If you are not practically peeing yourself with anticipation (okay, maybe that’s a little over the top) at Six Nations defending champions Ireland opening this year’s campaign with a clash against England on Saturday, you need to check if you are in possession of a rugby pulse.
Ordinarily, we wouldn’t care about the “staid” old Six Nations, a competition we have been as dismissive of as they have been about Super Rugby, a tournament they memorably panned by calling it “candyfloss” rugby all those years ago.
But with our Super Rugby teams taking their sweet time putting their superhero capes on, and this being a World Cup year, it is probably in our best interests to keep an eye on those ambitious northern hemisphere men.
Said ambitious men have also long caught up with their supposed southern hemisphere betters, to the point where Ireland – after a year in which they won the Six Nations Grand Slam, beat Australia in a three-test series in Australia and took care of business against the All Blacks in November – are, in the minds of many, the World Cup favourites.
While that may be a little misguided because Joe Schmidt’s men may have shown their hand literally a year too early, the Springbok coaching team – whose defence system has borrowed liberally from the Irish because Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber coached there until 2017 – will have more reason to watch Ireland closely.
Should the well-documented Pool A meeting with the All Blacks in their opening game of the World Cup go south, the Boks’ low road to taking over the world will probably be through Ireland – assuming they win in their group.
But Ireland should have enough trouble on their hands trying to win what will be a competitive Six Nations tournament, let alone achieve another grand slam this year.
England may have folded against the Boks last winter, but they’ll be an entirely different proposition come the Six Nations.
Going into Dublin, Eddie Jones brings along the likes of captain Owen Farrell and the recently healed Maro Itoje, who will also soon be the highest-paid player in the English Premier League.
Farrell should also be over a thumb injury by Saturday, which came as something of a surprise to the rest of us because folks with no arms have no business having thumbs.
The tournament opener between France and Wales in Paris on Friday is no less intriguing.
Wales have steadily built depth to go with the ridiculous experience of men like captain Alun Wyn Jones. They also have some big boys in that backline – just ask the Boks.
Owing to consistency long being abandoned as a concept to them, the French are easy to see as the tournament’s flaky posers.
But that’s an unfair view of France as they were on the unfortunate end of three tight results against Scotland, Wales and Ireland.
Nine points covered those three losses – the most memorable being courtesy of a last-minute drop-goal by Ireland’s world player of the year to kick off the Irish’s grand slam campaign last year. Long story short, the French are a grittier and more difficult team to put away, if Jacques Brunel ever decides to pick the same side twice.
Scotland, who open their campaign against last year’s wooden spoonists Italy, are the dark horse in the tournament. When it comes to staid, few teams described that as well as the plucky Scots, who took the Braveheart thing a little too far by taking pride in past years with grimly determined 6-3 wins based on little more than blood and guts in defence and the odd goal kick. Under former fly half Gregor Townsend, they are a team transformed and look to run first and ask questions later.
This has a lot to do with Townsend’s approach and the fact that they have two teams in the European Championships quarterfinals.
Italy, through their talismanic captain Sergio Parisse, have made noises about being more competitive than their one bonus point earned in last year’s competition, but they’ll need more than the odd trick play at rucks to do damage in this tournament.
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