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Six fans preview the Six Nations


England

How will your team perform?
I’d love England to pick up where we left off against the All Blacks, but realistically I suspect we’ll struggle to scale those heights consistently. That said, the Saracens saga could actually have a galvanising effect; the quality and stability of the core players should serve us well with every other team in rebuilding mode; and Simon Amor and Matt Proudfoot look like really smart additions to Eddie Jones’s coaching team. I see us winning four out of five, with the sole (frustrating) loss coming against a fired-up Scotland at Murrayfield.

Where will your team finish in the table?
First, above Wales and a rapidly improving France.

Who will be your standout player?
Maro Itoje. He has a personal point to prove. He went into the World Cup final looking like the best lock in the world and came out of it looking like the third best. But more importantly, he has a leadership role to play. I would love to see him step up as a de facto co-captain alongside Owen Farrell, helping to drive standards and re-focus the team. I think he will rise to the task and chip in a couple of important tries too.

Which young players should we look out for?
Ted Hill. Everyone is talking about Ben Earl – and rightly so – but Hill could be a more dynamic Pieter-Steph du Toit for England. I almost feel guilty about the depth of back row talent in England – almost! I also see Ollie Thorley supplanting Jonny May by the end of the tournament. Tom Woodward

England fans should keep an eye out for Ted Hill.



England fans should keep an eye out for Ted Hill. Photograph: Harry Trump/Getty Images

France

How will your team perform?
They will play much better than last year. I expect them to ship far fewer tries so their games will be much closer and they will score some of the best tries of the tournament, particularly off turnover ball. Their approach will be much more clearly structured and planned game-to-game thanks to Fabien Galthié, who will make them much less frustrating to watch.

The youngsters will thrive in attack thanks to Antoine Dupont controlling the game and players such as Virimi Vakatawa drawing all the attention. But the front five will struggle and will not necessarily give them the best platform. I expect France to lose narrowly to England, beat Italy clearly, lose an even closer one to Wales, beat Scotland and beat Ireland.

Where will your team finish in the table?
France will be third and England will win it.

Who will be your standout player?
Vakatawa will continue his European Cup form and drive most of the excitement in the backline. He will frustrate the untested centre partnerships across the tournament and should get good service from the likes of Dupont, Romain Ntamack and Gaël Fickou at 12 as they created some chemistry in Japan.

He will not necessarily score lots, but he will make plenty of decisive breaks and draw attention for Ntamack to players such as Fickou, Damian Penaud and Teddy Thomas into space. He is only hindered by his inconsistent defence but he makes up for it by breaking more tackles than he misses.

Which young players should we look out for?
There are lots of options but the most certain to stand out is François Cros, who should have a big impact from the flank. He is consistently outstanding for Toulouse and in his one Test selection he was a man-of-the-match candidate against Scotland. A veritable tackling machine, Cros wraps low and rarely misses his target. Expect him to be in the top five for tackles made by the end of the tournament.

He is a long, galloping runner with the ball, though he is best as a support runner for other players such as Grégory Alldritt and Vakatawa, who can make the initial breaks. But he might be most easily spotted snatching opposition lineouts; he is a quick and intelligent jumper who should flourish alongside fellow back-rower Charles Ollivon in revitalising the French lineout. Louis Pescheux

Expect to see François Cros winning plenty of lineouts during the Six Nations.



Expect to see François Cros winning plenty of lineouts during the Six Nations. Photograph: Harry Trump/Getty Images

Ireland

How will your team perform?
Reasonably well. We’re still licking our wounds after another World Cup failure but there is nothing like a post-World Cup Six Nations to get the optimism flowing. There is a sense of fresh air, or perhaps a loosening of the suffocation of the past regime, which is needed for both the team and the supporting public.

Six Nation tournaments after World Cups tend to throw up a few surprises and most Irish supporters are excited to see what lies ahead. Expectations are reasonable and a strong enough performance in the tournament, married with a clear implementation of Andy Farrell’s blueprint on the team and a sprinkling of a few new faces will leave most Irish fans satisfied. The schedule has been relatively kind, with two homes games to kick things off, but the year when we have to travel to both London and Paris are generally not that kind.

Where will your team finish in the table?
Ireland will be third, with England champions.

Who will be your standout players?
Much debate has focused on who will replace Rory Best at hooker and what our half back pairing will be. Seeing that he has recently been appointed captain and is therefore as guaranteed a starter as you’re going to get, all eyes will be firmly fixed on Johnny Sexton and how he can handle the added pressure and time in the limelight his new role affords him. When Sexton goes well, Ireland tend to go well.

James Ryan was many people’s tip for the vacant captaincy given his previous experience as captain with the Under 20s and he has already developed into the cornerstone of this Irish pack. A supremely talented and durable player, his name will be in the conversation of most things that Ireland do well.

It will be interesting to see whether Farrell will reward Andrew Conway for his continued good form over the past 18 months. If so, he could be lethal. Will Addison could perform well if given a chance at 15. We’ll be hoping Garry Ringrose continues his good form and it will be interesting to see if Mike Catt will allow the Irish backline to spread its wings a little bit more. If John Cooney is given the nod at scrum half, he could have a very big tournament. Although that is a big if.

Which young players should we look out for?
There are five new caps in the squad, which always causes a bit of an interest, but the Leinster trio of Rónan Kelleher, Caelan Doris and Max Deegan are most likely to feature. With the hooker spot up for grabs, there has been a lot of chatter about Kelleher being the long-term successor to Rory Best. He started the season in storming fashion, scoring seven tries in eight games before a hand injury – which he is still recovering from – stunted his progress. He has not been picked to start in the opener against Scotland but it wouldn’t be a surprise if he was the starting hooker come Paris on 14 March. Darren Kearns

Rónan Kelleher in training.



Rónan Kelleher in training. Photograph: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images

Italy

How will your team perform?
I expect Italy to finally pick up a win. Scotland’s visit to Rome will be the one game where the Azzurri can realistically hope to play their game and win it. They lost all five of their games last year but – aside from a comprehensive beating by England and the opening game against Scotland – the matches were close.

Italy nearly beat Scotland at the Stadio Olimpico in 2018 and will be eyeing that fixture as their game of their tournament. This year, they can again count on Matteo Minozzi, a world class finisher who might make some of this year’s encounters even closer.

Who will win the tournament?
England. Italy will finish fifth.

Who will be your standout player?
Minozzi missed last year’s tournament due to injury but he had a decent World Cup. He is expected to be on top form and will cause defences more than a few headaches.

Which young players should we look out for?
Niccolò Cannone is a powerful lock who will turn a few heads if given the chance to make a meaningful contribution. Elio Calcagno

Matteo Minozzi in action at the World Cup.



Matteo Minozzi in action at the World Cup. Photograph: Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images

Scotland

How will your team perform?
Not well. This year should have provided an excellent opportunity due to the upheaval in the Wales, Ireland, France and Italy squads and the scandal engulfing England. Scotland have lost a huge amount of experience in Greig Laidlaw, Tommy Seymour and John Barclay but, in truth, the World Cup came a year or two too late for them and none of them would have been in consideration to start this year.

Scotland should have had the advantage of continuity, however the Finn Russell affair not only disrupts the squad but also removes one of Scotland’s few world-class players. There is also a new tranche of coaches, though all are brought in on short contracts with the expectation that Gregor Townsend will leave his post when his contract expires in 2021.

Defence has become a huge problem, particularly the concession of early tries, and Steve Tandy has had no time to implement any useful changes. The forwards, as ever, will prove underpowered, and the regression in quality of the set piece and, particularly, the maul since Dan McFarland was poached by Ulster has been worrying.

The opening two fixtures, in Dublin and against England at Murrayfield, are likely to yield heavy defeats and there is a sense that the wheels, which are shaky before the tournament starts, could fall off quickly.

Who will win the tournament?
England, but with no grand slam. Scotland will be last, unable to prevent disintegration following their early defeats.

Who will be your standout player?
Hamish Watson will continue to battle against the tide. Perhaps one year too early for Sam Skinner and Matt Fagerson, while Huw Jones has had a well-timed return to form for Glasgow Warriors.

Which young players should we look out for?
Luke Crosbie has been excellent when he has had his chance in a competitive Edinburgh back row, however Scott Cummings has been a standout for Glasgow, providing a skilful and dynamic complement to Jonny Gray’s endless workrate. Calum Robertson

Scott Cummings in action for Glasgow.



Scott Cummings in action for Glasgow. Photograph: Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

Wales

How will your team perform?
It will be exciting to see how Wayne Pivac develops his side following Warren Gatland’s reign. The transition period in the final few months of Gatland’s tenure will surely help and the extra Barbarians game will have broken the ice early. Stephen Jones’s involvement during the World Cup will also have given Wales a head start from an attacking point of view. It’s nice to see youngsters and new in-form players being given opportunities and the mixture of those guys and the more experienced players makes for a very exciting and dynamic squad. Bringing Sam Warburton in as a specialist breakdown coach is inspired.

Who will win the title?
France. They have an insanely talented backline. Wales might finish second.

Who will be your standout player?
Josh Navidi. He was sorely missed when injured in the World Cup. Powerful and abrasive, he gets through so much unseen work at times. He has really stepped up from being an excellent club player earlier in his career to an outstanding international. A back row of him, Taulupe Faletau and Justin Tipuric is exciting. With Aaron Wainwright, Aaron Shingler and Ross Moriarty also in the mix for selection, Wales are blessed in the back row this year.

Which young players should we look out for?
Louis Rees-Zammit. He may not be given too much gametime early on – maybe off the bench against Italy, injuries and scoreline permitting. We’ve all seen what he can do at club level in one of the toughest leagues in the world. I’m sure Wales will manage him well and give him an opportunity at the right time. Elsewhere, Pivac’s decision to bring in Nick Tompkins to cover a lack of options in the centre was a masterstroke. He appears to be shrewd operator. Alex Griffith

Thanks to everyone who replied. We had hundreds of responses and unfortunately we could only use a few of them. Enjoy the tournament.



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