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The 6 Nations Championship never fails to get the hearts racing of most fans. But like any 6 Nations Championship, there is always a change of talking points, intrigue of what will happen, and the implications the competition beyond the tournament.

6 Nations Launch

Eddie Jones and Warren Gatland believe that their teams, England and Wales respectively, will win this year’s tournament. A bold claim given the size of the injury list of both national sides. One point to be raised is the surprise that Dylan Hartley will continue his role as captain for England. Many have and will continue to question this decision given the outstanding performances of Jamie George of Saracens and how un-impressive Hartley has been for Northampton Saints, sometimes not even playing as the starting hooker. Joe Schmit will be quietly confident though, given Ireland’s performances in the Autumn and the impressive performances from the Leinster and Munster players in the European Champions Cup recently who are in that national set up. Of course a big talking point before the start to the tournament build-up was the sacking of the French head coach Guy Noves (the first time the FFR have sacked a coach mid-way through their contract) and the appointment of former Italian head coach, Jacques Brunel. Brunel would have a limited time to implement his style with the squad due to the Top 14 clubs unwillingness to release their French internationals instead focusing on their own club interests. There was a change in the captaincy of the Scottish team with John Barclay replacing Greig Laidlaw and of course the consummate symbol of Italian rugby was present at the launch, Sergio Parrise. However, the time for talking is almost over and in just eight days the start of the Natwest 2018 6 Nations Championship will commence.

Prospects of the Home Nations

England

The White Knights are hoping to gain a third title in a row, a first if they can achieve it. By having Wales and Ireland at home and having experienced a grand slam win in Paris two years previously, England have a slight edge. The hardest challenge for them will be the away trip to Scotland. Murrayfield was rejuvenated as a fortress in the Autumn and depending on the Scots’ form, it could be the game of the tournament. Not to mention their injury list again, but Eddie Jones might be forced to hand a few caps out to the young guns in his squad with the likes of Elliot Daly, Billy Vunipola and Kyle Sinckler out for the entire tournament. Expected Finish: 2nd.

Ireland

The Irish come into the championship off the back of some fantastic results at the Aviva Stadium. Joe Schmit doesn’t have many injury worries, although Sean O’Brien and Gary Ringrose will be missed in the Irish set up. Crucially, Irish players have been playing well in the new Guinness Pro 14 League and the European Champions Cup. Therefore, they can bring that form into the 6 Nations. Ireland have a tough start to the campaign by travelling away to Paris, before coming back to the Aviva to face the Azzuri. Ireland underperformed last year and there will be a response. Expected Finish: 1st but no Grand Slam.

Scotland

In past tournaments, the Thistles always seem to bring in confidence but had nothing to show for it. However, an impressive 3rd place position last year fuelled the Scot’s success in 2017 and Gregor Townsend would want to emulate and improve that record. The two biggest challenges the Scots face is getting an away victory (in either Dublin or Cardiff) and winning against England at home. If they manage this feat, then the confidence surrounding Scottish rugby at the moment would intensify. Expected Finish: 3rd.

Wales

The Dragons have it all to do for this championship. An extensive injury list and an unsatisfactory Autumn campaign mean that Warren Gatland’s men enter the Championship with a lot to answer for. Certainly the style of play is more interesting than it has been for some time, however with some key players missing out due to injury, it will be even harder for the New Zealander to implement his new style. Rhys Webb must be mention given his previous horrific injuries. He has now probably played his last game for Wales, if he doesn’t go on the summer tour to Argentina, you have to feel sorry for the guy, having played for the Ospreys and Wales for ten years. Wales, as well as having players falling like skittles, have to play Ireland and England away, so they have all to play for. Expected Finish: 4th/5th.

My Squad Selections for the Home Nations’ first games of the Championship

Below are the squads that could be expected and what I would like to see when the squad selections come up in a week’s time for the first round of Natwest 6 Nations Championship Games.

My predicted Welsh and Scottish Squads for the first game at the Principality Stadium:

Wales

Position

Scotland

Rob Evans

1 Jamie Bhatti
Ken Owens 2

Stuart McInally

Samson Lee

3 Simon Berghan
Seb Davies 4

Johnny Gray

Alun Wyn Jones

5 Ben Toolis
Aaron Shingler 6

John Barclay

Justin Tipuric

7 Hamish Watson

Ross Moriarty

8

Ryan Wilson

Gareth Davies

9

Ali Price
Rhys Patchell 10

Finn Russell

Hallan Amos

11 Sean Maitland
Owen Williams 12

Duncan Taylor

Hadliegh Parks

13 Huw Jones
Steffan Evans 14

Tommy Seymour

Gareth Anscombe

15 Stuart Hogg
Elliot Dee 16

Scott Lawson

Wyn Jones

17 Murray McCallum

Dillon Lewis

18

Gordon Reif

Cory Hill 19

Ritchie Gray

James Davies

20 Dave Denton
Aled Davies 21

Henry Pyrgos

Scott Williams

22

Peter Horne

Leigh Halfpenny 23

Blair Kinghorn

My predicted English Squad to face Italy in Rome:

Position

England

1

Mako Vunipola

2

Jamie George
3

Dan Cole

4

Maro Itoje
5

Joe Launchbury

6

Courtney Lawes
7

Sam Underhill

8

Sam Simmonds
9

Danny Care

10

George Ford

11

Johnny May

12

Owen Farrell
13

Henry Slade

14

Nathan Earle
15

Anthony Watson

16

Tom Dunn
17

Lewis Boyce

18

Harry Williams
19

George Kruis

20

Zach Mercer
21

Ben Youngs

22

Alex Lozowski
23

Harry Mallinder

My predicted Irish Squad to face France in the Stade de France:

Position

Ireland
1

Jack McGrath

2

Rory Best
3

Tag Furlong

4

Iain Henderson
5

Ultan Dillane

6

Peter O’Mahony
7

Jordi Murphy

8

C J Stander
9

Connor Murray

10

Jonathon Sexton
11

Andrew Conway

12

Robbie Henshaw
13

Bundee Aki

14

Keith Earls
15

Rob Kearney

16

Sean Cronnin
17

Cian Healy

18

Dave Kilcoyne
19

Quinn Roux

20

Josh van der Flier
21

Luke McGrath

22

Joey Carbery
23

Jordan Larmour

You can follow all the action and opinions on the 2018 Natwest 6 Nations Championship with the Brum Rugby Show on BURN FM every Sunday 8-9pm.