RUCK’s Taylor Richards has called the scores ahead of the opening weekend of the 2018 Six Nations.
Our writer will put his neck on the line every week, with his very methodical predictions.
And there is plenty to get excited about this weekend.
Wales vs. Scotland
This match has always thrown up some wonderful displays of running rugby and some quality tries in past meetings. Who can forget Shane Williams’ last-gasp try to win the match against a 13-man Scotland side back in 2012 or the famous 27-22 victory for Scotland in 2002 at the Millennium Stadium, which is now the last time the visitors won in Cardiff.
One Gregor Townsend was a part that famous winning side and he will be watching from the coaches box on Saturday hoping for a similar result. It will be a huge task for the men in blue to get the victory but they will have a lot of confidence thanks to their recent form and the unfortunate injuries in key positions for Wales.
I’m predicting a high scoring match thanks to the attacking style that both sides have been trying to develop which could leave gaps in defences.
It will be a very tight game and I expect both sides to play expansive passing rugby and try to get the ball to the flanks at every opportunity to seek an overlap. A lot has been said about Gatland picking 10 Scarlets players in the starting 15 and the Welsh supporters will be hoping they can replicate their form in the league and Europe to get the win.
Similarly, Townsend has selected an almost complete Glasgow backline to also try and utilise the clubs form and chemistry to get a win for the visitors. They will also be confident to have their world class full back Stuart Hogg back on the pitch.
My prediction: Wales to win by 5 points.
Key Battle: Rhys Patchell vs Finn Russell
France vs. Ireland
It is very difficult to predict a winner in this one thanks to both sides making a number of changes going into the competition and with it being Jacques Brunel’s first time in the 6 Nations for France.
The new coach has already surprised a few people by selecting 19-year-old fly-half debutant Matthieu Jalibert as well as Geoffrey Palis, another debutant at full back. The new and improved French outfit will have no fear going into this match knowing the Irish haven’t won away there since 2000.
Despite this, Ireland have come very close in recent years including a narrow 10-9 defeat last time they visited the Stade de France and a 17-17 draw in 2012. Ireland have selected an experienced pack with the likes of CJ Stander, Rory Best and Iain Henderson looking to get the edge over the French forwards.
There is also bags of Lions experience in the backs with Connor Murray once again linking up with Sexton as the half-backs, alongside a pacey and powerful Bundee Aki and Robbie Henshaw in the centres. A bit of inexperience on the Irish bench as they have gone for the in-form and promising youngster Jordan Lamour of Leinster.
The French also have lightening pace on their wings with Racing speedster Virimi Vakatawa and his Parisian teammate Teddy Thomas. This has the makings for a magnificent test match and I don’t think it will disappoint.
My prediction: Ireland by 8 points.
Key battle: Matthieu Jalibert vs. Johnny Sexton
Italy vs. England
This is a real mismatch on paper and it’s very difficult to find an area where Italy can dominate, but I’m afraid this only has one winner. England are going into the competition with plenty of confidence and playing some great rugby off the back of their autumn series.
The reigning champions will be looking to start with a bang over in Rome this weekend and I think everyone is expecting a 30+ point difference between the two sides. The only surprise in the English line-up would be the selection of Ben Te’o instead of Jonathan Joseph in the centre.
Conor O’Shea doesn’t have the strength in depth that is available to Eddie Jones, but he certainly has the coaching abilities to improve his Italian side and will be hoping for more improvements after seeing their club sides continuing to impress and develop in the Pro 14 and Europe.
England will be hoping to achieve something never done before, win the 6 nations for a consecutive 3rd year running. With a good start against Italy, there’s no reason why they can’t go on and do that. I think the only competition they will have will be at home to Ireland on the final day, which could be a mouth-watering encounter.