of champagne.

The weekend's action kicks off with champions Wales hosting Italy with England then travelling to Paris to face Les Bleus. On Sunday Scotland travel to Ireland and ahead of the first round of Six Nations matches, ESPN brings you a rundown of the complete picture.

My fantasy XV

  • Outside backs: Leigh Halfpenny, George North, Rob Kearney
  • Centres: Brian O'Driscoll, Scott Williams
  • Fly-half: Owen Farrell
  • Scrum-half: Greig Laidlaw
  • Front-row: Dylan Hartley, Martin Castrogiovanni, Cian Healy
  • Second-row: Courtney Lawes, Pascal Pape
  • Back-row: Chris Robshaw, Louis Picamoles, Sergio Parisse
  • Join the fantasy here - PIN: 49176

Wales v Italy

Saturday, 2.30pm, BBC One

Things are looking bleak for Italian rugby at present. Their clubs endured yet another woeful Heineken Cup campaign and they are unsure over just which competitions they will be playing in next season. While Wales' players are probably enjoying some better form, they too are having to park off-field uncertainty as they continue to be dogged by the unsavoury dispute engulfing the Welsh game.

Wales skipper Sam Warburton is benched for the opening game but there is enough about the Welsh team that makes them overwhelming favourites to win this opener. Italy have a host of injuries and have opted for youth with Tommaso Allen starting at fly-half but if they were to storm the Millennium Stadium, it would be one of the biggest upsets in the history of the tournament.

Weather: Looks like rain for Cardiff with a temperature of around 7°C.

Odds: Wales are a huge 1/33 to beat Italy with the Azzurri priced at 18/1 to win.

Key Stat: Italy have a solid set piece and finished with the best lineout (90%) and scrum (91%) last season

Prediction: Wales by 25.

France v England

Saturday, 5pm, BBC One

Wales the favourites

  • Wales have the shortest odds for the title with prices of 2/1 on offer with 11/2 for a Grand Slam. Ireland at 11/2 for the championship could be worth a shout.

    Italy are understandably the favourites for the Wooden Spoon at 8/13.

    If you fancy a punt on the top try-scorer go for Wesley Fofana at 9/1.
Click here for the latest odds from bet365

With just 20 games between now and the 2015 World Cup for England, Stuart Lancaster has had his second crack at building a team. Debuts have been handed to Luther Burrell and Jack Nowell and while plenty of column inches has been given to talk of England's culture and the work Lancaster has done, that will count for little if the young team crash and burn in Paris.

France endured a woeful 2013 and finished at the foot of last year's championship. The pressure is on Philippe Saint-Andre to stop the rot and he too has rolled the dice of selection opting for the uncapped Jules Plisson at fly-half for Saturday's late kick-off. With Thierry Dusautoir crocked, a lot of pressure rests on the sizeable shoulders of Pascal Pape and openside Bernard le Roux.

Weather: The conditions should be perfect with the sun breaking through with the temperature a cool 8°C.

Odds: France are favourites at 4/7 with England at 6/4. Nowell is 12/1 to score the first try on his debut.

Key Stat: France love to kick and last season they hoofed away more possession than any other country.

Prediction: France by three.

Ireland v Scotland

Sunday, 3pm, BBC One

Infographic - Brian O'Driscoll
The imperious Brian O'Driscoll © Scrum.com
Enlarge

Ireland are at the start of that path under Joe Schmidt and while they can take some solace from that memorable performance against the All Blacks, they will want victories rather than valiant defeats. While there is an exciting new era breaking out, all the focus will be on one soon-to-be retiring veteran as Brian O'Driscoll begins his final championship for Ireland. His incumbent replacement Robbie Henshaw will be waiting in the wings.

Scotland are an unpredictable bunch. Interim boss Scott Johnson has kept the faith with Kelly Brown at openside despite suggesting previously his place in the side was under threat. The exciting Matt Scott is benched with Duncan Taylor preferred at inside centre.

Weather: It should be a cloudy 7°C in Dublin on Sunday.

Odds: Ireland are clear favourites at 1/8 with a tie - by no means completely out of the question - priced at 33/1.

Key Stat: The Scots only away win in the Six Nations from their last 17 fixtures since 2006 and that was over Ireland in 2010.

Prediction: Ireland by 15.

Infographic - Captain records
Who's the most successful captain? © Scrum.com
Enlarge

What the coaches have said

"We need to make sure we get out of the blocks and don't get caught with our pants down."Wales' Warren Gatland

"Plisson is one of, if not the best fly-half in the French league at the moment so why would I be scared to pick a young player? I started in the Six Nations when I was 19 or 20 and I survived."France's Philippe Saint-Andre

"The upside is that they have no fear." England's Stuart Lancaster on his young side

Three match ups to watch

Wesley Fofana v Luther Burrell: The French centre is just a joy to watch and Burrell will need to call on all of his Heineken Cup experience to nullify the Clermont runner.

Rhys Priestland v Tommaso Allan: Italy's Allan is yet to play in the Six Nations and has a handful of Perpignan games to his name. Wales' Priestland is back in the Welsh driving seat having endured a difficult couple of years and will hope to shine.

Rob Kearney v Stuart Hogg: Two Lions fullbacks, but two No.15s who have a different style of rugby. Scotland's Hogg is a more direct runner while Ireland's Kearney has a superb tactical brain.

Play ESPNscrum International Fantasy Rugby 2014
Create your FREE team now!

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.

Live Sports

Communication error please reload the page.

  • Latest
  • Most Viewed
  • News
  • Features
  • Football

    John Terry signs new one-year Chelsea deal

    Chelsea have announced that club captain John Terry has signed a one-year contract extension to keep him at the club until the end of the 2015-16 season

  • Rugby

    Wales performance coach Adam Beard departs for NFL

    Wales head coach Warren Gatland led the tributes for Adam Beard as the head of physical performance leaves for a new job in American Football

  • Football

    Liverpool's Skrtel doesn't feel guilty over 'stamp' on De Gea

    Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel insists he does not feel guilty about the challenge on Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea which resulted in his three-match ban

  • Football

    Tottenham's Harry Kane making his mark with England

    Roy Hodgson has confirmed Harry Kane will make his full England debut in the next few days but refused to say whether the striker would start Friday's Euro 2016 qualifier against Lithuania at Wembley

  • Football

    Disappointed Dembele could leave Spurs in the summer

    Mousa Dembele has hinted he could leave Tottenham this summer, saying that his lack of games at under Mauricio Pochettino has been "very disappointing"

  • Formula 1

    Storm clouds gather in Malaysia

    Will Mercedes dominate again? Can anybody catch up with the help of a rainstorm? And will the Red Bull/Renault relationship tear itself apart? All those questions and more will be answered at this weekend's Malaysian Grand Prix

  • Formula 1

    Alonso: More questions than answers

    Maurice Hamilton pieces together what we know from the Fernando Alonso crash and explains why the latest answers raise more questions

  • Rugby

    Attacking revolution won't be repeated at World Cup

    John Mitchell lapped up the action on 'Sensational Saturday' - but warns not to expect a repeat come Rugby World Cup time later this year

  • Boxing

    'I've sparred with Klitschko and Fury - now I want Joshua'

    Unbeaten heavyweight Dillian Whyte, 28, (14-0, 11 KOs) tells ESPN where his rivalry with Anthony Joshua stems from and outlines the plan for his career this year after returning from a doping ban in November

  • Rugby

    Super Rugby preview, team news, line-ups: Round 7

    Greg Growden previews Super Rugby round 7. We've also got key stats, team news and all the line-ups to inform your ESPN Footytips Super Rugby picks

  • News
  • Features

Sponsored Links

Make Huge Income from your Home
Download your Free Guide And Learn How To Increase Your Monthly Income