RBS Six Nations: Team-by-team preview as the big guns get ready for battle
A team-by-team guide to the 2012 RBS Six Nations.
Captain: Paul O’Connell.
Coach: Declan Kidney.
What’s changed since World Cup? Brian O’Driscoll is out for the season.
Can do: The big performance, usually fuelled by a sense of injustice or, alternatively, destiny. The filleting of England’s Grand Slam ambitions in last season’s Six Nations and the deconstruction of Australia at the World Cup are perfect examples.
Can’t do: Consistency. The so-called golden generation of O’Gara, O’Driscoll and O’Connell have only delivered one Grand Slam (2009) in the last decade, a serious case of under-achievement.
All eyes on: A back row packed with aggression and destructive power.
Killer fact: Munster, Leinster and Ulster are all through to the knockout stages of the Heineken Cup for the first time. Irish rugby is on the march.
Captain: To be decided; probably on a game by game basis until injured players return.
Coach: Stuart Lancaster.
What’s changed since the World Cup? What hasn’t changed. Martin Johnson, Jonny Wilkinson, Steve Thompson, Mike Tindall, Nick Easter, John Wells, Mike Ford, training venues, old ways… You name it, all gone.
Can do: PR and coaching school kids. Lancaster’s construction of a new image for English rugby after the polluted atmosphere at the World Cup has been faultless.
Can’t do: Field an experienced side. The grey beards say that successful international teams are built on a core of veterans. England, partly through choice and partly through circumstance, have lost theirs. Can youthful enthusiasm triumph? We’re about to find out.
All eyes on: The final quarter of the first game against Scotland. It will set the tone and expectation for the rest of the championship.
Killer fact: Danny Grewcock was the last Englishman to score a try at Murrayfield. It came way back in 2004, the last time England won at the venue.
Captain: Sam Warburton.
Coach: Warren Gatland.
What’s changed since the World Cup? The hype. There’s even more of it. Expectations surrounding this talented, young side have kept on rising, and Sam Warburton has been deified. Gavin Henson is back too.
Can do: Play quick, intelligent, entertaining, challenging rugby based around the thump of Jamie Roberts, George North and Adam Jones.
Can’t do: Turn potential into fulfilment, sustain a commanding line-out and persuade an adoring and expectant public not to get ahead of themselves.
All eyes on: Mike Phillips if he goes anywhere near a late night Cardiff burger bar.
Killer fact: There were well more than 10,000 one-eyed posts on the Telegraph website protesting Warburton’s innocence after Alain Rolland sent him off in the World Cup semi-final.
Captain: Ross Ford.
Coach: Andy Robinson.
What’s changed since the World Cup? Chris Paterson (809 points, 109 caps and 22 tries) has retired, and Andy Robinson has piled the pressure on himself and his team, suggesting that recent results have not been acceptable.
Can do: Togetherness, chaos, belligerence, destruction. Scotland are invariably defined by how much they prevent the opposition playing rather than what they create themselves.
Can’t do: The 50-metre, three-sidestep, two-dummy break. Gregor Townsend was the last man to fit into that category, and he is now the beleaguered attack coach. Scott Johnson has been hired to find solutions but he starts next season.
All eyes on: Who starts at outside-half now that Ruaridh Jackson is likely to miss the first game
Killer fact: Under Robinson, Scotland have scored just 20 tries in 24 matches, conceding 38.
Captain: Thierry Dusautoir.
Coach: Philippe Saint-André.
What’s changed since the World Cup? Apart from a new coach, not much. Saint-André has retained 17 members of the squad which got France to the World Cup final for his first match against Italy.
Can do: Infuriating, sulky, lethargic, petulant. Former coach Marc Lièvremont might not have been the full ticket but professional athletes shouldn’t have behaved the way the majority of the French squad did in New Zealand.
Can’t do: All that romantic, off-the-cuff, wispy stuff partly because Test rugby isn’t like that anymore, but mainly because France believe in muscular efficiency these days.
All eyes on: Imanol Harinordoquy, the world’s best No?8 when the mood takes him.
Killer fact: France do well in the even years. Of the five occasions they have won the title in the past decade, four have come in 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2010, the single exception occurring in 2007.
Captain: Sergio Parisse.
Coach: Jacques Brunel.
What’s changed since the World Cup? Jacques Brunel has replaced Nick Mallett as coach, old codger flanker Mauro Bergamasco is back after missing last season’s Six Nations, and Italy have moved to the Stadio Olimpico, a much bigger venue.
Can do: The one-off victory, scrummaging and sensational pasta. But that’s it. For the last four years they have finished at the foot of the table, making it nine in their 12 seasons.
Can’t do: Wallow in their scrummaging power. Italy are a midfield and a productive half-back combination away from a decent side.
All eyes on: The length of time the great Sergio Parisse has on the ball. The more he is involved, the less potent Italy are as a genuine team because they offer little else.
Killer fact: Italy have never beaten England.
Saturday Feb 4: France v Italy (2.30pm), Scotland v England (5pm)
Sunday Feb 5: Ireland v Wales (3pm)
Saturday Feb 11: Italy v England (4pm), France v Ireland (8pm)
Sunday Feb 12: Wales v Scotland (3pm)
Saturday Feb 25: Ireland v Italy (1.30pm), England v Wales (4pm)
Sunday Feb 26: Scotland v France (3pm),
Saturday Mar 10: Wales v Italy (2.30pm), Ireland v Scotland (5pm)
Sunday Mar 11: France v England (3pm)
Saturday Mar 17: Italy v Scotland (12.30pm), Wales v France (2.45pm), England v Ireland (5pm)