Duncan Casey: Formidable France tough to look past 

The Six Nations always carries added weight in a World Cup year. But this year’s tournament comes at a time when the existential crises for the sport and several of its higher-profile governing bodies continue to mount.
Duncan Casey: Formidable France tough to look past 

MAN TO BEAT: France captain Antoine Dupont. Pic: John Walton/PA Wire.


Ireland can feel smug about having its house in order and being immune from the contagion of controversy that seems to have swept the game in the last 12 months. Sitting atop the World Rugby rankings and being considered the main challengers to hosts France later this year, things are looking pretty good. But we’ve been in this position before and it has gone horribly wrong.


Your home for the latest news, views and analysis of this year's Six Nations Championship from our award winning sports team.


Your home for the latest news, views and analysis of this year's Six Nations Championship from our award winning sports team.

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Andy Farrell’s side looks like a much more rounded one than Ireland did under Joe Schmidt but the psychological baggage that Ireland carries around the World Cup can’t be denied. The coming weeks will be a good litmus test of the resilience that has been shown up to now.

Elsewhere, I hear from solid sources in various parts of the country that the purse strings are tightening across the board. Many players who have renewed contracts or are under discussion to do so have been given reduced offers, likely a reflection of Covid starting to bite. With several big hitters yet to put pen on paper for next year and beyond – such as Johnny Sexton, Peter O’Mahony, Iain Henderson and James Lowe – could we be looking at the start of an exodus?

Prediction: Second


There was shock in sporting circles at the conviction of FFR President Bernard Laporte and Mohed Altrad, jersey sponsor of both France and New Zealand, on corruption charges last week. One of the things I love about rugby in France is that it has kept one foot in the amateur era. There is a relaxed, informal nature to how most things are done in France, contrary to popular belief, and it makes it a wonderful place to live. In the vast majority of cases, this is a positive thing. When it comes to governance, evidently, this approach can leave a lot to be desired. None of this is likely to distract the players on the pitch. The talent pool has always been there but has never been refined the way Fabien Galthié and Shaun Edwards have managed in the last couple of years. They are widely considered unstoppable at the moment and it’s hard to disagree.

Prediction: Winners


Rugby in England has had a terrible few months on all fronts. While there had been rumblings for a number of years that certain clubs were, to quote Charles Haughey, ‘living beyond their means’, few people predicted Wasps and Worcester would fold in such dramatic fashion, so early in the season. Their demise has sharpened the focus on the accounts of every other club in the league and the overall picture isn’t pretty.

The general consensus is that another couple are holding on by the skin of their teeth and without a sharp change of direction in their efforts to balance the books, they could be following their former opponents out of the competition in the next year or two. It’s a volatile environment for players, with wages being slashed and less secure, one-year contracts being offered.

There was a time when it was considered madness to fire a coach nine months out from a World Cup but both England and Wales have done so. The disruption caused by jettisoning Eddie Jones after seven years at the helm is a disaster for players trying to build cohesion but if Steve Borthwick gets this right, there is a potential bounce factor in this England side that could carry them all the way to the World Cup and beyond.

Prediction: Third


Welsh rugby has skirted with crisis for a while and appears to have finally fallen over the edge in recent months. The club game is a mess, with constant bickering between the regions and the WRU stifling potential over the years. The national side has always managed to keep itself insulated from this, remaining competitive and often successful.

That changed last year, with losses to both Italy and Georgia marking a low point in the nation’s fortunes. Last week, another bomb was dropped on the WRU, with a BBC Wales investigation documenting a litany of allegations of sexism, racism and homophobia from former employees of the governing body.

If Borthwick has the potential to give England a rapid lift, Warren Gatland is almost guaranteed to have the same effect on Wales. It’s rare for a coach to return so quickly but his familiarity with the players and overall set up mean the teething issues England will have are unlikely to be replicated in Wales.

Prediction: Fifth


They’re murder, the Scots. Everyone enjoys seeing them do well but then they dig out a big result and start talking like they’re going to wipe the floor with everyone. They have carved out a reputation for over-predicting and under-performing over the years. They have some of the most talented players at their disposal – namely Finn Russell, Stuart Hogg and a couple more – but a lack of consistency and shortage of depth in key positions has cost them.

Scotland can perform brilliantly and terribly in equal measure and while this unpredictability is largely a weakness, it has the capacity to catch teams on the hop as well. As is often the case, they might turn over one of the tournament favourites before losing to a side they should beat on paper.

Prediction: Fourth


The Italians have threatened to finally come good on many occasions since joining the Six Nations in 2000. Each time, it is a false dawn, so we are right to question whether this year will be any different. It does, however, appear that Kieran Crowley has cultivated a genuine belief in the playing group not seen for many years. Benetton performing well in the URC has not always been reflected in the performance of the national side but having 16 players from the 7th placed team in the league is surely cause for optimism. The problem with Italy is when they don’t fire, they really don’t fire, as was seen in their concession of 63 points to South Africa after a history making history victory over Australia the previous week.

Prediction: Sixth 

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