As the new year finds its feet, thoughts must turn to the Six Nations Championship, one of the great sporting events of the early calendar year, pitting six of the best rugby nations against each other in a titanic tussle of tries and tackles. Last year’s Six Nations was interrupted midway through by the coronavirus pandemic, with the tournament only being brought to a close on October 31st, over seven months after the initial finish date.
This year, it is hoped that the competition will follow a more familiar timescale, and it all gets underway on February 6th, with a mouth-watering trio of matches kicking things off. Read on, as we run through a quick preview of each of the three Six Nations matches on opening weekend.
Italy v France
The tournament gets underway with mainland Europe’s two contenders going toe-to-toe in Rome. Italy have finished bottom of the Six Nations table in each of the last five years, failing to win a match every time. While it’s hard to see this year being any different, they do have experience of beating France at the Six Nations, having triumphed over their European rivals in 2011 and 2013.
France will be on a mission to win the tournament, after just missing out last year. Although they finished level on points with England, it was Eddie Jones’s side that claimed the trophy on points difference. But it was a real confidence boost for a youthful France side, and they’ll be out to go one better in 2021.
England v Scotland
The opening weekend features the Calcutta Cup, where Scotland will be looking to avenge their loss at a rain-soaked Murrayfield last year. From the neutral’s point of view, one would hope that this year’s battle will throw up a touch more entertainment than last year’s mud bath, and England will be looking to start their title defence on a positive note. Last year’s champions are the favourites once again in the Six Nations odds. Can they live up to expectations?
Scotland recorded a fourth-place finish last year, courtesy of wins over Italy, France and Wales. They’ll be looking to reproduce that kind of form this time around, as Gregor Townsend seeks to continue his side’s progression since their Rugby World Cup disappointment in 2019.
Wales v Ireland
Sunday’s fixture sees Ireland travel to Cardiff to take on Wales. The latter had a torrid time in last year’s Six Nations, with a solitary win over Italy all they had to show for their efforts. Having won the Grand Slam so magnificently in 2019, and having gone on to reach the semi-finals of the Rugby World Cup, it was a catastrophic blow for the team to finish fifth in the Six Nations table in 2020.
They have a tough opening fixture this year as they seek to put things right. With Ireland head coach Andy Farrell having had time to settle into his role, we could see a more fluent Ireland this year than last, where they finished third in a decent campaign. There has been something like a changing of the guard in recent times for Ireland, and they’ll hope that their youthful talents can make an impact and deliver a first Six Nations title since they won the Grand Slam three years ago.