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RBS 6 Nations Team by Team Guide

  
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1/31/2013
By Sportsbeat (UK)


With the RBS 6 Nations 2013 kicking off on Saturday, here we profile each of the six countries, picking out players who are set to make an impact at this year's competition.
 
ENGLAND
 
Last year’s finish: 2nd
First match: vs Scotland at Twickenham, Saturday February 2, 16:00 (GMT)
Last Championship victory: 2011
 
OVERVIEW
Nothing puts you in a more confident mood than beating the All Blacks, and that is exactly how England warmed up for this year’s tournament – downing New Zealand 38-21 in December.
 
This result helped lift spirits after the Red Rose returned from a three-game summer tour of South Africa with just a draw to show for their efforts, as well as suffering an autumn Test defeat to the same opponents and Australia.
 
Stuart Lancaster will be concerned with his ever-growing injury list with Calum Clark, Tom Johnson and Alex Corbisiero out for the whole competition and question marks hanging over the likes of Freddie Burns and Manu Tuilagi.
 
But the head coach still has plenty of players at his disposal as he looks to go one better after his debut in charge saw him lead England to second last year with just one defeat.
 
PLAYER TO WATCH
Owen Farrell has come a long way since making his debut against Scotland in the 2012 RBS 6 Nations. This came at centre but after his excellent showing against New Zealand in the autumn he looks to have his hands on the No.10 jersey ahead of Toby Flood.
 
FRANCE

Last year’s finish: 4th
First match: vs. Italy at Stadio Olimpico, Sunday February 3, 15:00 (GMT)
Last Championship victory: 2010 (Grand Slam)
 
OVERVIEW
A disappointing campaign 12 months ago, the first of Philippe Saint Andre’s reign, has done little to dampen enthusiasm in France ahead of the 2013 RBS 6 Nations.
 
Impressive wins in the autumn against Australia, Samoa and Argentina have made Les Bleus the bookies’ favourite for the title this time around.
 
But with three away games this year, against Italy, England and Ireland, they will need to be at their irrepressible best if they are to lift the 18th title in their history.
 
An abundance of talent in the back-line combined with their predictable brute force up front makes them a serious force to be reckoned with.
 
Problems at half-back and tight-head prop notwithstanding, France on their day have the ability to take any side in world rugby to the cleaners and if they can hit the heights of the autumn few will be able to live with them.
 
PLAYER TO WATCH
Frederic Michalak’s return to the fly-half jersey has been the success story of French rugby in the last 12 months. Despite being deployed most often at scrum-half for his club side Toulon, the 30-year-old magician will be entrusted with the keys to No.10 this year and has the ability to unpick even the tightest of defences.
 
IRELAND
 
Last year’s finish: 3rd
First match: vs Ireland at Millennium Stadium, Saturday February 2, 13:30 (GMT)
Last Championship victory: 2009 (Grand Slam)
 
OVERVIEW
Declan Kidney’s troops have plenty of positives to take into the 2013 RBS 6 Nations after an impressive autumn campaign that saw them secure comfortable wins against Fiji and Argentina.
 
They did however fall to a narrow defeat to South Africa, a stark reminder of the disappointment of the previous 12 months that saw them tumble out of the quarter-finals at the 2011 World Cup and limp to third in the 2012 Six Nations.
 
But Kidney’s gradual injection of youth into the Irish set-up has continued apace and all of a sudden there is plenty of cause for optimism on the Emerald Isle.
 
Young flyers like Craig Gilroy and Simon Zebo have got tongues wagging and the return to form and fitness of Brian O’Driscoll and newly-installed captain Jamie Heaslip make Ireland a fearsome proposition for any side in the tournament.
 
And with perennial rivals England and France both coming to Dublin this year there is every chance that Ireland could be celebrating their first title since 2009 come March 16.
 
PLAYER TO WATCH
The decision to not return Brian O’Driscoll to captaincy duties in 2013 was greeted by derision in some quarters but in Jamie Heaslip Ireland have a character more than able to fill BOD’s sizeable boots. The Leinster No.8 will lead Ireland by example and has become one of the premier forwards not just in Europe but across the entire rugby world.
 
ITALY
 
Last year’s finish: 5th
First match: vs France at Stadio Olimpico, Sunday February 3, 15:00 (GMT)
Last Championship victory: N/A
 
OVERVIEW
It is now six years since Italy’s best RBS 6 Nations finish – fourth – and having picked up one win in each of the last three competitions, they will be looking to improve on that and match their 2007 feat.
 
Jacques Brunel was new to the head coach role this time last year but after a victory over Scotland in last year’s competition, Italy did impress in the autumn, seeing off Tonga before losing out to Australia by just three points.
 
In the forwards, stalwarts Andrea Lo Cicero, Martin Castrogiovanni, Lorenzo Cittadini and Sergio Parisse remain but are a year older while the only new addition to the squad is Franceso Minto.
 
A lot will depend on whether stand-out back Tommaso Benvenuti can produce the cutting edge that remains Italy’s problem.
 
PLAYER TO WATCH
For the best part of a decade Carlos Nieto and Martin Castrogiovanni have had the Italian tighthead jersey exclusively to themselves, with the Azzurri set-piece their most consistent weapon. With Nieto now retired from international rugby, and Castrogiovanni more veteran than young buck, Treviso No.3 Lorenzo Cittadini has taken great leaps to becoming the next great Azzurri front row.
 
SCOTLAND
 
Last year’s finish: 6th
First match: vs. England at Twickenham, Saturday February 2, 16:00 (GMT)
Last Championship victory: 1999 (Five Nations)
 
OVERVIEW
With a new caretaker coach in Scott Johnson, Scotland are a team in transition in this year’s competition, looking to recover from finishing bottom of the pile in 2012.
 
Johnson took over after former boss Andy Robinson quit following a tough autumn campaign which concluded with a 21-15 defeat to Tonga.
 
The former Ospreys coach has attempted to breathe fresh life into the Scottish ranks with ten new faces in his squad for a tournament which begins with a tough trip to Twickenham.
 
After heading to south-west London, Johnson’s side have three games on home soil which will define their tournament – Italy, Ireland and Wales making the trip before a tricky-looking clash in France.
 
PLAYER TO WATCH

Scotland’s fans have been made to wait to see Tim Visser in a navy blue jersey while he completed his residency requirements but having exploded onto the international scene last summer the Dutch-born flyer will be looking to add to his four tries in five Tests to date.
 
WALES
 
Last year’s finish: 1st (Grand Slam)
First match: vs Ireland at Millennium Stadium, Saturday February 2, 13:30 (GMT)
Last Championship victory: 2012
 
OVERVIEW
Wales might be heading into the 2013 RBS 6 Nations as reigning Grand Slam champions, but all is not rosy in their camp as they head into this year’s tournament off the back of seven straight defeats.
 
Not just this but with the likes of last year’s player of the tournament Dan Lydiate one of many ruled out with injury, Wales have been written off by some before being given a chance.
 
Add this to the fact that there is a different man at the helm – Rob Howley filling in for British & Irish Lions-bound Warren Gatland – and it is all change for Wales.
 
But they will be eager to prove that last year’s Grand Slam was no fluke, running Australia close in a last-gasp 14-12 defeat in their last game back in December a sign that their woes might be a thing of the past.
 
PLAYER TO WATCH
All eyes will be on Alex Cuthbert after the wing started all five of last year’s Grand Slam winning campaign, scoring three tries. He proved he was more than capable of filling the void left by Shane Williams’ retirement, will he suffer from second-season syndrome?