Six Nations 2019: our pundits answer the six big questions

Who will win the Grand Slam? What's the key game? What are you looking forward to?

Speaking at the launch of the 2019 Six Nations, England coach Eddie Jones says that his sole focus is on beating Ireland in the opening round. Video: Reuters

 

Gerry Thornley

Who will win/will there be a Grand Slam?

Ireland are the most efficient and dependable machine, although whether this biennial schedule remains as preferable as before is a moot point. Celts away are tricky, witness two years ago, and especially with six-day turnaround into finale in Cardiff. So Ireland to win but without a Slam.

Key game?

On last year’s evidence, the opener against England. But it’s hard to believe there won’t be something on the line come the Wales-Ireland finale, be it a Triple Crown, title or Slam for one, or both. They were the top two last year.

Is the Six Nations more or less important in a World Cup year?

It should be as important. I wish it was. Back-to-back Slams, or titles are exceptional achievements in their own right, regardless of breaking that World Cup glass ceiling. But the Six Nations will be viewed, repeatedly and boringly, in the prism of the World Cup.

Most looking forward to?

Great rugby, the buzz that comes with the Six Nations, the venues, the crowds. The Lansdowne club house. Watching other games. The whole gig really.

Least looking forward to?

Refereeing controversies/mistakes. Transcribing. Blank computer screens.

Italy haven’t won a Six Nations game since 2015. Is it time to bring in Georgia instead?

Oh ye of short memories. We weren’t always so brilliant ourselves! For the Italians now, read Ireland in several other decades past, and the Scots too. Relegation is a red herring. That’s the reality.

Gordon D’Arcy

Who will win/will there be a Grand Slam?

I don’t see a Grand Slam this year. I think the final match between Ireland and Wales will yield the winner of the championship.

Key game?

Ireland v Scotland - this is more of heart than a head thing. Scotland have always been a tricky side to navigate, their provincial sides are playing well with confidence and have some new faces adding depth to their squad.

Is the Six Nations more or less important in a World Cup year?

I don’t believe it has an effect on the World Cup. There’s plenty of time between the two tournaments for a team to lose (Ireland ‘07) or gain momentum.

Most looking forward to?

Italy v Ireland - will we see any new faces?

Least looking forward to?

Ireland v France - this has the potential to be a dour affair.

Italy haven’t won a Six Nations game since 2015. Is it time to bring in Georgia instead?

I think a second, lower-tier tournament running in parallel to the Six Nations would be beneficial for a few years. When that got a bit of traction I think you could open a better case for moving up or down.

Ireland were beaten by Scotland at Murrayfield in 2017.
Ireland were beaten by Scotland at Murrayfield in 2017.

 

Matt Williams

Who will win/will there be a Grand Slam?

The winner of the Ireland and England match will win the championship. A Grand Slam will hinge on defeating Wales away.

Key game?

Don’t go past week one at the Aviva. Grand Slams, championships, national pride and confidence going to the World Cup are on the line.

Is the Six Nations more or less important in a World Cup year?

Like an ancient reclining Buddha, the Six Nations is unique and relaxed in its own skin. To win the championship is a standalone achievement.

Most looking forward to?

A long hoped for French revival. The championship needs French rugby to be strong and vibrant, providing a counter culture to Anglo-Celtic rugby.

Least looking forward to?

Having to criticise poor Italian performances. Conor O’Shea is planting seeds, knowing he will not be around to sit under the shade of the trees that grow.

Italy haven’t won a Six Nations game since 2015. Is it time to bring in Georgia instead?

It took France 58 years to win a Grand Slam. Under no circumstances should short-term thinking be permitted to devalue the championship.

Gavin Cummiskey

Who will win/will there be a Grand Slam?

Ireland. No slam but a Triple Crown in Cardiff should keep the cupboard stocked. The logic behind this theory presumes Ireland will stumble at some stage with France finding their mojo in round four (when injuries will have mounted up).

Key game?

Right now it feels like England in Dublin - Billy Vunipola and Manu Tuilagi presenting a different proposition altogether - but Cardiff on March 16th could be a title decider.

Is the Six Nations more or less important in a World Cup year?

Takes on a life of its own etc etc, but above all else the coaches get what they desire most: access to players deep inside manor estates where they can hypnotise them into feeling no pain in combat.

Manu Tuilagi is set for a rare Six Nations start.
Manu Tuilagi is set for a rare Six Nations start.

Most looking forward to?

Ideally, a Roman holiday to rival the Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn film but, failing that, a rough and ready Cardiff on Paddy’s weekend.

Bread of heaven.

Least looking forward to?

No negativity springs to mind. February falling into March is a time of renewal and redemption as passed sins get washed clean away by memories of Bill McLaren soliloquies.

Italy haven’t won a Six Nations game since 2015. Is it time to bring in Georgia instead?

Nope. All Italy need is a Pirlo or Totti type figure at 10 with recent results by Treviso and Michael Bradley’s Zebre evidence that Conor O’Shea’s root and branch rebuild is taking shape. Seven Nations Army?

The White Stripes anthem is ready to go: “And the message coming from my eyes says leave it alone.”

John O’Sullivan

Who will win/will there be a Grand Slam?

Ireland providing they get over a tricky opening fortnight. Edinburgh and Cardiff are two tough away venues these days given current form of hosts and factoring in injuries, a clean sweep looks unlikely.

Key game?

On form it’s difficult not to choose the final game away to an in-form Wales in Cardiff, at a venue where Joe Schmidt has never won against the Welsh with Ireland.

Is the Six Nations more or less important in a World Cup year?

Momentum is useful but the only thing that really matters in 2019 is how Ireland fares at the Rugby World Cup in Japan. That will define the season.

Most looking forward to?

Watching players from all countries sprinkling a little stardust on the tournament through their athleticism, talent and having the courage to take risks.

Least looking forward to?

Scrum re-sets and any crash test dummy rugby where the physical supersedes the skilful. I’d like to see the officials work in harmony to make the tournament sing, like the jingle used to say.

The Six Nations needs a strong French team.
The Six Nations needs a strong French team.

Italy haven’t won a Six Nations game since 2015. Is it time to bring in Georgia instead?

There should be a meritocracy base in the form of promotion and relegation if there truly is a desire to expand the game in Europe. Wouldn’t want to give up Rome though.

Máire Treasa Ní Dhubhghaill

Who will win/will there be a Grand Slam?

Back-to-back Grand Slams have only been achieved four times since 1913, which illustrates how difficult such a feat is to achieve. But Ireland love breaking records and defying the odds, so if there is to be a Grand Slam I would put my money on Joe Schmidt’s side to pull it off!

Key game?

I don’t think we can look past the first fixture in the Aviva; as the cliche goes, you can’t win the championship in the first weekend, but you can certainly lose it. Eddie Jones’s men are in much better shape this year with Billy Vunipola and Manu Tuilagi adding physicality and power to their side. They are gunning for revenge.

Conor O’Shea deserves credit for the work he is doing on and off the field in Italy.
Conor O’Shea deserves credit for the work he is doing on and off the field in Italy.

Is the Six Nations more or less important in a World Cup year?

I think the momentum garnered from having a successful Six Nations cannot be underestimated in a World Cup year. Combinations, game-time and adding to the strength and depth of the squad through the introduction of a few new faces will put us in good fettle heading to Japan.

Most looking forward to?

I believe there to be three serious contenders for this year’s championship, which really whets the appetite for a compelling six nations, but the thought of travelling to Cardiff on the final day on the cusp of another Grand Slam victory is the nail-biter I’m most looking forward to.

Least looking forward to?

Italy v France on the final weekend could potentially be a battle for the wooden spoon, which might leave both teams disinterested and nonchalant making for some grim viewing.

Italy haven’t won a Six Nations game since 2015. Is it time to bring in Georgia instead?

The improvement of the Italian clubs in the Pro14 indicates that the structures Conor O’Shea has put in place from the ground up are working, but it might not be reflected in the national side for another few years, which is frustrating from a viewers point of view. But I would hold onto hope that Italy will become more competitive sooner rather than later, so I wouldn’t kick them out just yet.

Liam Toland

Who will win/will there be a Grand Slam?

No Grand Slam (with the possible exception of Wales). Ireland v England is going to be tough but facing Wales in Cardiff after a six-day turnaround versus France is even worse!

Key game?

The winner this weekend will win the championship; be it Ireland, England or Wales (makes sense!). So, the key game? The first game as always . . . for us; it’s England. For Wales, it’s France.

Is the Six Nations more or less important in a World Cup year?

‘Success is failure turned inside out’ but Six Nations success does not (for us at least) necessarily transition into World Cup success. But winning in the Six Nations, the momentum gained allied to the variety of squad selection under extreme pressure (especially when there’s typically NO experimentation) is so important for the World Cup.

Tadhg Beirne will hope to make his mark on this tournament.
Tadhg Beirne will hope to make his mark on this tournament.

Most looking forward to?

Unfortunately, Ireland’s man of the match in the upcoming England and Scotland games is out injured! But I’m really looking forward to Tadhg Beirne’s performances in his first Six Nations.

Least looking forward to?

“Try or No try?” Tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock, tick tock . . .

Italy haven’t won a Six Nations game since 2015. Is it time to bring in Georgia instead?

Italy have made massive grassroots and Pro14 improvements since Conor O’Shea, Stephen Aboud et al joined the Federazione Italiana Rugby. Be patient grasshopper. Unfortunately, a solution requires totally rebooting the ‘old’ Six Nations.

Johnny Watterson

Who will win/will there be a Grand Slam?

We have doubted Ireland long enough to finally have confidence in them winning. This team doesn’t appear to spike and fall but are consistently strong. As for a Grand Slam, not this year. France were the last to complete back-to-back Slams in 1997 and 1998 and nobody this century has managed it.

Key game?

The one that is up next. That means England this weekend and for good reasons. The momentum of keeping alive a winning run is important, especially with Ireland’s ranking of second in the world. Wales away will be tough but Joe Schmidt rarely gets ahead of himself, so England.

Is the Six Nations more or less important in a World Cup year?

It is more important, although, not in terms of winning but in knowing what players can be relied on to move forward towards Japan. Ireland have young players coming into the squad. Some will demand starts and others won’t make the squad. The next eight weeks will be movement time.

Most looking forward to?

The first match. There is so much ‘friendly animus’ between the two nations. There is the odious Jacob Rees-Mogg, Brexit and the threat of a hard border in the background. Tory ignorance of Irish sensibilities is at a height, so it’s time to make that establishment aware that we still don’t know our place.

Least looking forward to?

The annual bonanza of rugby cliches that will festoon these pages, the airwaves, social media and all other platforms. In no particular order “Massive Hit.” “Insane Carry.” (Isn’t it always James Ryan?). “The Hard Yards. “Going Upstairs.” “They’ve come to play.” “He backed himself.” “Locked and fully loaded.”

Italy haven’t won a Six Nations game since 2015. Is it time to bring in Georgia instead?

No Itexit please. The Italian experiment has been a long one but sometimes it takes time, a long time, for things to fall into place. Italy have come last 13 times since 2000 and placed no higher than forth. Maybe two tiers with promotion and relegation. You can’t just discard one team for another.

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