It’s Six Nations time again, and we caught up with former Scotland and British Lions captain Gavin Hastings to preview the opening round of fixtures, and get his opinion on who’s going to win the championship.
Scotland 2.90 v England 1.41 – Saturday 16.50 GMT
We’ll start with the big one as far as I’m concerned. I’m going to be at Murrayfield commentating for BBC Radio 5 Live and I think this could be a wonderful match.
It is massive for both sides in many respects. Scotland have an awful record in their opening matches in the Six Nations, winning just once since the tournament switched to its current format in 2000 (2006 vs France). So for that reason it is fairly obvious why we aren’t favourites.
There’s a lot of expectation in Scotland that we can carry on from where we left off at an impressive World Cup, but there’s no guarantee of that. We’ll see how it goes, but I’m cautiously optimistic.
However England have got a new coach in Eddie Jones, and so their players will be determined to get him off to a perfect start.
Jones is an interesting character and certainly different to the previous coach Stuart Lancaster, who was very serious, stern and earnest. Jones is usually smiling and comes across as happy-go-lucky, but he’s also a steely, determined coach. He pulled off one of the great World Cup results – in fact, probably the greatest – when Japan beat South Africa, and his exterior belies the pressure he must be feeling.
There aren’t masses of different personnel in the England squad from their disappointing World Cup, but they’ll be brave and try and play good rugby, as will Scotland. I’m not convinced that their forwards will rumble over the Scotland forwards, and I think we might see a high-scoring game with lots of tries.
I think it’s going to be very close, and whichever way it goes I think there will be less than seven points between the sides by the end of the 80 minutes.
Either team wins by 7 points or less (includes a draw) – 1.95
France 1.03 v Italy 16.00 – Saturday 14.25 GMT
I think France will be a handful in this Six Nations.
They’ve brought in a new coach, Guy Noves – who served at Toulouse for 22 years – and after a disappointing World Cup I think they could throw caution to the wind.
They’ve been underwhelming in the past few Six Nations championships, and don’t seem to have any consistency, but I think they’ll be different this time. The new coach will encourage them to go out and express themselves, I hope so anyway. They’ve flattered to deceive for a while now and not won the Six Nations since 2010, but I think they’ll really go for it this time.
It’s a very tough opening match for Italy. I really admire them for their passion and commitment, and their supporters are fantastic, but after a poor World Cup I think they could really struggle at this championship.
Sergio Parisse, their captain and talismanic figure, seems to have been around forever and is probably the best player Italy have had in Six Nations history, but he’s not the force he once was and the team are not as equipped as they used to be.
I think France will win this by a wide margin.
France -23.5 points to win – 2.15
Ireland 1.71 v Wales 2.14 – Sunday 15.00 GMT
This will be a fascinating match between two evenly-matched sides.
Wales traditionally do quite well in Dublin, and although Ireland will be expecting to win at home I’ve just got a feeling about Wales this year. They won the Grand Slam in the Six Nations Championships immediately following the last two World Cups before last year’s, and they are my pick for the title this year.
Warren Gatland is a very shrewd man and a clever operator. He’ll be very keen for them to go out and play great rugby right from the start.
I just think Ireland are ever so slightly creeping over the hill. They’ve lost one or two key players such as Paul O’Connell, and Jonathan Sexton isn’t quite on his best form.
You look around at their provincial sides and for the first time in a long time they aren’t really performing. None of them have made the last eight of the Champions Cup, and I think that is echoed in the national team not being as strong.
Wales to win – 2.14
Flying The Welsh Flag
As stated above, Wales are the team I’d be putting money on to win this Six Nations.
They played well during the World Cup, and I think in Dan Biggar and Jonathan Davies they could have two of the stars of this championship.
Biggar was excellent when he took over kicking duties from the injured Leigh Halfpenny, and I think with Davies back the team will get even better. He was sorely missed at the World Cup, but he’s been a great performer for Wales and the British Lions in recent years and I’m looking forward to seeing him again. Wales have some great players, real natural footballers.
Overall, though, I’d love to see every team have a good go and we see something similar to last year’s ‘Super Saturday’ when 221 points were scored in the three matches over the final weekend.
With that sort of gung-ho attitude it’ll be a great championship!
Dan Biggar to score the most points in the tournament – 3.10
Wales to win the Six Nations – 3.75