Six Nations 2018: Our experts make their Championship predictions

Can England make it three on the spin and which game will prove key to Irish hopes?

Ireland’s exciting midfield duo of Robbie Henshaw and Bundee Aki. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Ireland’s exciting midfield duo of Robbie Henshaw and Bundee Aki. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

 

GERRY THORNLEY

Will England make it three-in-a-row?
Nothing against them, but the hope is not – obviously. But, having won 22 of their last 23 matches, with Wales and Ireland at Twickenham, they’re entitled to be favourites. Could slip up in Murrayfield.

Is it more important for Ireland to win this Six Nations or build for the World Cup?
This is the oldest international tournament in the world, about a century older than the World Cup. Viewing it in the prism of the latter is tedious, and winning it would be a good platform for the World Cup.

Most looking forward to . . .
The whole shebang really – the mix of fans, colours, cities, stadia, teams and rivalries which sets it apart. Ireland winning a Grand Slam in Twickenham on St Patrick’s Day wouldn’t be a bad finale. And Saturday nights.

Least looking forward to . . .
Transcribing. More words than you can shake a stick at. And Sunday mornings.

Key game?
As history shows us more often than not, it’d be presumptuous to pick England-Ireland. Yet it’s hard to believe there won’t be something on the line, whether it be a slam, title or just England at Twickenham – the worst place to lose, the best place to win.

If Ireland could sign one player from another of the competing nations, who would it be, and why?
In the absence of Serge Blanco, genuinely can’t think of anybody. Nope. No one. Happy out. It’s all gravy here.

GORDON D’ARCY

Will England make it three-in-a-row?
With the injuries they have and recent comments about “doing anything to win the World Cup”, I feel Eddie Jones will be happy building the depth of his squad as he clearly understands the value of losing to win later. Close but no cigar.

Is it more important for Ireland to win this Six Nations or build for the World Cup?
Winning is a habit, drives culture and reinforces values but learning from defeats to become more resilient is also invaluable. So for Ireland to be a success in the World Cup, I believe a successful Six Nations is fundamental. What a successful Six Nations looks like really depends on the lessons this group need to learn.

Most looking forward to . . .
What surprise Conor O’Shea decides to spring. Bunkee Aki and Eddie Jones’s press conferences

Least looking forward to . . .
France playing like an English team from the 1990s.

Key game?
Ireland v Italy. It’s easy to point out the away match against England but I think this match will be more important in the longer term. This is when we will see a few new faces and how they perform will be a huge indication of where this group is at in its development.

If Ireland could sign one player from another of the competing nations, who would it be, and why?
No one. The pieces of the puzzle fit nicely for the plan they are trying to execute. Maybe bring Rala [O’Reilly, former kitman] out of retirement.

Italy head coach Conor O’Shea. Photograph: Tiziana Fabi/AFP
Italy head coach Conor O’Shea. Photograph: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

GAVIN CUMMISKEY

Will England make it three-in-a-row?
No way. Multiple injuries have them in all sorts of bother. This is what happens when clubs overload minutes on key players coming off a Lions tour. Eddie Jones will spin it into the ideal squad expanding exercise with all eyes on Japan 2019.

Is it more important for Ireland to win this Six Nations or build for the World Cup?
Winning the Six Nations is the best way Ireland can build for the World Cup. Joe Schmidt sees it that way too. The championship travels a similar enough path with its operatic crescendo hitting a slightly lesser peak on St Patrick’s Day.

Most looking forward to . . .
Twickenham, March 17th. Nothing in sport compares to Ireland and England on that day in that Colosseum. Even if the Grand Slam is a busted flush, for either nation, the fixture itself transcends a standard Test match.

Least looking forward to . . .
Nothing. Spring is a time of joyous regeneration as Messrs Joe, Eddie, Warren, Gregor, Jacques and Cesar regale us with truthful tales about their flawless sport (the promise of sinking deeper into the HIA mire notwithstanding).

Key game?
Every game must be taken on its own merits and no player, coach nor journalist should look beyond their next training session, tactical meeting or fascinating press conference. Therefore, Ireland in Paris on February 3rd.

If Ireland could sign one player from another of the competing nations, who would it be, and why?
Maro Itoje is the best lock in the northern hemisphere so Ireland would be unbeatable with him alongside Iain Henderson and James Ryan off the bench for Peter O’Mahony as Itoje finishes at blindside.

England star Maro Itoje. Photograph: Kirsty O’Connor/PA
England star Maro Itoje. Photograph: Kirsty O’Connor/PA

MATT WILLIAMS

Will England make it three-in-a-row?
By any measure, this championship is England’s to win. Eddie Jones has transformed the side from a group of inconsistent ‘could-have-beens’ into a team of ruthless winners. They are now genuine World Champion contenders.

Is it more important for Ireland to win this Six Nations or build for the World Cup?
It is essential to win and build simultaneously. Ireland must aim to score tries. Attacking rugby is the only style that will win the World Cup. It will also win the Six Nations.

Most looking forward to . . .
St Patrick’s Day 2018, on a piece of dirt, formally know as “Billy Williams potato patch,” England cannot conceive of defeat. That is what makes winning at Twickenham so very rewarding.

Least looking forward to . . .
When Italy and France meet. The lack of attacking systems and talent in the Latin teams is quite depressing. The only place you will find ‘flare’ will be on the legs of their trendy retro jeans.

Key game?
The focus is on the England game, but Scotland are a real threat. The Scots’ style of play unsettles Ireland, so this match holds the promise of the continued rise of the Scottish star.

If Ireland could sign one player from another of the competing nations, who would it be, and why?
Stuart Hogg’s skillset makes him the only player in the championship who can take possession in his own half, and with electrifying speed and vision, waltz through opposition defences to score.

Scotland’s electrick Stuart Hogg. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Scotland’s electrick Stuart Hogg. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

LIAM TOLAND

Will England make it three-in-a-row?
No! Their loss of No 8s Billy Vunipola and Nathan Hughes through injury is huge. England play Scotland away in Murrayfield in round three; this is where they will lose. Then they travel to Paris before Ireland visit London. Although they’ll beat France it’ll take too much from them; hence losing to Ireland.

Is it more important for Ireland to win this Six Nations or build for the World Cup?
Winning the Six Nations is building to the World Cup especially when a brilliant squad is further enhanced by a few new faces. Bundee Aki to bed in, Jordan Larmour to debut and key injuries to return with one last piece; Ireland’s transition from deep to evolve.

Most looking forward to?
Ireland v Scotland; a cracker awaiting. And; the Stoop on Friday night of Paddy’s weekend; England v Ireland Legends with the €1,000,000 fundraising mark broken, for injured players, raised by this unique fixture; phenomenal. And, Irish counter attack tries; Larmour!

Least looking forward to?
Eddie Jones and Warren Gatland head-to-head verbal claptrap leading up to round two England v Wales in London. And of course the Stoop Friday night of Paddy’s weekend!

Key game?
Away to France. For all the boring reasons; winning start, momentum, confidence; blah blah blah. Then the next one, followed by the next two; leaving England on Paddy’s weekend as the real key!

If Ireland could sign one player from another of the competing nations, who would it be, and why?
Although Ireland’s squad is best placed over the other nations adding players of the calibre of England’s Billy Vunipola or indeed his brother at loosehead, Mako, would add to Ireland’s riches. However, a surprise return from France – Simon Zebo…

All eyes are on Twickenham and March 17th. Photograph: Mike Egerton/PA
All eyes are on Twickenham and March 17th. Photograph: Mike Egerton/PA

JOHN O’SULLIVAN

Will England make it three-in-a-row?
Billy Vunipola is a huge loss. They have enough power to deal with Wales and France. Ireland have the game to challenge them. Fixtures fall their way. Yes, but no Grand Slam.

Is it more important for Ireland to win this Six Nations or build for the World Cup?
Given it’s two years out from the World Cup it’s not imperative to look at development now so winning the Six Nations is the priority.

Most looking forward to . . .
Ireland’s game against England at Twickenham on St Patrick’s Day and watching how Joe Schmidt blends the old heads and new faces.

Least looking forward to . . .
Any long delays due to TMO consultations. If the officials see it then call it. That and scrum resets.

Key game?
There are several rather than one but from an Irish perspective a win in France gets them up and running with three home games to follow they could have momentum going to Twickenham.

If Ireland could sign one player from another of the competing nations, who would it be, and why?
Stuart Hogg won the 2016 and 2017 Six Nations Player of the Tournament because of his attacking flair. He’d add value to any team in that capacity.

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