SIX NATIONS and LIONS PREDICTIONS WITH IWRFC’s RESIDENT TIPSTER, O’PINION!
The daffodils are blooming and there’s a stretch in the evenings – we’re in February! This wonderful month brings us the opening rounds of the Six Nations, the 15-match annual rugby-fest involving the original Five Nations and perennial whipping boys Italy. What fun. O’Pinion is minded to offer his much sought-after predictions for the tournament, if for no other reason than that everyone can laugh at him once the action concludes with Super Saturday on 18 March. Also, it’s a Lions year, which means that every player from Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales will be scrutinised for their suitability to tour to New Zealand at the end of May. O’Pinion will also stick his neck out and name a starting 15 for the first Lions Test – this will no doubt be drastically changed once the Six Nations is over.
Reigning Grand Slammers from last year. Favourites to do it again this year, and if they do, they will break that record of 18 successive wins by a top-tier nation in the final game in Dublin. They’ve got a few injuries, France might give them some hassle in the opening game, but really they should make it to Dublin intact. Will they then win the Slam? O’Pinion gives a tentative ‘yes.’ The Vunipolas (especially Billy) are big losses though.
Second last year, but Gatland is on sabbatical and they were poor in the autumn, though beating South Africa. Warburton has relinquished the captaincy. They’re still an experienced bunch though and won’t be easy beats. O’Pinion reckons they’ve become a bit one-dimensional and the top two will surely beat them. Even their opening game in Rome could be a nervous affair. O’Pinion says fifth – one or maybe two wins out of five.
Champions in 2014-15 – poorish campaign last year but have since beaten the Tri-Nations in a five month period. Sexton will miss the first couple of games, but injuries elsewhere are few. Tough first game in Edinburgh, but negotiate that and they should make it to the afore-mentioned decider in their backyard. O’Pinion has been biased before, but is backing Ireland to be runners-up.
The classic cliché about not knowing which France will turn up remains valid, but the turgid, aimless rugby and nutty selections of the Saint-Andre era are gone. In the autumn, France picked a massive pack but their whole team were aiming to avoid rucks and offload until the opposition broke. It almost, but not quite, did for Australia and New Zealand. Watch for France to be a force again this year, though their opener at Twickenham will put them under pressure from the start. O’Pinion says third with three wins.
Seems like every year we say Scotland are improving and then they come fifth or sixth. This year may be different. Glasgow are awesome on their day and this has translated to a Scotland team that is good to watch. Yet their narrow defeat with much possession to the Aussies in November suggested they don’t quite have that cutting edge of the best sides. Could pull off a shock or two, but this writer says fourth with two wins.
They now have Conor O’Shea and they beat the Springboks! But remember that so did everyone else, it felt like. They are progressing but so are the other teams (except maybe Wales), so O’Pinion sees them propping up the table again. Their best chance of a win is usually their first, and this year they are at home to Wales. But whitewash, I reckon.
Lions will probably go for something like the Irish template that beat the All Blacks and could have beaten them two weeks later in Dublin, based on excellent kick-chase and very few mistakes in possession, plus going after their set-piece. Easier said than done. A terrible NZ winter would probably not hurt. Will the Lions do it? No. But they might win one Test, which would be better than 2005.
Lions starting XV for 1st test :
15 Liam Williams (everyone says Hogg, but not me)
14 Watson (or Nowell, or both if North gets concussed again)
13 Daly? This could be any of about six different blokes
10 Farrell (but Sexton or Biggar on form could also get it)
1 McGrath (Vunipola’s injury costs him)
2 He’ll pick Hartley, but should be Best or Jamie George
4 Itoje (unless he’s picked back row)
5 AW Jones
6 Stander (or Itoje)
7 O’Brien will probably be injured by then, so I’ll say Tipuric, though Gatland’s not a huge fan
8 B Vunipola (Faletau not played much for ages)
Bolters from each country: Henderson or van der Flier from Ireland, Huw Jones or Seymour from Scotland, Warburton to make the frame after returning to form and maybe Halfpenny, and how about Nathan Hughes or Sinckler from England? I nearly forgot Peter O’Mahony – not just Ireland-biased but Munster-biased, remember…
Right all, over to you. Start arguing/mocking/bitching, please….