With the 6 Nations just round the corner we have the salivating prospect of five weekends of international rugby coming up. Who are the teams to watch? What are the chances? And who has absolutely no hope whatsoever? (We’ll save you the trouble, sadly for the Italians, it is predicted to be another wooden spoon.)
Who can stop England?
England come into the tournament as the defending champions and aiming for an unprecedented third consecutive title. With only one defeat in the past two years, they are undoubtedly favourites (despite what Eddie Jones says) and indeed, our model confirms this, giving England a 59% chance of winning the tournament and a 33% chance of a Grand Slam.
So can anyone stop them?
Well, Ireland have the best chance. Currently they are predicted to have a 33% of winning the tournament and a 16% chance of the Grand Slam. Scotland and Wales round out the percentages with 5% and 3% respectively for tournament victory. France and Italy are unfortunately both predicted to have a negligible chance of finishing as tournament winners.
But in a tournament such as the 6 Nations where momentum and home advantage is so important, how will this actually pan out? Which are the games that could decide the tournament?
England’s two hardest games are forecast to be away to Scotland and their final game at home to Ireland. Aside from these games, they are predicted to see off their opposition without too much difficulty.
Scotland are a force to be reckoned with in Murrayfield at the moment, and Ireland are capable of beating anyone on their day, so both of these matches have the potential to serve up some difficulties for England, even viewed in isolation. However, we think their are two other matches in the tournament that could also affect the significance of these matches, and both happen to be in week one.
Scotland v Wales
Scotland play Wales in the Millennium Stadium in the opening match of the 6 Nations, and for the first time in years they travel there with a real chance of victory. Currently the match is predicted to be in Wales favour, but only just. Should the Scots overturn this slight advantage they will pick up crucial momentum with a rare opening weekend win.
The following weekend they welcome France to Murrayfield and, with this momentum, home advantage and the current states of the two national sides, should seal victory there (although it should be noted, France are famously unpredictable). This would bring the Scots to week three with two wins from two, with the (relatively) certain prospect of another win still to come against Italy in the final weekend. Three wins from the tournament would be a successful outcome for Scotland, but almost the minimum requirement given their recent form and their three wins last year.
Should they beat Wales therefore, they would likely approach week three against England with more conviction, confident that they should secure the three victories required, but also with the knowledge that an against the odds win over the Auld Enemy in Murrayfield would put them right in the mix as title contenders.
However, lose to Wales, and these prospects vanish. The match against England might take on a slight air of desperation in searching for that vital third win. Given the Scots record when chasing wins, we feel they would be more unlikely to win under such circumstances.
For the Scots, against Wales, it is certainly all to play for.
Ireland v France
The other important game of the opening weekend is France v Ireland. Ireland travel there as heavy favourites, at least according to our forecasts. However, their record in France is atrocious, with just two wins there in 6 Nations history. This game therefore might be a little closer than forecast, especially with it being the opening weekend and accounting for ‘rustiness’.
However, should Ireland see off the French they have three relatively easy fixtures to see them through the majority of the tournament (Italy, Wales, Scotland – all at home). Given Ireland’s current status and record at home, they should win these without too much trouble. This would bring Ireland to a final weekend showdown with England (assuming England have successfully avoided their potential pitfall against Scotland) for the Grand Slam.
Given the importance of the match, the title on the line with Grand Slam prospects and St Patrick’s day, we feel the Irish would up their game and rise to the occasion, making the game much closer than is currently predicted. However, lose to France on the opening weekend and, similar to Scotland, Ireland might end up chasing the tournament, reducing their chances of an upset in Twickenham.
Those are our call for the four matches to watch in the tournament. Clearly there are others that are important (England Wales is never one to miss, for example) but these are the ones that, currently at least, we feel are most likely to influence the tournament. ‘Tipping point‘ games if you will. To emphasise this point, should Wales and France prevail over Scotland and Ireland in week one, England’s chances of tournament victory rise to just under 80%.
It is worth reiterating that England are still strong favourites for the Grand Slam but, should a few of these (admittedly fairly bold) predictions come to fruition, the tournament could become very exciting indeed.