It’s that time of year again! Starting this weekend, the northern hemisphere’s rugby elite face off in the Six Nations, and the championship has never been so open in its history!
Marathonbet is here to give you all the odds and insight you need ahead of the opening round.
Key Player: Owen Farrell
Defining Fixture: Ireland at Twickenham (Saturday, March 17th)
England start the tournament as defending champions, outright favourites and a team bidding to make history by capturing a record third straight Six Nations title. Despite being ravaged by injuries, Eddie Jones’ men will be confident, with the Australian coach instilling an impressive winning mentality that has seen England victorious in 22 of 23 Tests since he took charge.
If Jones’ new men can make their mark in the absence of regular forwards Billy Vunipola, Nathan Hughes, Kyle Sinckler and James Haskell – England have every chance of retaining the trophy. The world’s second ranked nation have impressive strength in depth that will stand them in good stead.
It could all go down to the final weekend of the tournament with England hosting the biggest threat to Six Nations glory, Joe Schmidt’s powerful Ireland side!
Key Player: Jonny Sexton
Defining Fixture: England at Twickenham (Saturday, March 17th)
Many pundits and ex-players are tipping Ireland to claim Six Nations glory this year. A host of injuries to key players from Wales and England, along with question marks over Scotland’s ability to handle their rising stock in world rugby, leave Schmidt’s men in a strong position.
The current form of club sides Leinster and Munster will further enhance the bullish mood of the Irish heading into their opening fixture away to France. One thing’s for certain, if their star Lions halfback combination of Jonny Sexton and Connor Murray can stay fit, the boys in green will take some stopping.
If Rory Best can steer his men to victory in a tricky opener in Paris it will most likely be a last round decider at Twickenham where they’ve only won once in six attempts.
Key Player: Stuart Hogg
Defining Fixture: Wales at Cardiff (Saturday, February 3rd)
Scotland, a genuine contender for the Six Nations this year? It’s been a while since we heard that! After an impressive 2017 that saw them beat Ireland, Wales, Australia and run the mighty All Blacks close – no one will be underestimating the Scots this time around.
Gregor Townsend’s open style of rugby has made their Six Nations foes take heed, but big questions remain over their ability to handle the pressure of going into games as serious contenders.
Flying fullback Stuart Hogg has claimed back-to-back player of the tournament awards, and if he can ignite things from the back, Scotland could go all the way. If this exciting but inexperienced side can overcome a tough opening round encounter in Cardiff, their confidence will grow and they will believe they can go all the way.
Key Player: Hadleigh Parkes
Defining Fixture: Scotland at Cardiff (Saturday, February 3rd)
Warren Gatland recently warned Wales’ Six Nations opponents not to write his side off this year, and the Kiwi isn’t wrong despite a number of injuries to key players disrupting his team’s preparations.
Rhys Webb, Taulupe Faletau, Hallam Amos, Jonathan Davies, Sam Warburton, Dan Biggar and Liam Williams all form part of a lengthy injury list that leaves Wales amongst the outsiders for the tournament. England fans will remember the last time they wrote off an injury ravaged Wales – it ended with them exiting a home 2015 World Cup in the group stages.
Like Ireland, Wales’ club sides have excelled this season, and the free-flowing form of Scarlets will leave Gatland with an air of optimism despite a lack of physical edge up front. Tough games away to Ireland and England leave them with an uphill battle to challenge for glory, but if they can get off to a strong start at home to Scotland then anything is possible. The lack of pressure on Wales and Gatland could play nicely into their hands.
Key Player: Guilhem Guirado
Defining Fixture: Ireland in Paris (Saturday, February 3rd)
New boss Jacques Brunel has taken over at the helm from Guy Noves and has opted for a youthful squad in his attempt to bring Six Nations glory back to France for the first time since 2010.
Brunel has the tough task of picking up a team that has won just three Test matches out of 11 in 2017. He’ll be hoping that the advantage of three home games will help his side finally gain some winning momentum. France will hope their experienced front-row duo of Guilhem Guirado and Rabah Slimani will bring some much-needed grunt and go-forward.
As always, anything is possible from the unpredictable French, and with a bouncing Stade de France at their back, Brunel’s men could throw everyone’s Six Nations predictions right out the window in the opening round. There’s reasons for optimism, but the smart money says not to expect more than a third or fourth place finish at the end of the tournament.
Key Player: Sergio Parisse
Defining Fixture: France in Paris (Friday, March 23rd)
The only thing the hapless Italians are favourites for is the wooden spoon. Conor O’Shea’s men finished winless in last year’s Six Nations, and 2018 looks to provide much of the same.
The Azzurri will be looking to keep games competitive for as long as possible while frustrating their opponents, something they managed to achieve at Twickenham in 2017 with their creative tactics at the breakdown.
Italy’s best chance of victory sees them travel to Paris to take on France in round three on a Friday night. The ever-present colossus of Sergio Parisse will hoping his side can catch the French on an off night and claim an unlikely victory.