Sky’s resident rugby panel pick their winners, losers and ‘bolters’ ahead of the opening round in the 2018 Six Nations.
With nearly 200 international caps between them, Sky’s expert rugby team of Will Greenwood, Scott Quinnell, Paul Wallace and Rory Lawson come together to make their Six Nations predictions.
Who’s going to win?
Will Greenwood: The way the fixture list works this year many bookmakers have England as favourites, but I’m going with Ireland because if Ireland go to Paris and win, then they’ve got Italy, Wales and Scotland at home. Ireland could then go to Twickenham with a huge points difference and you are relying on England to win the Grand Slam to win the Championship. So Ireland to win on points difference.
Scott Quinnell: I say this every year…Wales! Because I’m Welsh and we’re forever the optimists. But I think it’s going to be one of the tightest championships for a long, long time. If I wasn’t Welsh, I’ve a sneaky feeling that Ireland might win it this year.
Rory Lawson: England! They’ve won 22 out of 23 tests under Eddie Jones, they face the big challenges of Ireland and Wales at home and playing Italy away in the opening game allows them that cushion to get back some of their injuries for the tougher tests to come.
Paul Wallace: It feels like a two horse race between Ireland and England, though I feel Scotland can do well also. But my feeling is it will go down to that final Twickenham fixture on St Patrick’s Day. Injury dependent, England at home have a marginal advantage over Ireland.
Player to watch?
Greenwood: I’ll give you one from each team starting with Aaron Shingler from Wales. He’s a clever player and would make a great All Black because he’s always in the right place at the right time.
For Ireland, Bundee Aki is a dynamo and for Scotland, Hamish Watson wins turnovers which are so important in the modern game. Injuries in the pack will allow teams to pressure England and George Ford can answer critics who say he may not be able to play on the back foot.
While Italy have Tommaso Castello, who is like a Brad Barritt – they will need a midfield general to stop big buses coming through the middle. For France, I’d have to go for Virimi Vakatawa. If you only mark him with one man he will hurt you.
Quinnell: I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s Stuart Hogg again. He’s had a good break and has been playing incredibly well. He was unlucky on the Lions tour and I think he’ll use his frustration to play well again. I think he could well make it a hat-trick of Player of Tournament wins.
Lawson: Finn Russell! Stuart Hogg is getting all the headlines right now, but Russell is the key man when it comes to implementing Scotland’s high-tempo attacking game. He can light up Scotland this Six Nations.
Paul Wallace: Bundee Aki will bring a physical intensity to an Irish midfield of Henshaw and Sexton. I’m excited about the physicality of the Irish backline.
Greenwood: There’s a chance that Rhys Patchell could grab the opportunity he’s been given in the 10 jersey. While everyone’s talking about who’s not there, he might put his hand up to say ‘I’m here!’
Quinnell: I’m not sure he’s a breakout star – because I thought he was brilliant in the autumn series for Wales – but I love the way openside Josh Navidi plays.
Whether he’s playing seven or eight, I think he’s going to be superb. He’ll relish the challenge with Justin Tipuric and James Davies – who wasn’t been picked in the squad this week – but I think Navidi will raise his game again.
Lawson: Stuart McInally for Scotland. Possibly, Jordan Larmour for Ireland. France’s 19-year-old fly-half Matthieu Jalibert and England’s Sam Simmonds.
Wallace: Wales’ Steff Evans feels like another Shane Williams but with a more physical edge. He’s a proven finisher with brilliant footwork.
Greenwood: What I’d like to happen, and I’m selfish here, is for England and Ireland to end up at Twickenham playing for a Grand Slam. I always like it when both have skin in a game that’s a Grand Slam decider.
Quinnell: I think it could well come down to England v Ireland at Twickenham on Paddy’s Day.
That is going to be the fixture that probably defines the tournament. That Super Saturday is always one of great expectations now, and I think it could build nicely to that one.
Lawson: Wales versus Scotland. Naturally all eyes focus on the meeting of the two tournament favourites – Ireland and England on St Patrick’s Day. But there’s a lot of rugby to be played before that. For Scotland, the biggest game is the opener.
Wallace: The England versus Ireland game in Twickenham stands out, but I’ll pick another in the Calcutta Cup match between Scotland and England at Murrayfield. From an Irish perspective, if Scotland were to win there, it sets up Ireland’s visit to Twickenham.
Greenwood: Despite winning the last two championships, I think it would be a surprise if England win the Grand Slam, but in doing so, show the sheer depth of their class and quality, one year out from the World Cup.
Quinnell: I tell you what, I think Conor O’Shea has done a brilliant job with Italy, and not only with Italy – you can see it coming through in the two sides in the PRO14 when you have a look at the way Zebre and Benetton are playing.
They look fitter, they look stronger. Those two sides have a bit of confidence and have put in a good run of rugby together. I think Italy are due an upset.
The mind that O’Shea has and the rugby nous that he has…don’t be surprised if they come up with probably the result of the tournament. Where it’s going to be, I don’t know? But don’t be surprised if they sneak a big one somewhere.
Lawson: I’m certain there will be surprises and I don’t expect a Grand Slam. Who knows what version of France will turn up, but if they click they have the talent to do great stuff. Italy are improving under Conor O’Shea, but genuinely I believe any one of five teams can win the tournament.
Wallace: Scotland could win the Championship. As for France, God only knows and Italy are capable of taking a scalp.
England – Greenwood: Refer to ‘Surprises’ above.
Wales – Quinnell: For Wales, it is all down to a good start. And from a Welsh point of view, I’m excited about the side we can put on the field when you think of the injuries that we do have.
There’s a lot of rugby in this team with 10 Scarlets in the starting XV. When you have a look at the way they are playing and the confidence they will have from that. It’s all about a good start.
If we beat Scotland at home, then of course we have to go to England away and Ireland away. It doesn’t get any harder than that. But if we get two wins out of the first three, we’ll set ourselves up for a good run to possibly win the championship. But they need two out of the first three.
Scotland – Lawson: My hopes for Scotland are centred on that first game in Cardiff. Win that and we’ll be in the mix. Lose and the pressure inevitably builds.
Ireland – Wallace: I think Jordan Larmour could take the tournament by storm if he started for Ireland.
Will Greenwood and Rupert Cox look ahead to the Six Nations Championship on The Offload