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Wales go in search of Six Nations History
The oldest international rugby union tournament kicks off this weekend as Wales, England, Ireland, Scotland, France and Italy do battle for the historic Six Nations Championship and the boasting rights of northern hemisphere champions.
Defending champions Wales are looking for an unprecedented third consecutive championship under coach Warren Gatland, the man that has restored pride and passion in their national sport and the man that steered the ship Down Under in last years historic British Lions win over Australia. Not surprisingly it was the Welsh contingent on that tour that provided most of the fire power and success and why not, after all they had just won a second consecutive championship.
Despite losing to South Africa and Australia in the November internationals the Welsh start as favourites to lift the title again…why? Here are a few of my reasons, Adam Jones, Alun Wyn Jones, Warburton, Lydiate, Faletau, Tipuric, Phillips, Roberts, Cuthbert and Halfpenny….say no more.
Wales open their campaign against the Italians at the Millennium Stadium.
England will be looking to take a few steps forward this season with the World Cup looming. More new blood has been introduced by Stuart Lancaster while experienced campaigners Chris Ashton and Ben Youngs have been left out due to a string of average performances for England.
Danny Care finally gets a start at 9 for their opening clash with the old enemy in Paris and he will be looking to carry his club form into the French capital. Lee Dickson will act as cover for Care while there are also new caps for Jack Nowell and Jonny May on the wings while Luther Burrell slots in alongside Billy Twelvetrees in the midfield. Brad Barritt also returns following injury and will start from the bench.
The pack remains the same to the one which started against New Zealand with Chris Robshaw captaining the side.
Frances usual begin the tournaments as the unpredictable package. They pushed New Zealand and South Africa all the way in November and they have a powerful scrummaging unit which will be completely ineffective if the Stade France playing surface is like it was during these games. The French will be without inspirational captain Thierry Dusautoir for the entire campaign which is a big loss however as usual with the French if they turn up they can beat anybody on their day.
Ireland can never be written off especially when they still have the services of Paul O’ Connell and Brian O’ Driscoll. Coach Joe Schmidt has plenty of quality and experience to call on, like Heaslip, Best O’Brien, D’Arcy, Kearney and Sexton. The Irish can certainly not be written off, just ask the All Blacks. If they can produce a first half performance like they did that day barely 2 months ago then the rest of the teams won’t stand a chance.
Two teams that realistically don’t stand a chance are Scotland and Italy. Despite this they have plenty of quality players that will make life difficult for the others.
For Scotland Stuart Hogg is a quality performer and electric with the ball in attack, Sean Maitland also likes to run at defences while big Jim Hamilton and Richie Gray will always get the pack moving forward.
Italy are without doubt vastly improved and very good team however it is no secret they lack depth. They began their campaign with a win in Paris last year and then pushed England in the first half at Twickenham, could they do the same to the Welsh this year? Sergio Parisse will lead the Azzurri again, the Italian captain a truly world class player and always a danger. Martin Castrogiovanni continues to prop up the front of the pack while Marco Bortolami is set to earn his 100th cap for his country.
Its going to be a war of attrition for Wales if they are going to make history and what a piece of history it would be if they can pull it off in one of the most open tournaments in years.