Six weeks of star-studded rugby action gets underway this weekend as the 2020 Six Nations begins at the Millennium Stadium as defending champions Wales begin their campaign at home to Italy.
The Welsh will be looking to become the first team in Six Nations history to win back-to-back Grand Slams, while an England side that knocked out New Zealand en route to last year’s Rugby World Cup Final will be looking for a first win in this competition since 2017.
With several nations going through a transitional phase, this could be one of the most open Six Nations in years. Here’s our team-by-team guide…
Six Nations Betting Preview 2020 – Team-by-Team Guide
Eddie Jones’ side managed to brush off an underwhelming 2019 Six Nations campaign to reach last year’s Rugby World Cup Final and start as perhaps justifiable favourites in the Six Nations odds.
Jones’ decision to stick with the England project could be the differential in this tournament with closest contenders Wales and Ireland heading into this tournament under new management. The Australian is also blessed with strength-in-depth, although scrum-half could be an area of concern with Henry Slade likely to miss the start of the tournament with an ankle injury, and the missing Billy Vunipola also gives Jones some thinking to do. Nevertheless, England look to have the fewest issues to iron out heading into the first round of games.
The French could provide the value. It’s fair to say Les Bleus have hardly set the competition alight in recent times, but the fixture list has fallen in their favour this time around with home games against England and Italy to begin their campaign. If they can win the war of attrition against the English at Stade De France on opening weekend, France could lead from the front in the early weeks of this tournament.
On the flipside, sluggish starts have thwarted French hopes in recent Six Nations, losing 24-19 to Wales and 13-15 to Ireland on home soil in 2019 and 2018 respectively. New coaching duo Fabien Galthie and Shaun Edwards have an exciting young squad at their disposal, but this still may be a season to see for France to seal a first Six Nations title since 2010.
The Six Nations’ traditional whipping boys have one simple goal in this competition – to win a first game in five years. That came in a gutsy 22-19 win at Murrayfield back in 2015 but it’s been slim pickings since then, although there were at least some glimpses of promise from the Italians in last year’s competition – notably pushing Ireland close in a 26-16 defeat – despite yet another Wooden Spoon.
A fresh coaching voice in Franco Smith and a rising star in Jake Polledri means some green shoots of recovery may finally be on the horizon for the Italians – but they still face an uphill struggle to end their 22-game losing streak. Losing inspirational captain Sergio Parisse is a body blow, but a home tie against Scotland could finally usher in a new dawn for the Six Nations strugglers.
A poor start and end to last year’s tournament ultimately put paid to Ireland’s ambitions of retaining their Six Nations title in 2019 under outgoing coach Joe Schmidt.
Englishman Andy Farrell is the man charged with the tricky task of restoring Irish fortunes after a largely forgettable World Cup campaign, but he at least represents some continuity in camp after a credible three-year spell as Irish defence coach.
Farrell’s task has been made that much harder by the absence of talisman Rory Best and a fixture list that includes away trips to England and France in their final three games. That leaves the Irish with little room for error at home to Scotland and Wales as Farrell gets to grips with his new role.
While a title charge still looks like wishful thinking for Scottish fans without a Six Nations trophy to their name in 21 years, the Scots still have enough reserves of talent to turn on the style when needed against more-fancied opponents and throw this competition wide open.
As England found out to their cost in 2019, Gregor Townsend’s side have an uncanny ability to fight back against the odds when the occasion suits – fighting back from a 31-point deficit to draw 38-38 at Twickenham in the final round of games. An away trip to Ireland and a home tie against England in their first two games will surely set the tone for the Scots in this tournament, but don’t back against a surprise result early on.
However, early trouble in camp could thwart Scottish ambitions. Finn Russell’s absence has cast a cloud over Townsend’s preparations with the head coach opting to drop his fly-half after a breach of discipline.
Last year’s Grand Slam winners look to be embarking on a rebuilding job in 2020 as Wales begin a Six Nations tournament without the inspirational Warren Gatland for the first time since 2008.
Fortunately for the new man at the helm Wayne Pivac, Gatland has left a healthy inheritance in place, with strong foundations for the 58-year-old to work from to keep the Welsh in contention for a second successive title.
The New Zealander has been handed the ideal start at home to start putting his vision in place at home to perennial strugglers Italy, but away trips to England and Ireland will be an early test of the new head coach’s tactical nous.
Injuries could also yet scupper Welsh hopes, with Jonathan Davies, Liam Williams and Justin Tipuric amongst the players missing in action. However, that could also leave Pivac some breathing space to experiment as he embarks on a bold new era for Welsh rugby.
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Odds correct at time of writing but may be subject to change.