Former Ireland and Munster player Alan Quinlan predicts this year’s Six Nations Championship will feature the most expansive brand of rugby in the competition’s history, and be won by England.
The retired back-row expects Northern Hemisphere’s elite nations to focus more on attack than defence following the unrivalled success of their Southern Hemisphere counterparts at last year’s Rugby World Cup.
Quinlan says the attritional game from previous editions is likely to be sidelined for free-flowing running rugby with ball-in-hand and off-loads.
“We will see more ambition from all the teams,” he said. “Everyone has taken notice of the success of playing a more open game from the World Cup – particularly Argentina, Australia and New Zealand.”
Last year saw the most dramatic finish to a Six Nations Championship with Ireland, England and Wales only being separated by virtue of points difference on an epic final day.
Quinlan told Planet Rugby that he feels England will start as title favourites this year due to the advantage of playing rivals Ireland and Wales at home with Scotland, Italy and France away.
“I think England will win because of the way the tournament falls for them,” he explained. “Also Eddie Jones will bring a lot of enthusiasm and energy to a team which already has a lot of good players and depth.
“I do not think it will be a Grand Slam though. Whoever wins the Championship will probably lose one game.”
None of the participating Six Nations teams at the 2015 World Cup made it beyond the quarter-final stage, with Italy and surprisingly hosts England not even getting out of the group phase.
This disappointment has prompted a major shake-up with both France and England replacing their coaching staff, but the real change needs to be in how these teams play the game.
Although holders Ireland are going for a historic third Championship in a row, they too are going to have to alter their conservative game if they are to continue that success.
But with the loss of Paul O’Connell, injuries to several key players plus a post-World Cup hangover that has plagued the form of Leinster and Munster, Quinlan knows his native Ireland are up against it.
“It is going to be tough for them,” he admitted on Ireland’s chances of retaining the title.
“Having France and England away from home always makes it harder.
“They (Ireland) have got to start well at home to Wales and beat either France or England away to be in the mix come the end.
“Also Leinster and Munster both struggling does not help. In saying that, the Six Nations is a great competition and the players will be itching to play in it.”