We caught up with Ex-Bath and England prop David Flatman while he was, in his own words, “Lying on a hotel bed, enjoying some buttered vegetables”. We sincerely hope he was talking literally. Below, David offers his unique take on the 2017 RBS 6 Nations that kicks-off tomorrow.
A lot has been made of the injuries they’re carrying, but the only position in which England might have felt the pinch was loosehead, where Mako Vunipola and Joe Marler could have left Eddie Jones without a proven world-class operator. However, Marler’s return to fitness means the England scrum shouldn’t falter and Eddie won’t be pacing the house all night in his Spiderman pyjamas.
Elsewhere, though Chris Robshaw rarely makes the highlight reels, he’s definitely one of those players whose value to a team can become blazingly obvious in his absence. He does a very high share of England’s dirty work and covers a huge amount of ground, meaning other players will have to make a conscious effort to fill his boots.
The loss of Billy Vunipola will be mitigated by several factors, including the equally terrifying, high-speed brick-outhouse that is Nathan Hughes, James Haskell’s return to fitness and the pacey and powerful Jack Clifford hitting good form. That’s before we look at what Maro Itoje will bring to the party at 6. With Tom Wood and Teimana Harrison also in the match day squad, England will not struggle for quality loose forwards.
I was surprised that Dan Robson didn’t make the squad. Ben Youngs and Danny Care are both quality players, but Robson has been looking too sharp for too long to not get a run out. He’s one of those guys who could take his chance when one of the incumbents gets injured, only to then prove irreplaceable.
There seems to be a lot of people who claim they’d like to see Mike Brown dropped in favour of someone with more pace (pick one of Daly, Watson or Nowell). When I stand, pie-in-hand, watching England play and craving excitement, I might just be tempted to agree with those armchair critics, but, if coaching England paid my mortgage, he’d be one of the first names on the team sheet.
Do you really want a young bolter at 15 when we go to Dublin? No, you don’t. You want ‘Mr Angry’ at the back, snarling at the opposition and daring them to send up another high ball.
Like Munster and Leinster, Ireland look to have regained their mojo and they have a well-balanced side.
CJ Stander offers some real punch from the back row, Rob Kearney looks back to his brilliant best, Garry Ringrose is a star in the making, Johnny Sexton (missing for their opening game) offers test-quality control at 10 and they have two potentially world-class props in Tadhg Furlong and Jack McGrath.
Ireland, though, can’t afford to rest on their laurels after a win and a close loss against the All Blacks and they will need to play their best rugby to have a chance of winning against Eddies Jones’ relentless England team. They also don’t have the squad depth enjoyed by Jones, so injuries could prove crucial.
It’s fashionable amongst rugby pundits to be tipping Ireland for the Championship, but those who put their money where their mouths are, namely the bookies, still have England as favourites. Having said that, if it boils down to the last game in Dublin, all bets will be off.
When asked about France’s prospects, it’s always an easy cop-out to spout the same tired old lines about French flair and never knowing what they’ll produce on the day, but it simply isn’t still the case. For several years, with very few exceptions, France have been reliably crap.
If you think that’s harsh, just look at the figures. Since 2012 they’ve finished 4th, 6th, 4th, 4th and 5th, winning just 10 of their 25 games (in the same period, England won 21, Wales 19 and Ireland 13).
A late rally against New Zealand in the autumn does not mean they have turned their ship around. I expect them to struggle at home against Wales and Scotland and lose at Twickenham and Dublin.
I don’t agree with the widely held belief that Scotland will cause a surprise or two this time round, for the simple reason that a good Scottish performance is no longer a surprise. They have some real gems in the backline and a cracking pack of forwards. They are a good team and good teams win games.
If the Lions were picked tomorrow, there’d be 8 or 9 Scottish lads on the plane with a good handful of those pushing for test selection.
If they can get quick ball and play with the tempo that Glasgow employ to such good effect, they’re going to be a real handful, home and away.
To be blunt, Italy need to start justifying their place in the Championship, as they still haven’t progressed to a point where they offer anything on the pitch. They’ve won four games in the last five years and they should certainly be feeling the heat from Georgia and Romania.
Conor O’Shea is a great motivator and has been saying all the right things, so hopefully they will show some genuine promise. If they don’t, their place in the tournament should be up for debate.