Forgot Password

 

Register

 

Create your Connect ID

This will allow you to login to all DStv websites & applications




or
Login using
x

Email Reset

 




Loading...
Loading Live Scoring...
*All times CAT (GMT+2)

Rugby | Six Nations

Warren Gatland © Gallo Images

Looming Lions tour spices up Six Nations



The dangling carrot of British and Irish Lions squad places provides the backdrop to this year's Six Nations championship in which England and France vie for favouritism and Wales seek to retain their title off the back of seven successive defeats.

At Wednesday's official tournament launch in London coaches and captains took turns to stress how form counts for little in the annual northern hemisphere set-to and Wales will certainly hope that is the case after a dismal and somewhat mystifying run that followed their third grand slam in eight years.

Now under the fulltime care of Rob Howley as regular coach Warren Gatland concentrates on his Lions duties ahead of the tour of Australia, Wales kick off their defence at home to Ireland on February 2.

Their last-gasp Dublin victory in the opening game of last year's tournament propelled them towards the title and captain Sam Warburton knows they need to repeat that success at the Millennium Stadium to lift the gathering gloom.

"It is a really nice feeling going into the tournament as reigning champions. We can take great confidence from that," he said.

"We might not have done as well results-wise in the last six months, but particularly against Australia, a lot of those results have been by one or two points and could easily have gone our way.

"It is very hard to predict who is going to play well."

Ireland, who have lost their last three matches against Wales, including the 2011 World Cup quarterfinal, managed only two victories last season and were also on a poor run before finishing their November series on a high by thrashing Argentina.

Brian O'Driscoll will drag his battered body through one more tournament, hoping to secure a Lions slot, but the Irish captaincy has passed to No 8 Jamie Heaslip.

"I'm still buzzing about the whole thing," said Heaslip. "When Declan told me last week I had to stop myself climbing over the table and kissing him."

NO INVOLVEMENT

Watching that opening Cardiff match with his Lions cap on will be Gatland who will have no involvement with Welsh team matters.

"Having a Lions tour in the summer gives a different feel to the whole season," said Howley, a former player and assistant coach for the combined team.

"Right from pre-season players are working to be physically right for such a long season. In the Autumn they put themselves in the shop window and then again in the Six Nations when they are going against their potential rivals."

Until the last match of their Autumn series not many England players would have been checking out flight times to Sydney but everything changed in that memorable 38-21 victory over New Zealand.

The fixture list is marginally in their favour too, with France also coming to London in one of three home games, though away matches in Ireland and, on the final day, Wales, are hardly straightforward.

They start at home to Scotland on February 2 and though the points difference in their last four meetings averages just over four per match in England's favour Scotland have not won at Twickenham for 30 years.

"The driver for us now is to do what we did against New Zealand on a consistent basis," said coach Stuart Lancaster, who this time last year was approaching his first game as interim coach.

Scotland are also under new management with Australian Scott Johnson taking charge after Andy Robinson resigned following their home defeat by Tonga.

Forced to choose from a desperately shallow pool of talent, Johnson's team seem certain to be fighting it out with Italy to avoid last place, the matter likely to be decided on February 2 when the two meet at Murrayfield.

Italy coach Jacques Brunel has managed three wins in his 10 games since replacing Nick Mallett after the 2011 World Cup though they were agonisingly close to holding Australia to a draw in their last match in November.

An opening weekend repeat of their shock 2011 Rome victory over France would mark real progress and certainly throw an already unpredictable tournament wide open.

The French were the most consistent of the European sides in November, thrashing Australia and also accounting for Argentina and Samoa, and will expect to improve on last year's disappointing fourth-placed finish.

However, while most of the rest of the tournament's leading players are already in their national camps preparing, the bulk of the French squad will be involved in league games on Thursday and Friday.

"We just cross our fingers that we won't have too many injuries," said coach Philippe Saint Andre.

"But the Six Nations is a fantastic event and it looks as if you run 100 metres but we start 10 metres behind (the other teams). So you need to run 110 metres.

"We know the big problem of French rugby is to be consistent. We've won four games consecutively, this is quite a big event for us, but we would like more and more of this."

Shop

SA rugby Annual 2014
The 2014 SA Rugby Annual is the official record of the South African season and is widely considered to be one of the finest yearbooks in world rugby
R175.00
Victor - My Journey
As the most capped Springbok ever, Victor Matfield is a national hero who transcends rugby provincialism and has fans across the world
R198.44
The Poisoned Chalice
The Springboks have had several post-isolation coaches, and if they agree on nothing else, they will concur that everyone in the job suffers enormous pressure
R157.00
Coach - Marco Botha
At 34, Heyneke Meyer was fired as head coach of a Super Rugby team for the second time
R110.00


Comments

More expert analysis and opinion from Sport24
The opinions expressed by Sport24 experts and bloggers are theirs alone, and do not necessarily represent those of SuperSport

Live Video Streaming

Football's Greatest Managers - Ottmar Hitzfeld
Athletics - Day 4 - Session 1
Diving - Women's Synchronised 10m Platform Final
Netball - New Zealand v Jamaica

Sports Talk



Brendan Venter
The art of execution
With the reality of an all-Australasian Super Rugby final scheduled for Saturday, I believe now is...

Tony Johnson
Winning means rising above adversity
Winning a big rugby tournament is usually about the ability of a team to produce its best in the...

Brenden Nel
Time for Sevens to up the ante
Sunday night’s amazing Commonwealth Games win by the South African Sevens team has only served to...

Gavin Rich
A flawed plan
A third-place finish, a semifinal exit and the South African conference title may, to some, be fair...

Super Wrap
It's a Wrap, and a Super one at that
Only one side in a six-team playoff series and the rest of our teams comfortably in the bottom half...