Combat the cold this winter by tuning into some red-hot rugby featuring the continent’s finest…
2019 Guinness Six Nations, from Friday 1 February, BBC + ITV
September’s Rugby World Cup can wait. There’s another titanic tournament ready to take centre stage this weekend, as the 2019 Six Nations kicks off live on the BBC and ITV.
Following the most successful 12 months in the nation’s history, defending champions Ireland are the favourites to get their hands on the trophy once again – but this is a tournament that usually has one or two surprises up its sleeve…
Despite finishing fifth last year, a promising autumn for six-time champions England (who face Ireland in Dublin for their opening game) means that Eddie Jones’ men simply can’t be discounted from the mix. Add an in-form Wales and an exciting Scotland into the mud-splattered equation and you’ve got an unmissable few weeks of action ahead.
Want to know more about the contenders before the fuse is lit this Friday night when Wales face France in Saint-Denis? We’ve got the lowdown on all the teams – plus find out how former England centre and BBC pundit Jeremy Guscott thinks it will all pan out…
Star man: Owen Farrell. The fly-half needs to learn how to tackle, but he’s still without a doubt the Red Rose’s most vital player. When Farrell is at the top of his string-pulling game, England are a match for anyone.
Last year’s finish: Fifth – a disaster for the defending champions.
Most likely to: Answer their critics emphatically by winning the tournament.
Least likely to: Go quietly into the night. Win, lose or draw, England always grab the headlines.
Guscott’s verdict: “I don’t doubt that England are capable of winning the Six Nations. Whoever wins that opening game between England and Ireland not only has a great chance of winning the championship but also winning a Grand Slam.”
Star man: Johnny Sexton. The 2018 IRB World Rugby Player of the Year continues to raise the bar for fly-halves everywhere. His focus, professionalism and ruthless kicking game make him one of the best around.
Last year’s finish: First – Joe Schmidt’s team brushed aside all before them to clinch their third Grand Slam.
Most likely to: Carry on where they left off in 2018 and win a second consecutive title.
Least likely to: Take their foot off the gas. With coach Joe Schmidt stepping down after the World Cup, the players will be giving their all to deliver the send-off he deserves.
Guscott’s verdict: “Ireland have to be the favourites, simply on form. They’re the best team in the world at the moment. They are so consistent. Their challenge is to not become complacent.”
Star man: Alun Wyn Jones. A constant during coach Warren Gatland’s reign, the lock leaves everything on the pitch and is the embodiment of all that is good about Welsh rugby.
Last year’s finish: Second – a respectable result, despite two defeats.
Most likely to: Be there or thereabouts. Having won their last nine games, these Welsh dragons are ready to roar on the big stage. Plus, as Warren Gatland prepares to step down after the World Cup, expect an even bigger push for silverware.
Least likely to: Be let down by their fans. The Millennium Stadium remains one of sport’s most fiery arenas.
Guscott’s verdict: “Warren Gatland has said that if they win their opening game away to France then they will win the tournament. That’s a bold statement. The games that might be perceived as their toughest – England and Ireland – are both at home. They’ve got a great chance. Warren’s talked the talk, now the players have got to walk the walk.”
Star man: Finn Russell. From deadly kicks to explosive bursts from midfield, the fly-half (who can also play at centre) has been a key figure in the Scots’ transformation over the past 18 months.
Last year’s finish: Third – their highest placing since 2013.
Most likely to: Show inconsistency out on the pitch, but also a sense of excitement in every match they play.
Least likely to: Win the whole thing. The Scots are good, but they’re not that good.
Guscott’s verdict: “Scotland have been on the rise for a while, but it’s about how they handle the expectation. People are waiting for Gregor Townsend’s team to deliver consistently.”
Star man: Mathieu Bastareaud. One of rugby’s most recognisable talents, the powerful centre has a surprisingly quick turn of pace that can change an attack in an instant.
Last year’s finish: Fourth – another disappointing campaign for Les Bleus.
Most likely to: End up in mid-table again. The French have improved under coach Jacques Brunel, but they’re lacking that certain je ne sais quoi needed to really push on.
Least likely to: Go down without a fight on home turf. France were seconds away from beating Ireland last year before a late drop goal turned the match on its head.
Guscott’s verdict: “They will continue to be inconsistent. What can we expect? The talent is there but they’re becoming an enigma. If you can’t enjoy coming together to play for your country then you really do have some challenges.”
Star man: Sergio Parisse. The Azzurri’s skipper is still going strong at the age of 35. What’s more, this Italian rugby legend can usually be found in the thick of the action, opening up opponents with his fabulous passing skills.
Last year’s finish: Sixth – a third consecutive wooden spoon.
Most likely to: Finish bottom of the pile. If you’re in desperate need of a win, Italy are still the team you want to be playing.
Least likely to: Pick up their first Six Nations victory since 2013.
Guscott’s verdict: “It’s difficult for Italy to get parity when you look at their resources. They’ve been around for nearly 20 years, but we haven’t seen a great deal of change. I feel for them, and I just hope they can be competitive.”
This weekend’s live Six Nations fixtures on Virgin TV
France v Wales
Friday 1 February, 7.25pm, BBC One HD (CH 101/108)
Scotland v Italy
Saturday 2 February, 1.45pm, BBC One HD (CH 101/108)
Ireland v England
Saturday 2 February, 4.45pm, ITV/HD (CH 103/113)
TV channels: Channels, content and features available depend on your chosen package. Channel line-ups and content are subject to change at any time and to regional variations.
HD: HD TV required to view HD channels. Number of inclusive HD channels depends on package.
ITV HD is subject to regional variation. ITV HD is not available where STV HD or UTV HD is available.