6 Nations: Ireland equipped to clinch successful title defence

Ireland are the defending 6 Nations champions
Ireland are the defending 6 Nations champions

Simon Mail previews this year's 6 Nations and fancies defending champions Ireland to claim the title again this season...

"Ireland have to be considered strong candidates to defend their title after an excellent year under their coach Joe Schmidt."

Anticipation ahead of this year's 6 Nations is even greater than usual with the home nations vying to peak in time for the World Cup in September. Expectations on hosts England are understandably high and they are jostling for favouritism along with last season's champions Ireland. It would be wrong to assume it is a two horse race though with Wales, France on their day and even outsiders Scotland capable of challenging.

The Irish ran out winners 12 months ago but it was only by the finest of margins as they edged out England on points difference after a dramatic final day victory in France. There were only two points separating the top four teams so there is every reason to think it could be similarly tight in this season's competition. 

Ireland have to be considered strong candidates to defend their title after an excellent year under their coach Joe Schmidt. His side were worthy winners last season and they built on this with an impressive run in the Autumn internationals. Ireland stunned South Africa in a 29-15 win and ended 2014 with a 26-23 victory over Australia to demonstrate their undoubted pedigree.

The Irish appear to have a gentle start in Italy which should herald an opening win before back-to-back home games against France and England. These will test the side but if the Irish can overcome them then they will be well on their way to reclaiming the title. Considering the way they finished last year it would be a surprise if they aren't challenging for top spot. 

England are under pressure to deliver a strong campaign in the build-up to the World Cup. Stuart Lancaster's side have been close enough in recent years having finished runners-up for the last three seasons. But England have certainly not been helped by a lengthening injury list. A dozen players including Owen Farrell and Tom Wood are sidelined while the team face a difficult fixture list featuring trips to Wales and Ireland. 

Wales are third favourites and a team that has won the tournament twice in the last three years obviously deserves respect. Warren Gatland has got a near full strength team starting this year and a fast start against England could give them the momentum to go all the way. The Welsh disappointed last season but cannot be discounted in reclaiming the title this year.

France have been hugely disappointing in recent years but everyone knows their team are capable of brilliance. Consistency has been a major problem lately and the side were humbled by Italy two years ago. Philippe Saint-Andre's team are hard to trust over the course of the whole tournament but it may be that the players finally click with the World Cup on the horizon. 

Scotland made significant progress under new coach Vern Cotter last year and it would be no surprise if they pulled off a few wins over the fancied nations. The Scots produced an excellent attacking display to defeat Argentina before they gave world champions New Zealand a major scare after losing 24-16 at Murrayfield in November.  

Although Italy have improved in recent years it is still hard to see them avoiding the Wooden Spoon. The Italians are short-priced favourites to finish bottom as they have done in five of the last seven years. Italy finished last 12 months ago and with the major upturn in Scotland's form it is difficult to see any other outcome.  

The last two seasons have not produced a Grand Slam winner and there is every chance this will be the case again. Ireland deserve favouritism but there is not a huge amount between the leading teams. This has been the story of the last couple of years and with then World Cup looming all the nations will desperate to make an impression. With no outstanding side, the chances are even the champions will suffer one defeat in such a closely fought competition. 


Recommended Bets:
Back Ireland to win the 6 Nations at 3.211/5
Back no Grand Slam winner at 1.738/11


Follow Simon's bets on Twitter @watfordtipster


2014/15 Rugby P/L

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Returned: 88.59pts

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