Another Six Nations is almost upon us and as I head towards Twickenham for a series of meetings I can already feel a growing sense of expectation. I looked back at the blogs I wrote during the 2012 Six Nations and the feelings was quite different. Then, Stuart Lancaster was caretaker coach and had picked a young, inexperienced side to travel to Murrayfield for his first game in charge. Chris Robshaw had been appointed captain despite having only one cap under his belt and Scotland coach Andy Robinson was under pressure to produce a result.
England managed a victory which at times looked unlikely with Scotland throwing away a golden opportunity to win the game, but the team went on to delight all their supporters with their strength of character and pride in playing for their country.
This time round things are very different. Second place in the Six Nations and an outstanding win against the All Blacks mean that England are overwhelming favourites to beat Scotland at home on Saturday. Lancaster’s squad has grown from a nervous group of debutantes to one where there is strength in depth in nearly all areas; five or six players could slot into the back three, there is the luxury of having three fly-halves to choose from (although one is injured), there are a number of back-row and second-row options, and it is great to see Tom Youngs pushing Dylan Hartley very hard for the No 2 shirt.
There are still areas to work on with Cole and the injured Corbisiero probably the best two props and there is plenty of debate about the England centres. How we all long for a Greenwood or Guscott to come through the ranks, but Tuilagi’s absence gives us a chance to see what Billy Twelvetrees or Owen Farrell can do in that position.
If England had lost to Scotland a year ago, there would have been disappointment but I doubt it would have been a big surprise. This time around only a win by Lancaster’s men will satisfy the expectant English support. It won’t be an easy game by any means but I predict that England will win 22-12 (Scotland’s score will be a multiple of three).
There is quite a bit of Anglo-Scottish rugby going on this weekend; the U20s play each other at Plymouth Albion on Friday evening followed by England Saxons against Scotland A in the North East. Then on Saturday morning I will nip over to the Lensbury Club for the Parliamentarians game – the Commons & Lords take on the Scottish Assembly at 10:30am. There is a 3pm kick-off at Esher RFC for England Women vs Scotland with both teams joining the men at the post-match dinner at Twickenham, an idea that was a big success in Paris last year but it will be a first in England. What’s the betting on a clean sweep?
There will be one more game that I will be going to this weekend – Nigeria Exiles take on Zimbabwe Exiles at Esher RFC, kick-off 1:30pm on Sunday. It’s an important game for both countries who will be fielding almost full international sides.
I have had my expectations dashed many times in the past, especially supporting England, and although England are likely to win on Saturday, I predict that France will be Six Nations champions. The French have a lot of experience in their squad, something England will build as the 2015 Rugby World Cup approaches.
Come On England!