The 2021 Six Nations Championship is fast approaching, and rugby fans everywhere are gearing up for another exciting few months of action. Of course, this year things will be a bit different due to the coronavirus pandemic, which struck when last year’s Championship was in full flow. There will be no crowds present at matches, and there won’t be the distinct buzz in the various host cities that usually defines the build-up to a Six Nations match, but that does not mean this year’s tournament won’t deliver the goods.
It looks set to be an intriguing campaign. England are defending champions, although their preparations have been harmed by the fact that they can only name a 28-man squad due to coronavirus-related restrictions, and the fact that head coach Eddie Jones was forced to self-isolate for a time after one of his coaches tested positive for the virus.
France will be looking to go one better this year after narrowly missing out on the title in 2020, while Ireland, Wales and Scotland will all be eager to make an impact too. With the fixtures long released, let’s take a look at four matches which could have a major say in which way the title goes come the end of the Championship.
Ireland v France – February 14th
In the battle to challenge bet exchange favorites England for the Six Nations title, this clash between Ireland and France in week two of the competition could have a major impact. Both sides will fancy their chances of winning the title. Fabien Galthié’s youthful side caused a stir last year and will have learned a lot from their experiences, while Andy Farrell seems to be settling into this role as Ireland’s head coach. Much could hinge on this match-up at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.
England v France – March 13th
On paper, England begin their Six Nations campaign in the easiest possible way. They take on Italy, Scotland and Wales in their opening three fixtures – the three sides who finished in the bottom half of the Six Nations table last year. If they were to win all three of those games, then this clash against France at Twickenham on March 13th could have huge significance in the context of the title, and indeed a potential Grand Slam. England got the better of France at last year’s Six Nations, and in the final of the Autumn Nations Cup. Can they repeat the trick or will Les Bleus exact revenge?
Ireland v England – March 20th
There’s a rich history behind Ireland meeting England on the closing day of the Six Nations. Twice in the last ten years Ireland have denied England the Grand Slam by defeating them in the final match of the tournament, and a similar scenario could be on the cards this time around. Indeed, Ireland may well be gunning for the title or Grand Slam themselves, and Irish rugby fans will recall with fondness that they defeated England on the final day of the tournament to win the Grand Slam in 2018 – on St Patrick’s Day, no less. Whatever the context proves to be, this will be a mouth-watering final-day fixture.
France v Wales – March 20th
Not much is being said about Wales in the build-up to the Six Nations, but history shows that their best results at the Six Nations often come on the back of disappointment – such as their fifth-place finish at last year’s tournament, for example. France will have their sights set on the title, and if they’re still in the race to win the tournament come this showdown in Paris, then this could well prove to be a mammoth encounter.