At the end of the 2017 Six Nations, applause rang out across the Aviva Stadium as Dylan Hartley was called up to collect the trophy. They had suffered defeat at the hands of the Irish squad at 13-9, but while they were refused the opportunity to become Grand Slam winners like in 2016, they were handed a second, consecutive Six Nations title.
Now England look to continue their Six Nations winning run by lifting the trophy for a third year in a row. If they managed to do this they would make history as the first ever nation to win three Six Nations tournaments back-to-back. England will not do this without some difficulty, however, with appearances for four players being limited. Injury has managed to spite Elliot Daly (ankle problem), and Billy Vunipola (fractured forearm), while the banned James Haskell will miss the first two opening games and Joe Marler will sit out the game after striking another player when playing for Harlequins. England have introduced some fresh blood into their squad, with eight uncapped players stepping into the ranks for one of the tournament favourites.
The other tournament favourites, as suggested by bookies, is Ireland. Many believe that the title could go down to the last game of the tournament when England welcome Ireland on March 17th. With only one uncapped player in Ireland’s 36-man strong squad, Jordan Larmour, there seems to be a lack of injury concerns for Ireland. Cronin has been brought into the squad after Kilcoyne’s knee injury placed him in some doubt, and that uncertainty is extended to Sean O’Brien (surgery on hip injury) and Garry Ringrose (ankle) which could see him missing the opening two games.
Meanwhile in Wales, the same cannot be said, as it seems like injury after injury concern for the squad. Dan Biggar’s shoulder injury, sustained in Osprey’s European Champions Cup game, makes him miss the first three opening games, while Rhys Priestland has sustained a hamstring injury which could see him out for most of the tournament. Centre Jonathan Davies, Hallam Amos, Liam Williams and George North are also doubts with foot, ankle, groin and knee injuries respectively. Dan Lydiate has been less fortunate – he will miss the entire campaign due to a left arm injury meaning surgery to his bicep. Rhys Webb has also been ruled out, according to BBC Sport, with a knee injury. It is not news that Warren Gatland will be wanting to hear with Sam Warburton and Taulupe Faletau already expected to miss the entire championship. They welcome Scotland for the first game of the Six Nations at the Principality Stadium on February 3rd.
Scotland, on the other hand, have the confidence of Stuart Hogg behind them. According to BBC Sport, Hogg believes that Scotland could “do some damage” in the 2018 Six Nations, and the full-back will be in the squad fit and ready for the tournament after two months off due to a hip injury. Scotland will have a 40-strong squad for the championships, welcoming back Greig Laidlaw and including two uncapped players in Murray McCallum and D’Arcy Rae. However, Simon Berghan has been banned from the opening game at the Principality Stadium against Wales, while hooker George Turner and centre Alex Dunbar are both further injury doubts. Tight-heads Zander Fagerson and WP Nel are other injury concerns for the Scotland squad and are expected to miss the opening games for Scotland.
Across the channel, France have introduced six new faces to their 2018 Six Nations squad, including 19-year-old Matthieu Jalibert. France have also brought in a brand new coach – former Italy coach Jacques Brunel. The spotlight will be on Brunel as he replaces Guy Noves whose departure comes just weeks before the beginning of the championships. The shocking turns continue as Mathieu Bastareaud has been given a three week ban after being accused of homophobic comments and will miss the opener against Ireland. Morgan Parra had been recalled for the 32-man squad but he has been ruled out of the opening game against Ireland due to a knee injury.
Lastly there is Italy, who have won the wooden spoon more times than any other team in the Six Nations. Sergio Parisse will be captaining the Italian squad once more for the 2018 Six Nations championships, and several players will be welcomed back from injury including Tommaso Allan according to the Six Nations Rugby page. Coach Conor O’Shea has a positive outlook for the tournament this year with the squad making good progress since he came into the coaching role. O’Shea has also included Alessandro Zanni within his 34-man training squad leading up to the Six Nations. Zanni last played for Italy in the 2016 Six Nations and holds 99 international caps for Italy.
The Six Nations of 2018 will be as big and as exciting as ever, with rivalries among fans and teams, and favourites to win the overall Championship. Who is to say what direction the Six Nations will take and what drama will unfold over the next few weeks. All that can be said, however, is that you better keep an eye on all the fixtures and make sure you get a seat in front of the television for the clashes that the Six Nations promises to bring.
3/02 – Wales v Scotland (14:45 kick-off)
3/02 – France v Ireland (16:45 GMT kick-off)
4/02 – Italy v. England (15:00 GMT kick-off)
10/02 – Ireland v Italy (14:15 kick-off)
10/02 – England v Wales (16:45 kick-off)
11/02 – Scotland v France (15:00 kick-off)
23/02 – France v Italy (20:00 GMT kick-off)
24/02 – Ireland v Wales (14:15 kick-off)
24/02 – Scotland v England (16:45 kick-off)
10/03 – Ireland v Scotland (14:15 kick-off)
10/03 – France v England (16:45 GMT kick-off)
11/03 – Wales v Italy (15:00)
17/03 – Italy v Scotland (12:30 GMT kick-off)
17/03 – England v Ireland (14:45 kick-off)
17/03 – Wales v France (17:00 kick-off)