SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: We must not waste this opportunity to entertain

SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: We must not waste this opportunity to entertain in the 2021 Six Nations with fans and spectators stuck at home… and the SIX players to look out for this Spring

  • Despite challenging times I’ve got a good feeling about this season’s Six Nations 
  • It will be very different with no crowds and no armies of travelling spectators 
  • The Autumn Nations Cup was instantly forgettable but let’s make this count
  • Here are my six players to watch during this Six Nations tournament 

Despite the challenging circumstances I’ve got a good feeling about this season’s Six Nations which I expect to be as thrilling and exciting as the Autumn Cup games were dreary and disappointing. I certainly hope so!

Of course it’s going to be very different with no crowds and no armies of travelling spectators while the teams will be moving around in Covid bubbles but every nation – at different stages of their development – has so much to play for and there is a captive audience of millions on terrestrial TV waiting to be entertained.

Our need for distraction is greater than ever and there will be probably more interest in the 2021 than any other modern-day tournament. So let’s make it count.

England head into the Six Nations as holders, with the trophy above held by Owen Farrell 

There is hope the Six Nations can produce an excellent tournament after last year’s edition

This is a massive opportunity for rugby to strike back and all credit to the Unions, the Six Nations organisation and players for making this happen. I suspect we don’t really appreciate the daily stresses and tensions they have been operating under during the last ten months and we salute all of them.

We did, however, as a sport blow it back in the Autumn by failing to provide a spectacle to match the Premiership Football and cricket that have been royally entertaining us during lockdown.

The Autumn Nations Cup was instantly forgettable but happily within days of that tournament ending the major clubs laid on a feast of exhilarating positive winning rugby in Europe and much of the Premiership action – with Bristol to the fore – has been top notch before and after the two week circuit breaker was introduced. Their performances completely torpedoed the bogus arguments about the inevitability of box kicking, caterpillars and aerial ping pong.

The Autumn Nations Cup was instantly forgettable as England cruised to another trophy

We are not talking exhibition Barbarians style rugby by the way, no we are talking fast, direct, high tempo, skillful rugby and yes that will always include high quality kicking on occasions – both defensively and kicking to retrieve and score. Kick passes.

So who is going to win? It’s England for me but this is a tournament full of banana skins. England should emerge as champions but you wouldn’t put your mortgage on it.

I suspect it’s still a year too soon for a fast developing and exciting France team who face two daunting away matches in Dublin and Twickenham. That said I wonder if this is the year, given the unique circumstances, to steal those invaluable away wins? Time will quickly tell. 

France aim to peak in 2023 and they are well on course for that but for the present they can still be a little vulnerable as they demonstrated at Murrayfield last season when they again imploded and lost a match they should have won. Shaun Edwards will eventually eradicate such nonsense but it will take time.

France aim to peak in 2023 and they are well on course for that with an exciting, young team

England – even with injuries to Joe Launchbury, Mako Vunipola and Sam Underhill and with Joe Marler dropping out for personal reasons – still have the firepower up front to take a firm grip of this tournament but they will need to get much more out of their backs than we saw in the Autumn.

We need to see Elliot Daly and Anthony Watson blazing away in attack, not just Jonny May, and the class and creativity that Henry Slade needs to be brought into play more fluently. Start maximising all that ability behind the scrum. These are England’s greatest weapons but their effectiveness depends on the speed of the ball

Like all the teams England need a fast start first up because Scotland are a dangerous side. Six Nations campaigns become very fraught if you lose your first game, doubt creeps in and the pressure ramps up.

Finn Russell is back and the word is he is organising and communicating with his backs a lot more in training. It would seem that Gregor Townsend has, to a certain extent, given him his head and that surely make sense.

Russell is the point of difference for Scotland, he can take them to another level and it is doubly exciting for Scotland fans that very soon, possibly even this Saturday, he will have young Cameron Redpath, another x factor player, to work with in the midfield. Nonetheless I expect England to edge a cracker.

Wales against Ireland is another huge opening game. It’s crunch time for Wayne Pivac as coach, the honeymoon period is over and the pressure is on yet I feel he is on the verge of a significant breakthrough win and life will look a little rosier after that.

Ireland are in transition and actually I think Andy Farrell (left) is handling it really well

I look at their backrow resources for example – Justin Tuperic, Talupe Faletau and Josh Navidi – finally reunited after injuries – and there is none better in the world and I watch half-backs like Dan Biggar and Gareth Davies and you know this team has so much more. Wales’ experienced players must step up to support Pivac. These same players came within inches of beating South Africa in the World Cup semi-finals for heaven’s sake.

Ireland are in transition and actually I think Andy Farrell is handling it really well, getting older players remotivated and easing young talent into the team but this is just a really awkward away fixture to open with. Ireland will enjoy a strong tournament but I’m tipping Wales to nick this one.

In Rome I can only see a France win over Italy although the Italians often ‘up’ their game against the French and it will be a decent contest. France need to be ruthlessly efficient as they are on the road for the first two weeks and must move quickly onto Dublin for the sterner test of Ireland. No dramas, no hysterics and distractions. Win, bag the points and move on.


Cameron Redpath (Scotland)

Age: 21 Caps: 0 Tries: 0

There has been a deal of excitement over Redpath since he schooldays at Sedbergh and spell with England Under 20. I can see why. He seems to possess all the attacking skills, he’s both creator and try scorer. Given that his Dad Bryan is a former Scotland captain I am absolutely delighted he has opted for Scotland. It just feels right

Taulupe Faletau (Wales)

Age: 30 Caps: 81 Tries: 7

Firstly fingers crossed over his continuing fitness because the Wales man has endured rotten luck with injuries since the 2017 Lions tour. There have definitely been signs of a return to his best recently with Bath. Another Lions tour – hopefully – is looming again and I sense a hungry player keen to make up for lost time… which is good news for Wales

James Ryan (Ireland)

Age: 24 Caps: 32 Tries: 3

As with Maro Itoje, Ryan has quickly become Ireland’s totem pole player and as with Itoje it’s probably only a matter of time before the captaincy comes his way. The epitome of the modern day lock – tall, lean but strong, athletic and industrious in every department of the game. Has also got that hard edge that every great Test lock needs.

Camille Chat (France)

Age: 25 Caps: 30 Tries: 2

I’m a sceptic when it comes to replacements and a curse on the very expression “finisher” but I will make an exception for Camille Chat who never fails to make a huge impact off the bench for France. A dynamic ball carrier of a hooker, he lifts the pace and intensity when he runs on. A warrior

Danilo Fischetti (Italy)

Age: 23 Caps: 8 Tries: 0

It’s been a depressing hard grind for Italy in recent years and what they need is more young players like Fischetti. He’s a really good athlete, very dynamic and I’ve been impressed by his startling ability at the breakdown where he is a natural jackal. What he must do though is improve his scrummaging. Do that and Italy have a major player

Henry Slade (England)

Age: 27 Caps: 34 Tries: 7

Slade is a gem of a player – one of the main reasons Exeter are so successful – yet I’m not convinced England appreciate his full worth. He can play virtually anywhere although to my eyes he is a natural 13. However when George Ford and Owen Farrell play 10 and 12 the danger is that Slade gets squeezed out of the decision making process. England must get him more involved

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