MARK KEOHANE writes that France have been consistent and England were magical against the All Blacks, but it’s Wales that will win the Six Nations.
The Six Nations is as good a tournament as the Rugby Championship – and the quality of rugby is no less.
England’s whipping of the All Blacks, France’s thrashing of Australia and Ireland’s hammering of the Pumas has added to the intrigue of this season’s Six Nations.
The exception here is the Springboks. They won all three matches overseas in November, but they beat Ireland 16-12, beat Scotland 21-11 and beat England 16-15. Two of the three wins could have been defeats.
The Southern Hemisphere teams have nothing to be arrogant about. Neither do the supporters.
I have always believed the Heineken Cup to be a superior tournament to Super Rugby because of the tournament structure and because so many teams have the capacity to win it. In Super Rugby too often you can pick four of the six play-of finalists before a ball is kicked.
The added interest in the Six Nations is the fact that England will host the 2015 World Cup and New Zealand’s lame surrender will have given five or six other teams in world rugby added confidence that there is always one implosion a season in every All Black team.
England, even if for just 80 minutes, showed players capable of playing a brand of rugby previously believed to be possible only in New Zealand, France showed the mongrel and the flair to take apart Australia, something they have not done for a while and Ireland and Wales will always offer a contest when hosting anyone.
The tradition of the Six Nations has a special appeal and the Rugby Championship is a pup when compared to the 100-plus years of what is now the Six Nations.
Scotland are a side that has beaten the Springboks and Wallabies recently and Italy have come close on a couple of occasions to upsetting Australia and there is not much difference between Argentina, Italy and Scotland.
I challenge those in the South to take off their blinkers and acknowledge the quality of rugby played in the northern hemisphere and also the quality of player available to the respective countries. These are players as good as what stars down south.
England and France will start favourites; France for their consistency over the last 12 months and England on the evidence of their last two performances against the Boks and for that magical match against the All Blacks when they won in dramatic and record-breaking fashion.
Every squad will also have a South African flavour, be it in the coach box or in the playing squad.
Wales have been the greatest disappointment since the World Cup and have lost their last seven internationals. I am picking them to come good in the Six Nations and win it with France and England the next best.
Ireland will never be easy in Dublin and Scotland will have their moments at home. Italy won’t provide much by way of wins but they will physically pound a few of the opposition.
It promises to be a tournament with more appeal that the recent Rugby Championship and it certainly won’t be as one-sided as the All Blacks six-win romp.
No team will finish unbeaten.
This weekend England will beat Scotland, Wales will edge Ireland and France will comfortably beat Italy in Rome.
My tournament pick is Wales.
Weekend’s matches (home teams first)
England v Scotland
Wales v Ireland
Italy v France