This year promises to be the closest yet

THE Six Nations Championship never fails to produce thrilling, hard-fought contests, but I honestly believe this year’s tournament has all the ingredients of being the closest for many years.
Any one of four nations can challenge for the big prize this year, while the other two will make them sweat every last drop. There really is no hiding place.

Arguably, the game of the weekend sees England take on Wales at Twickenham, and this looks set to be an intriguing tactical battle.

We, at Saracens, play against many of the England boys in the Premiership and they are a good team. Martin Johnson will be delighted to be able to pick a near first-choice side after a nightmare sequence of injuries and, with home advantage, they will start as favourites.

But although Johnson has great runners in the likes of Flutey. Tait, Armitage, Monye and Cueto, the Welsh employ a great defensive system and will punish England if they adopt the wrong tactics and try to play too expansive. It promises to be a fascinating contest.

Both England and Wales are capable of going all the way, but with Ireland and France looking so strong and Scotland stunning everyone with their stubborn resistance against Australia in the autumn, it really is up for grabs.

When it’s so tight, home advantage usually comes into play, and that is where it favours England and France. The
English have crucial home games against Wales and Ireland, while France host England and Ireland. The
French, however, have a third game in Paris, while England hit the road three times and that is a massive advantage to have. At the same time, it means Ireland, as good as they are, will have to do it the hard way if they are to defend the Grand Slam.

On paper, France are the most talented side in the competition. They can beat any side in the world with that bit of magic, but they remain the great enigma in world rugby.

All too often they have struggled to string five consecutive performances together and Marc Lievremont simply must address that if the French are to justify their favourites’ tag. The key is catching them on their off-day.

Let’s not underestimate Italy, however. Nick Mallet is a clever coach who plays to his strengths, which is keeping the ball among the pack. Teams will be more expansive against them but one thing with the Italians, they are sure to get their teeth into you.
Let the games begin.