Six Nations: Six bold predictions including France star Cameron Woki to claim top prize
Ahead of the start of the Six Nations, we predict what could happen over the next two months in a tournament which will no doubt have twists, turns and plenty of subplots.
Ireland to win Triple Crown but be denied title
Winning the Triple Crown goes a long way to claiming the Six Nations Championship, particularly since a fourth win is pretty much guaranteed when the teams play Italy, but we don’t think it will be enough to usurp France. Les Bleus hold all the cards with them facing their likely two closest challengers for the title, Ireland and England, in Paris. Although the away game with Scotland will be tough, we fancy Fabien Galthie’s men to come of age and claim the Grand Slam, securing their first piece of silverware since 2010.
Second place should be between the Irish and the English, but Andy Farrell’s charges look further down the line in terms of their development. Their clash with the Red Rose at Twickenham will certainly be a significant challenge but they just look stronger in the key forward areas at the moment, while their experience counts for plenty against this more youthful and fresher faced Eddie Jones team.
Rory Darge to usurp Hamish Watson and star for Scotland
If you didn’t already know, we are big fans of the Glasgow tearaway and think he could lock down that openside position for the next decade. He has the outstanding Hamish Watson in his way, while the likes of Jamie Ritchie and fellow newbie Andy Christie could also take that Scotland seven shirt – depending on the make-up of the back-row – but on form Darge deserves a place in the 23.
The 21-year-old left Edinburgh for the Warriors in April 2021, no doubt in part due to last season’s Six Nations player of the tournament being in his way at the capital club, but has impressed since making the move. Like Watson, he is good over the ball, carries well in the loose and is an excellent tackler. Similarly, some may label him as being ‘too small’, since he weighs even less than the recent British and Irish Lions tourist, but there is no doubt that he has the physicality to perform at the highest level and will perhaps even get ahead of Watson by the end of the Six Nations.
Cameron Woki to be named player of the tournament
The back five forward is currently nursing a minor injury and could therefore miss France’s opener against Italy, but we fully expect the outstanding Bordeaux-Begles man to play a huge role in Les Bleus’ tournament after that. Woki has been superb for the French over the past few months, starting with their tour to Australia in July 2021. Despite his performance in the 2020 Autumn Nations Cup final against England starting the hype, it wasn’t until those displays down under where he cemented his spot in the squad.
Since then, Woki has gone from strength-to-strength, for both club and country, and will almost certainly start for Galthie’s men if fit, whether at lock or in the back-row. The 23-year-old has exceptional athletic qualities and his dynamism around the field is obvious, but he is also a very smart individual. His lineout expertise will be crucial for France, while his breakdown work and defensive qualities mark him out as an excellent all-round player. A lot of focus is quite rightly on Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack but this is the tournament where we think Woki will get to that level.
Defending champions Wales to struggle and lose four of their five matches
It would be disingenuous to call Wales’ Six Nations triumph in 2021 lucky but a lot certainly went their way last year. They beat Ireland and Scotland after both of those teams had received red cards and were then aided by a couple of fortunate refereeing calls against England. It meant Wayne Pivac’s men went into the France clash on the brink of a Grand Slam and were 30-20 up when Paul Willemse was sent off for Les Bleus. Somehow they contrived to lose that match and since then it’s all gone downhill for the Welsh.
They were poor in the July series, failing to beat Argentina in their two games, and really struggled in the Autumn Nations Series. Once again, they were helped by red cards to their opponents as both Fiji and Australia went a man down, which rather saved their end-of-year campaign. So it would be quite something if Wales had the same luck again in 2022 and even then it might not be enough for a successful Six Nations. Pivac has so many injuries to deal with that their squad looks much weaker than every side bar Italy. Without Alun Wyn Jones, Justin Tipuric, Josh Navidi, Taulupe Faletau, among many others, it could be a painful couple of months for Welsh fans.
England number eight(s) to be top try-scorers
With no Sam Underhill in the Red Rose squad it looks like either Alex Dombrandt or Sam Simmonds will start at number eight, with Tom Curry moving to his preferred position on the openside. Both have excellent try-scoring records at club level – Simmonds is particularly exceptional with 75 in 100 games – and could well thrive in the Test arena.
With England looking to alter their style slightly, especially after handing the fly-half reins to Marcus Smith, Simmonds or Dombrandt should enjoy themselves in this Six Nations. Both will play a significant part in the 2022 tournament but only one can start and, at the moment, we think the Harlequins player would be favoured for a place in the XV.
England will look to be a bit more expansive, thus giving the likes of the two number eights a chance to get their hands on the ball. Both are excellent link players and support runners, while they also take superb lines, so it wouldn’t be a surprise should one of Simmonds or Dombrandt top the try-scoring charts.
No red cards to hamper tournament
There have been a spate of red cards in the sport over the past couple of years. In the 2021 Six Nations, there were several handed out due to a clampdown on dangerous tackles and head contact. In particular, it proved costly for Ireland and Scotland, who were perhaps denied wins against Wales last year after Peter O’Mahony and Zander Fagerson were sent off, but all the players have how had time to adapt.
The idea of a red card in rugby, especially at Test level, used to be an alien concept, but the issues with concussion has quite rightly seen the authorities act and bring in stricter laws and guidelines for referees to follow. We very much hope it won’t effect the competition over the next couple of months and, to be honest, we expect the players to have learnt. Yes, it still happens but, with so much on the line and teams needing to keep 15 individuals on the field, as well as the gradual change in the tackle technique, the players will want to be squeaky clean.
Closest Six Nations for years?
Planet Rugby’s James While on our Six Nations power rankings feature.