27th Jan 2013 2:17pm | By Michael Gadd
The northern hemisphere’s rugby championship is a treat for fans – even neutrals – here’s how the teams are shaping up
The four home nations are kicking off the 2013 Six Nations Championship on Saturday before France and Italy clash on Sunday – that’s where the certainties end.
This tournament’s notoriously unpredictable and refreshingly competitive. Case in point, last year’s winner Wales achieved the Grand Slam, but they’re in a slump after losing their last seven.
After the Autumn Tests England and France are the ones to beat, but anything can happen.
“That’s the beauty of the Six Nations, everyone can beat everyone on their day,” says England captain Chris Robshaw.
A treat for rugby fans, even neutrals.
Skipper: Chris Robshaw
Coach: Stuart Lancaster
Autumn Form: Fiji 54-12, Aust 14-20, SA 15-16, NZ 38-21
The favourites, perhaps generously after the impressive form of France, showed promise in autumn and have a burden the others dream of – a selection headache.
With injuries, they’ve lost players but have others coming back who will be challenging for key positions, such as hooker and in the back three.
Since it’s a team that at last start beat the All Blacks and before that could have toppled Australia and South Africa, it’ll be tough to break into.
The possible loss of rampaging Manu Tuilagi with an ankle injury would leave a gaping hole in the centres.
One to watch: Chris Ashton – was immense on the wing against the All Blacks and brings an ‘X’ factor to the side.
Skipper: Kelly Brown
Coach: Scott Johnson
Autumn Form: NZ 22-51, SA 10-21, Tonga 15-21A tough ask for the fresh-faced Scots, who have 10 new faces brought in by Aussie Johnson, the interim chief since December after Andy Robinson quit.
He needs a solitary win to better his side’s performance from last year and will have focused heavily on tightening up the young side’s defence, so don’t expect too much excitement going forward.
One to watch: Johnnie Beattie – the talented number eight is back after being dumped two years ago.
He shined at Montpellier after leaving Glasgow at the right time.
Skipper: Sam Warburton
Coach: Rob Howley
Autumn Form: Arg 12-26, Sam 19-26, NZ 10-33, Aust 12-14It’s a cliché in all parts of life but surely Wales are sick of being told, “You’re better than this.”
After beating all-comers in last year’s Six Nations following their grossly unlucky loss to France in the World Cup semi-final the year before, it looked like their time in the sun had come. But then in autumn they didn’t turn up.
They may insist that the fact their coach Warren Gatland is on British Lions duty and caretaker Howley’s in charge is no biggie (they helmed two losses each in autumn), but something’s going awry.
One to watch: Sam Warburton – the captain is world class, perhaps only behind McCaw and Pocock as the best openside flanker. He’ll need to dominate the ruck if his side’s a chance.