LONDON – That reigning champions England are the workforce to beat heading right into a Six Nations shouldn’t be uncommon however that your complete 2021 event is about to be performed with out spectators makes it completely different even earlier than it has began.
Rugby Union grew to become used to the idea of behind closed doorways internationals when the coronavirus pandemic first took maintain final year.
Nevertheless, there’ll nonetheless be one thing unnerving in regards to the eerie quiet that may greet the gamers throughout this weekend’s opening spherical of matches at what would usually be a trio of sold-out venues, be they the Stadio Olimpico (Italy v France), Twickenham (England v Scotland) or the Principality Stadium (Wales v Ireland).
A year when a British and Irish Lions tour follows the Six Nations would often add an additional edge, however the impression of Covid-19 means the way forward for the 2021 collection in South Africa stays in doubt.
And there have been considerations that even a fan-free Six Nations may be scuppered when the French authorities questioned the event’s well being protocols.
Sports minister Roxana Maracineanu, nevertheless, gave event officers some welcome information when she cleared France’s participation by saying groups can be “in a bio-secure bubble, like the Tour de France”.
And the necessity for continued vigilance was emphasised when Wales introduced Wednesday they’d banned winger Josh Adams for the opening two video games of the Six Nations following a breach of well being protocols.
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As for the rugby itself, these anticipating England to play a extra expansive sport may be disenchanted.
There was a sense that England, whose solely loss final year got here in their event opener in opposition to France, weren’t taking advantage of their resources in enjoying a forward-dominated, kicking sport.
But unapologetic coach Eddie Jones clearly stated he needed England to “dominate” in no matter means they might.
“Some games it might be through the set piece, some through the breakdown, some ruck and run, some ruck and kick,” the Australian defined.
Inevitably, France’s win over England and the way in which a largely second-string Les Bleus pushed Jones’ males shut earlier than a sudden dying extra-time defeat in the Autumn Nations Cup ultimate, has led to hypothesis that their fourth-round conflict at Twickenham on March 13 might be a title decider.
Certainly a France facet who’re creating spectacular energy in depth forward of staging the 2023 World Cup have a formidable assault led by scrum-half Antoine Dupont, whereas having additionally tightened up their defence below the steering of English assistant coach Shaun Edwards.
Yet one of many options of the Six Nations is a capability for upsets.
Scotland, for instance, haven’t defeated England at Twickenham since 1983, though they got here desperately shut in a 38-38 draw two years in the past after rallying from 31-0 down.
And the actual fact the likes of England captain Owen Farrell and different Saracens gamers haven’t performed a aggressive match for the reason that Autumn Nations Cup will in all probability assist their trigger, as will the lack of spectators.
Wales completed a lowly fifth final year as coach Wayne Pivac had a troublesome initiation following Warren Gatland’s profitable spell in cost and he may revert to some extra acquainted personnel this season.
Ireland coach Andy Farrell additionally appears caught between the necessity to build for the 2023 World Cup and the calls for of the current as he tries to maintain his veteran half-back pairing of Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton going.
Italy, in the meantime, are on a determined, six-year run of 27 successive Six Nations defeats and their trigger has not been made any simpler by an harm to flanker Jake Polledri.