The RBS Six Nations Championship begins shortly, and the competing nations last week confirmed their squads for the upcoming tournament. The seven-week event annually encapsulates the rugby world, and is often an exhibition for some of the most spectacular and competitive rugby in the world game.
Defending champion Wales begins the campaign at home to tournament outsiders Italy in the curtain raiser, looking to stake a claim for their fourth Grand Slam win in nine years. Also aiming to be the first nation to win the championship for three seasons in succession, Coach Warren Gatland has named several of the successful British and Irish Lions team members in his squad from their tour of Australia last summer. Outside backs Leigh Halfpenny and George North are included alongside center Jonathan Davies, who is incorporated into the fold even while carrying a knock.
Wales faces visits to both Ireland and England amongst their three home fixtures, and remains favorite to win the tournament as it commences.
Stuart Lancaster’s England has been showing better form with their maturing squad in recent years, and as the target of the 2015 World Cup approaches, England is strongly fancied to challenge Wales’s recent dominance. They will be looking to repay the Welsh for the landslide 30-3 tournament decider last season when Wales visits Twickenham on match day four, as they look to gather serious momentum for their hosting of next year’s World Cup tournament. Flanker Chris Robshaw returns as captain following last year’s campaign, and will be looking to win over many with correct decision making and the leadership style of his young team.
Scotland contests for the Calcutta Cup with their neighbours England on the second match day at Murrayfield, looking for their first win in the fixture since 2008. The Scots are opting for new stars after several surprise omissions from their training squad – most notably with openside flanker John Barclay absent.
2009 Grand Slam winner Ireland goes into the tournament with several players on their injury list. Wing pairing Simon Zebo and Craig Gilroy have been drafted into the squad as Coach Joe Schmidt waits on news about the availability of utility back Keith Earls. Amongst the Irish contingent are seven uncapped players, as Ireland looks to transition new players in amongst the more experienced members of the squad for future tournaments.
French captain Thierry Dusautoir has been ruled out of the tournament with a bicep issue, as France turns to other influential squad members to win their first Six Nations crown since their 2010 Grand Slam victory. Philippe Saint-Andre will this year be determined to be far more competitive than his side were last season, after France was left with the wooden spoon following some magical performances from their challengers – in particular from Italy.
The Italians pulled out a magnificent win facing the French in Rome, and will be buoyed by last year’s performance. Italy has, year by year, become increasingly competitive and is fronted by players that are now renowned the world over. They will again look to inspirational captain Sergio Parisse to lead by example in a pack that is amongst the more physical in the Northern Hemisphere.
The 2014 Six Nations Championship – one of world rugby’s most exciting competitions – begins on February 1st, with the ever strong competitive nature of the tournament sure to hook fans and attract new ones as the tournament progresses.
2014 RBS Six Nations Fixtures:
Saturday, February 1 – Wales v Italy 2.30pm; France v England 5pm
Sunday, February 2 – Ireland v Scotland 3pm
Saturday, February 8 – Ireland v Wales 2.30pm; Scotland v England 5pm
Sunday, February 9 – France v Italy 3pm
Friday, February 21 – Wales v France 8pm
Saturday February 22 – Italy v Scotland 1.30pm; England v Ireland 4pm
Saturday, March 8 – Ireland v Italy 2.30pm; Scotland v France 5pm
Sunday, March 9 – England v Wales 3pm
Saturday, March 15 – Italy v England 12.30pm; Wales v Scotland 2.45pm; France v Ireland 5pm
Who will win the 2014 RBS Six Nations? How will the winning nation go the extra mile to a potential Grand Slam?