10 Six Nations Storylines to Follow
The Six Nations is almost upon us, and the old championship will throw up many talking points.
From player selection to contentious referee decisions to hopefully some scintillating rugby, we should be in for plenty of thrills and spills.
Here are 10 storylines you can expect to follow over the coming weeks.
1. Is Owen Farrell the Spanner in the Works of England’s Back Line?
As much as his gusto, goal kicking and defensive work is outstanding, is Owen Farrell’s style of play the glue that is gumming up the Red Rose attack?
Expect the spotlight to fall on his offensive abilities if Stuart Lancaster’s men fail to find the spark they have been so desperately lacking.
2. Brian O’Driscoll’s Swan Song
Can Ireland’s talisman go out on a high note? There were rumours swirling this time last year that 2013 would be Brian O’Driscoll’s last Six Nations, per RTE Sport.
And what a damp squib it would have been as a send-off, as defeats to Italy, England and Scotland and a draw with France made for a dour championship for O’Driscoll and Co.
The old warrior is back for one more year though, and Ireland found some scintillating form against New Zealand at the end of their autumn programme.
What chance does the old stager have of putting on one last thrilling show?
3. Watson Winging His Way into World Cup Contention
Bath’s young flier Anthony Watson will be one to watch in the championship.
He has displayed his searing pace and finishing ability to great effect for the West Country outfit so far this season, and he deserves a chance to show what he can do.
4. Watch Warren’s Patience Wear Thin
Place your bets. How many questions will be fired at Warren Gatland surrounding the civil war raging in Welsh rugby?
The Welsh coach never seems too willing to tolerate questions about issues on the periphery of what’s happening on the field, but you can bet your bottom dollar he will be quizzed on how it is affecting the players in his squad.
5. France Missing Dusautoir
Make no mistake, of all the players not taking part in the championship, Thierry Dusautoir will leave the biggest hole.
Such is his influence as a leader and flanker for France that their chances are much diminished while he cools his heels with torn bicep muscles.
The focus will fall on Pascal Pape’s ability as skipper in Dusautoir's absence and Philippe Saint-Andre’s ability to find the right blend of players to get France winning again.
6. Scotland’s Coach-Captain Relationship
Interim Scotland coach Scott Johnson has issued a warning to skipper Kelly Brown that his place is under threat from uncapped back rower Chris Fusaro.
The outspoken Australian told The Independent: “I've told Kelly to his face – and there's no use in running away from it – that if he's good enough to get in the starting XV he'll lead the team, and that if he's not we'll look for someone else.”
There could be a frosty atmosphere in the Scottish camp if Brown finds himself riding the pine next month.
7. Scrummage Reset Times
The set piece remains a bone of contention in rugby union, with scrums still collapsing like a badly set trifle.
Crowds get turned off, youngsters are uninspired, and players become frustrated with the whole thing.
There has, as yet, been no answer to the issue, and it’s unlikely one will present itself in this championship.
Expect it to be mentioned more than once during the next few weeks.
One suggestion from Stuart Lancaster came this week when he floated the idea of stopping the clock for collapsed scrums.
It has its merits, but it might also have plenty of punters checking what time their last train home from the ground leaves.
8. The Future of the Heineken Cup
The men in suits representing the Six Nations are reportedly meeting to come to a long-awaited solution for Europe’s premier club competition, per The Telegraph.
But don’t be surprised if the pow-wow being held on Tuesday at Heathrow solves the whole mess in one go.
The future of the club landscape in Europe will be a story that rumbles on and on while the Six Nations unfolds.
9. Concussion Protocols
The rugby press has been doing its level best to keep this issue front and centre of the news agenda.
Both Andy Bull of The Guardian and Sam Peters of the Mail on Sunday have been beating the drum hard to highlight the potentially dangerous protocols in place when it comes to pitch-side assessments of players with concussion injuries.
It's inevitable that we will see players having their marbles scrambled in the kind of high-impact collisions at rugby's top level.
And when that happens in the Six Nations, all eyes will be on the medical staff, whose job it is to assess these players before deciding whether they can return to the field of play.
10. Time Spent on TMO Decisions
Former England hooker Brian Moore used his column in The Telegraph last week to bemoan the wasted time spent on referring decisions to the television match official.
Under current trials, on-field officials can ask for a second opinion from the man in the stands on a much longer list of incidents than just tries.
This prompted Moore to describe the current situation as an “incessant TMO bore-fest.”
Expect this to remain a hot potato during the championship if referees go to their man with the remote control too often.