England favourites, Italy for the Wooden Spoon, UAE rugby predicts the Six Nations

Matt Jones - Editor 19:39 02/02/2018
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The Northern Hemisphere’s premier rugby competition returns this weekend as the Six Nations returns to bring signal to fans from England, Wales, Ireland, Scotland, France and Italy that it’s safe to emerge from their winter hibernation.

Eddie Jones‘ England come into the tournament as two-time defending champions. If they can claim a third win in a row it will be the first time in the competition’s long and illustrious history (the first Home Nations tournament was contested in 1883) a nation will have won three titles outright.

Standing in the Red Rose’s way though will be Ireland, with a showdown at Twickenham on the final weekend likely to act as a title and even Grand Slam decider.

Wales may be injury ravaged but their young squad will have something to say about that, as will a rejuvenated Scots, who famously beat Australia in the autumn and pushed world champions New Zealand too. A youthful France will also want to prove  a point under new coach Jacques Brunel,  while Italy will be desperate not to get beaten once again with the Wooden Spoon.

The UAE may be a world away from Europe, but the rugby scene here is almost as hot as the weather. And our local rugby guru Matt Jones delved into his endless list of contacts to gauge opinion ahead of the big kick-off.

0302 uae 6 nations stephen ferguson

Stephen Ferguson

Dubai Exiles lock/flanker

Northern Ireland/Ireland

Champions: Ireland

Obviously I’m biased as I’m a proud Irishman. But I can’t see Ireland having any trouble from anyone except England. And we play England on St Patricks Day at Twickenham and an occasional like that will have the Irish lads more than up for it. Possibly a Grand Slam decider, which Ireland will inevitably win.

Wooden Spoon: Italy

They might put in a few good performance here and there but I just think all the other nations are miles ahead. It’s usually a battle between then and Scotland but the Scots will cause more upsets this year with Stuart Hogg running the show.

Player to watch:

Jacob Stockdale – unbelievable talent, the man is the size of a back row with the speed of a winger. Class in the Autumn Internationals and standing out for Ulster every game. I’d also have him as your top try scorer too.

0302 uae 6 nations ian overton

Ian Overton

Jebel Ali Dragons winger

Wales

Champions: England

It kills me to say it but England. What’s even worse is I’m actually enjoying their brand of rugby too. Which pains me to my core to say. Been watching lots of stuff on Eddie Jones. He gets it.

Wooden Spoon: Italy

They’re still 10 years behind.

Player to watch: Stuart Hogg

Would love to see Marcus Smith get some minutes but I doubt that will happen. So Hogg and Anthony Watson for me. Particularly Hogg, love the way he plays. Also, I used to teach Nathan Earle back in the UK and would love to see him carve it up. Great lad and mega talented.

0302 uae 6 nations mike farlane

Mike McFarlane

Abu Dhabi Harlequins head coach

England

Champions: England

I think they have a chance to show their incredible depth and also have Wales and Ireland at home.

Wooden Spoon: Italy

Simply don’t have the quality and have three away games.

Player to watch: Hamish Watson

Watson for Scotland is an exciting 7 and is rapid over the ground, excellent at the breakdown and provides turnovers. He was class against Wales last year which had a back row of Lions.

0302 uae 6 nations luca mene

Luca Mene

Abu Dhabi Saracens winger/full-back

Italy

Champions: Ireland

Both Ireland and Irish clubs have played at a very high level in the last years, and also because I’d like a change in the champion. I’m sure it’s going to be between England and Ireland, with a great final battle at Twickenham.

Wooden Spoon: Italy

I’m afraid Italy even though I’m expecting a much better Six Nations than last year. I believe Conor O’Shea has done a great job in the last year and the team has now a good young base who will keep growing up every year. Unfortunately, all the other teams have improved too and I believe they are all still at a higher level.

Player to watch: Matteo Minozzi

I’m not sure about other teams but I’ve been told the young backline player in our team who deserves to be watched if he gets some game time is Minozzi and apparently he’s really, really quick.

0302 uae 6 nations kris hughes

Kris Hughes

Dubai Exiles lock

Scotland

Champions: Scotland

I know it’s biased and against the odds, but with the new free-flowing pace Scotland have played recently I’m genuinely excited about their campaign. Especially with recent performances against Australia and New Zealand, as well as last year’s Six nations, I think we could be about to see something special.

Wooden Spoon: Italy

Unfortunately for Italy I think it will be the same story for them, finishing in last place. With the quality of rugby shown by the other five nations I just feel that Italy are still a bit off of that standard.

Player to watch: Stuart Hogg

Six Nations Player of the Tournament 2016 & 2017. The man clearly has some serious skill. Pace, agility, handling, kicking and defensive play. The Scottish full-back is the complete package and I expect to see him carve more holes in the opposition’s defence this campaign.

Owen Farrell also had a great season last year and knows how to control the game well. Always seems to play consistently well and can help England get the job done in key moments.

0302 uae 6 nations boris finck

Boris Finck

Dubai Hurricanes fly-half

France

Champions: England

As a Frenchman it really pains me to say this but I think England will retain the title for a third consecutive year. Even though they are missing some key players, they still have a dynamic and more than capable squad. Eddie jones has been and is currently doing an outstanding job with the players selected since his appointment. Formulating clinical performances consistently which cannot be ignored.

Wooden Spoon: Wales

In contention for this year’s Wooden Spoon with the team plagued by injuries, missing big names, key and experienced players which may have detrimental effects. It will be up to the young guns to take up responsibilities this year. Moreover, the usual wooden spooners have been improving drastically over the past few years with Conor O’Shea in charge of Italy and Scotland’s recent form on the up. It will definitely make this year’s tournament an exciting one.

Player to watch: Josh Adams

Another young gun earning an international call-up due to an impressive run of form in the Aviva Premiership, scoring a heap of tries in back to back games. The lad can definitely finish his dinner. We can only hope he will be a great addition to the Welsh squad, helping them score tries left, right and centre.

Also keep an eye on Marcus Smith, he may not play every match but he has proven himself worthy in the Premiership. And Chris Harris. His consistency at Newcastle Falcons has not gone unnoticed, I hope he can show us all his outstanding capabilities.

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