Our experts give their Six Nations 2016 predictions

How will Ireland fare? If you could sign one player, who would it be? Who will win?

Historical precedent is on their side, but with tough away trips to Ireland and England to come can Wales win their first Six Nations Championship since 2013? John O'Sullivan previews Warren Gatland's team. Video: David Dunne

 

GERRY THORNLEY

How will Ireland fare?

A tall order without either of the twin totems for the first time since 1999, made taller still by having Wales first up followed by France (six days later) and England away. Tight five looks under-powered, but middle five are strong, options aplenty in back three and a brilliant coach. Third or fourth.

One Irish player to watch? Johnny Sexton. The World Cup was a huge anti-climax for him, probably the biggest disappointment of his career, but as an outhalf he ticks every box and a return to his prolific, confident peak would still make him the best number 10 in the competition.

If Ireland could sign one player from another of the competing nations, who would you pick? Probably Alun Wyn Jones. If anyone could fill the huge void left by Paul O’Connell it is his fellow Lions secondrow. Immense in every game, totemic leader for Wales, excellent skills set and lineout ability, and key component of attacking and defensive mauls. Still only 30, so entering peak years for a lock.

Will France and England benefit from new coaches? Possibly and yes. The theory goes that the French job has come too late for Guy Noves, who is old school, but there’s still fire in his belly, he oozes charisma and it will be intriguing to watch. Jones is more proven at Test level, and has more to work with.

Who will win and why? Wales maybe, with England looking the biggest danger. The Welsh have the most settled team and coaching ticket, have three home games and won the Grand Slam post the last two World Cups. The poor showing of their regions in Europe has never bothered them before and Jonathan Davies’ return is timely.

GORDON D’ARCY

How will Ireland fare?

Ireland are going to do well relatively speaking, with three games at the Aviva you would hope, if not exactly expect, to win. But the post O’Connell era is going to be tough and winning in Twickenham and Paris might just be a step too far in this campaign.

One Irish player to watch? I’m excited to see Robbie Henshaw again. There is so much more to his game now, more experience and he’s growing in confidence all the time. We just need to find his best position and let him run. Maybe a hat-trick in Paris?

If Ireland could sign one player from another of the competing nations, who would you pick? Maybe Alun Wyn Jones. A really abrasive player, but also a real team player who would work well with Devin Toner and provide a good footballing brain around the pitch. Big old lump as well.

Will France and England benefit from new coaches? Guy Noves has said his side are going to play the French way and that worries me. He is an excellent motivator and players have always played for him. France will be very, very good this year with some breathtaking moments mixed with the infuriating periods of going through the motions.

Who will win and why? For me it will be France. They have picked a squad on form and left behind who and what they felt wasn’t working from the previous regime. If they play anywhere near their potential they should win.

LIAM TOLAND

How will Ireland fare?

Ireland have developed a game perfect for the Six Nations. However, our opposition have been watching and learning and those who stay still, die. France and England will improve this time around and with our visits to Paris and London, Ireland can finish in the top half of the table but they won’t win the title.

One Irish player to watch? There’s no doubt about Johnny Sexton’s calibre and commitment but the knocks are adding up so Paddy Jackson has a real opportunity. As always there’s an outside chance of squad flier where Ultan Dillane, yet another Kerry man in the engine room, may shine.

If Ireland could sign one player from another of the competing nations, who would you pick? Anyone that guarantees go forward ball. I’d start with Manu Tuilagi but possibly opt for Steffon Armitage from the Irish bench as the opposition fatigue! Up front the wonderful French tighthead Rabah Slimani can do. But the position most impacted by Paul O’Connell’s absence is secondrow so the Welsh veteran (only 30!) Alun Wyn Jones gets my pick.

Will France and England benefit from new coaches? Very much so but in Eddie Jones England will also benefit beyond the bounce of new boy syndrome with a definite impact technically, tactically and a ruthless pursuit of winning. In France, Guy Noves will free them up, reminding them of loving French rugby.

Who will win and why? England. They may be on the road in the first two rounds with a tough opener in Scotland but the Eddie Jones factor allied to key players returning should put them in a great position heading into the closing weekend in Paris.

GAVIN CUMMISKEY

How will Ireland fare?

Grand Slam providing everything, every single detail (see below), goes according to plan. Otherwise third.

One Irish player to watch? Garry Ringrose, if he gets a chance later in the tournament. As Brian O’Driscoll said: “He is the one.” Okay, that was Morpheus in The Matrix but the sentiment remains. Let the boy breath some Test match oxygen.

If Ireland could sign one player from another of the competing nations, who would you pick? Has to be the prime entering Dan Cole but for the craic we’ll say Sekou Macalou. The sidestep, the fend, his age (20), his power (phenomenal).

Will France and England benefit from new coaches? France probably not, but England should. Eddie Jones has an ocean of above average talent from which to construct a massive pack while his razor sharp backline could yet include Manu Tuilagi.

Who will win and why? Ireland. Don’t know why. Just being patriotic. If Ultan Dillane is the real deal and Ringrose is allowed shine, alongside CJ Stander, and the continued fitness of Seánie O’Brien, Conor Murray, Luke Fitzgerald and Robbie Henshaw is allied by Johnny Sexton rediscovering his mojo, well, it’s a no-brainer. Of course, PS (pre-Schmidt) history tells us it’s going to unravel badly. So Ireland. Defo. If not England.

JOHN O’SULLIVAN

How will Ireland fare?

The fixture schedule is horrible starting with Wales at home and then six days later facing a game against France in Paris. England at Twickenham third up compounds a ridiculously tough sequence. Injuries are the key. If Ireland’s front-line players can stay healthy then they are capable of winning a third successive title.

One Irish player to watch? Ulster centre Stuart McCloskey can provide Ireland with a slightly different dimension to their attacking patterns. He’s big and powerful but he’s added subtleties to his game and his passing and peripheral awareness has improved. He may get his chance during the tournament.

If Ireland could sign one player from another of the competing nations, who would you pick? It would have been England wing Jonny May for his balance, speed and lines of running before his injury. Ireland having been lacking that top end sprinter’s pace and finishing ability since Denis Hickie retired. France’s boy wonder Sekou Macalou lit up Dubarry Park last season and many venues since then.

Will France and England benefit from new coaches? Yes and Yes. Guy Noves will look to rekindle traditional French rugby values but that may take some time while Eddie Jones will bring a more rounded approach to England’s patterns, something that will be bad news for everyone else in the tournament.

Who will win and why? Run out to the bookies now and put your money on Wales based on history. The Welsh won Grand Slams in the Six Nations after the 2007 and 2011 World Cups. They’re missing a few players though and if Ireland stay relatively injury free they can win four from five. Title to be decided again on points difference.

FIONA COGHLAN

How will Ireland fare?

We will have the same coaching staff bar Les Kiss which will bring consistency and they already have the trust and buy-in of the players. We will be there or thereabouts. Joe is an astute coach who will have learned plenty from the World Cup. He will look to bring more variety into Ireland’s attack. Injuries are a cause for concern though.

One Irish player to watch? Hoping players that have performed for provinces will be given a chance. CJ Stander consistently performs for Munster. Stuart McCloskey has offered Ulster go forward ball this year. Most interesting will be who fills Paul O’Connell’s boots in the secondrow.

If Ireland could sign one player from another of the competing nations, who would you pick? Alun Wyn Jones, to somewhat replace the unreplaceable O’Connell. He is on form at the moment for Ospreys. His workrate is tireless and he is the type of player who goes about his business with the minimum of fuss allowing other players look good. His leadership qualities speak for themselves

Will France and England benefit from new coaches? France and England have signed very good coaches but too soon to make significant change. In their initial squad selections there were some big calls, particularly from Eddie Jones. Now they need time and buy-in from their players.

Who will win and why? Wales seem to be best placed. They have consistency in terms of coaching and a number of injured players returning. If they can get a win in Dublin on the first weekend, they will be confident of beating England in Twickenham again. I don’t expect a Grand Slam and there are bound to be some interesting results this year.

MATT WILLIAMS

How will Ireland fare?

Ireland will be defensively sound with a strong kicking game. However, unless they bring in offloads and play off the cuff running rugby they won’t win the title. That is unless the other five countries are equally as ignorant about attacking rugby which, after a World Cup that exposed the northern hemisphere’s lack of attacking culture, is highly unlikely.

One Irish player to watch? Robbie Henshaw. They guy has talent. As his confidence and self belief continues to grow at international level, so his performances will improve. I hope Robbie will show more desire to use his excellent footwork and attacking talent.

If Ireland could sign one player from another of the competing nations, who would you pick? Sergio Parisse. A tactician, an inspiration, a warrior, a captain, a world class ball carrier, a talisman and all-time great. With Paul O’Connell gone, Ireland could do with a legend to lead the country.

Will France and England benefit from new coaches? Guy Noves will find the lack of time with his players frustrating and the concept that France can switch on their “flair” is laughable. However, France will improve with a stronger hand on the tiller. Eddie Jones will drive the English players mad, but in the short term he will have a very positive effect.

Who will win and why? England. They have a good draw and Eddie Jones will have a transforming impact. He will have England organised in every detail of the game. It will be highly structured and highly intelligent rugby. The English rugby psychology will lap up the over organisation that means the players will not have to do much thinking as Eddie has done it all for them.

JOHNNY WATTERSON

How will Ireland fare?

New coaching staff in England and France suggests flux rather than consistency. Two tough away games . . . if Ireland can beat Wales, generate momentum and stay injury free maybe second or third.

One Irish player to watch?

Christian Johan Stander has been excellent in a malfunctioning Munster team. This has been his aim for three years and he should be given a chance in the backrow. Will be tough to break into with Josh van der Flier also knocking on the door.

If Ireland could sign one player from another of the competing nations, who would you pick? Probably an influential secondrow. With O’Connell gone there’s a huge void there. England’s Joe Launchbury is young but on form he can be sensational and one day should develop into an England leader.

Will France and England benefit from new coaches?

Yes. France were worse than the sum of their parts. Old school Guy Noves will make basic corrections. Eddie Jones will come in with a whole new culture and mindset, which has to be positive for England

Who will win and why?

Okay so this is mad. Scotland. They should have gone through against Australia in the World Cup. Stuart Hogg, Richie Gray and Finn Russell are class and Vern Cotter has got something going there. A team pointing in the same direction.

MÁIRE TREASA NÍ DHUBHGHAILL

How will Ireland fare?

It would be unbelievable to win the Six Nations for a third consecutive time, but with the provinces failing to reach the heights of before, I feel it might be a step too far. I predict we’ll finish third (I hope I’m wrong!).

One Irish player to watch? Stuart McCloskey. His partnership with Luke Marshall for Ulster this season has been outstanding. He has proven his strength in defence and has established himself as an energetic ball carrier. Offering skill and physicality in midfield, himself and Henshaw could be the future.

If Ireland could sign one player from another of the competing nations, who would you pick? Welsh scrumhalf Gareth Davies. He was a standout player for me at the World Cup and although he has struggled a bit with form since, he looked as sharp as ever in recent performances. An attacking threat, he has an eye for weakness and would get our backline moving.

Will France and England benefit from new coaches? Both teams will welcome the change after dismal World Cups. Eddie Jones stated he has one eye on developing for the future and Guy Noves is also looking to develop a new style, so that could take some time. With the English clubs riding high in Europe, I expect them to come out of the blocks firing.

Who will win and why? If Wales manage to beat Ireland in our opening game, I think they have a great chance of winning the tournament. They were hampered with injuries during the World Cup and still almost made the last four. All of the Six Nations teams underperformed at the World Cup, but if tradition is anything to go by after 2008 and 2012, Wales will be backing themselves for a Grand Slam!

ANDY McGEADY

How will Ireland fare?

Expectations should be low after the World Cup disappointment, player loss and Munster and Leinster’s European trials by ordeal. All things considered, three wins would be a decent return for Ireland. Four? Outstanding. Will Joe pick players on provincial form (cue twitching of Ulster ears)?

One Irish player to watch? JJ Hanrahan for Northampton even though he didn’t make the Ireland squad. Not allowed? Well for those included by Schmidt, even as a fan of a playmaking twelve it would be interesting to see hard-running Stuart McCloskey tog out alongside Henshaw, Payne or either of Ireland’s Lukes.

If Ireland could sign one player from another of the competing nations, who would you pick? George North. He reached 50 caps far faster than anybody in Test history. That’s a lot of mileage. The plan: sign him and immediately grant him a sabbatical. Go travel, George. Broaden the mind while protecting it from some blows for a while. We’ll see you in Autumn, in green.

Will France and England benefit from new coaches? A sixth successive four-win championship campaign for England would be a fine start for Eddie Jones. Monsieur Noves has longer term problems, like his player base in the multinational Top14. The good news? For both after their World Cup miseries the only way is up.

Who will win and why? Heart wants to say Ireland but head says no. It’s Wales’ to win, setting up a 2017 Six Nations shoot-out for the Lions coaching job between Gatland’s Law and the Schmidt doctrine. Note: for the brave of heart, a sneaky Scottish fiver at 16/1 seems good value.

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