I’m back! Not that I ever left, but I had a bit of a period of writers block/procrastination. Anyway! A lot has happened since last time I posted.
Ulster managed to leave Europe as they came in, stuttering and limping worse than I am with a sprained ankle, while Connacht, while they continued to show more of their never-say-die attitude, contrived to fail to progress into the Champion’s Cup knockout stages. Meanwhile, Leinster just crossed the line in a pretty dross draw away to an empty stadium in Castres and Munster got over the line against Racing 92 in workmanlike fashion.
Oh, and Ireland beat the All Blacks.
A lot can change in a few months can’t it?
I thought it might be an idea to have a gander at the RBS 6 Nations fantasy game that’s been set up. I’ve always had a vague interest in fantasy leagues but with a few friends who are relatively new to rugby or maybe wouldn’t know a huge number of players I’ve decided to give my rundown of top 2-3 picks (more or less depending on how many you can select per position) in each position for each round of the 6 Nations. It’ll kind of be like Buzzfeed’s Worth It, but hopefully less hipsterish. (If you want to skip all the fluff that I’m including to explain the rules/fixtures etc, just hop down to the bottom to see my picks)
For those of you who don’t pore over reams of spreadsheets for fantasy football leagues etc, the jist of it is that you pick a team of 18 players (15 starters, 3 subs who earn half points) to try and earn as many points as possible. You can’t pick a full team from one nation (there’s a limit of 5 players per nation), so unfortunately you can’t just pick a full team of whichever country is playing Italy that particular week. You also have a limited budget to work with, so you can’t just pick a bunch of star players either.
You accrue points as a result of both your players’ nations and their individual performances (points breakdown nicked from the 6N Fantasy site):
Round One Fixtures
It’s the battle of top vs bottom of the table in terms of the table last year, and while round one could throw in a surprise, it’s hard to see it actually happening.
Scotland, while they have some confidence, still seem a little brittle mentally, with their Great Hope™ Finn Russell failing to take control of Glasgow’s Champions Cup game against Munster to drop a goal to take a game-winning lead. They still made it to the quarters, but that was on the back of those pesky English and French teams just rolling over and devaluing the competition as a whole.
France could just as easily show up and dance around England and serve up some rugby akin to their 2015 shootout, or concede a couple of tries and have a gallic shrug and not bother. Hopefully the carrot of a bonus point can keep them competitive. England aren’t fully stocked with their Grand Slamming, Australia whitewashing Test Match Animals™ either, so there could be something there for the taking. Maybe just throw high balls at Elliot Daly and see if he’s learned how to contest for them safely.
Finally, Italy are at home off the back of a historic first ever win against South Africa (and a not-so-historic loss to Tonga the week after) against Wales being led by Not Warren Gatland. Conor O’Shea looks to be experimenting a little, and a lot will depend on Wales knowing what their gameplan is and how to execute.
Round One Picks
Three front row slots to pick from, two props of either flavour and a hooker. Looking at who to select in my front row, there’s a couple of things to think about: How likely is the hooker to score off the back of a maul? Is your prop a broken field wrecking ball or does he just bury the head and hit the try line from a yard out?
Tadhg Furlong, Joe Marler and Guilhem Guirado are pretty fearsome ball carriers, and will probably pick up a decent number of points for metres made and defenders beaten. Rory Best and Jack McGrath are more of your workhorse type players who won’t make a ton of flash yards, but might end up on the end of a maul to pick up a try.
Here’s the three hooker’s I’d consider for my squad:
- Dylan Hartley (England) 14
- Guilhem Guirado (France) 14
- Rory Best (Ireland) 13
- Tadhg Furlong (Ireland) 14
- Joe Marler (England) 13
- Uini Atonio (France) 11
- Allan Dell (Scotland) 11
- Jack McGrath (Ireland) 14
- Samson Lee (Wales) 12
In the second row there’s plenty of competition, from wily grizzled veterans in Alun Wyn Jones to unsung heroes to athletic young upstarts like Jonny Gray who just can’t miss tackles. Second row tries are rare enough these days, but guys like Joe Launchbury and Iain Henderson have the athleticism to bust their way in. Interestingly, Maro Itoje is locked in as a second row despite playing at 6 this weekend, and is only one of two to cost the maximum of 15 points to select. He’s certainly an interesting pick, as you would effectively have 4 back-row players in your team
- Jonny Gray (Scotland) 14
- Courtney Lawes (England) 11
- Iain Henderson (Ireland) 13
- Joe Launchbury (England) 12
- Alun Wyn Jones (Wales) 15
- Maro Itoje (England) 15
The back row is where you can have a lot of fun in terms of selection. Do you throw in a wildcard like the 6 Nations own Xander Cage, Sergio Parisse of Italy? Do you go down the ball-carrying route of the South African born duo of CJ Stander (Ireland) and Josh Strauss (Scotland)? Someone less flashy but solid in Tom Wood (England)? Here are my top picks:
- Sean O’Brien (Ireland) 14
- Justin Tipuric (Wales) 14
- CJ Stander (Ireland) 15
- Louis Picamoles (France) 14
- Sergio Parisse (Italy) 15
- Ryan Wilson (Scotland) 10
The wee(ish) fellas
Backs obviously aren’t as small as they used to be, with Wales arguably kick-starting the trend of just putting giants all over the field. That said, while they aren’t as huge, there is a bit of a trend back towards smaller, faster backs which is bringing some diversity back to styles of play.
At scrum half, there’s plenty of talent on display. Conor Murray is currently regarded as world class and the leading contender for the Lions 9 jersey. Ben Youngs looked pretty good in the Autumn, but I felt was flattered by his opposition and hasn’t exactly shone in Tigers colours since. Baptiste Serin is the new kid on the block, but that didn’t stop him from making some New Zealand defenders look like mugs in November, and he’s kicked on nicely since then for Bordeaux. Meanwhile, Rhys Webb is facing off the Italians, but it’s his first game back in a few months.
- Conor Murray (Ireland) 15
- Baptiste Serin (France) 11
- Rhys Webb (Wales) 14
At 10, things are very interesting this week, with Paddy Jackson once again in harness with Johnny Sexton’s legs still giving him some issues (and the meedja still seemingly confused by Joe Schmidt not parachuting Ian Madigan in from France). Opposite him, Finn Russell will be hoping that Scotland don’t need to manufacture a drop goal, but his all-round game is pretty great and being outside Greg Laidlaw should hopefully give him a bit more confidence. Meanwhile, England are blessed in being able to play both George Ford and Owen Farrell, who are both given the highest cost of 15. Wales continue with the high-ball kamikaze king Dan Biggar while Camille Lopez of France is typically French in that he could have a brilliant game or a terrible one.
- Owen Farrell (England) 15
- Dan Biggar (Wales) 14
- Paddy Jackson (Ireland) 12
From the centres out there’s bound to be fireworks. Stacks of talent everywhere. Ireland have Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose, Scotland have Huw Jones and Alex Dunbar (the latter of which is a steal at 11 points), England have Jonathan Joseph (and a masquerading Elliot Daly hopefully not nearly killing anyone on the wing). France, even without the ridiculously talented Wesley Fofana have Gael Fickou on hand to light things up while Wales’ Scott Williams and Jonathan Davies aren’t exactly slouches either. An interesting pick might be Italy’s Tommaso Benvenuti, who’s keeping a personal favourite of mine – Michele Campagnaro – on the bench.
- Robbie Henshaw (Ireland) 14
- Jonathan Davies (Wales) 15
- Jonathan Joseph (England) 15
- Garry Ringrose (Ireland) 13
- Tommaso Benvenuti (Italy) 12
- Alex Dunbar (Scotland) 11
The wing positions have scope for plenty of variation in terms of playstyle. Do you go with someone with out and out gas like Jonny May of England? Perhaps someone who’s fantastic countering from kicks like Scotland’s Tommy Seymour? How about the flair of Simon Zebo of the Irish parish? Or do you have faith that Wales can bring out the bullocking best of George North without getting him concussed again?
- Jonny May (England) 14
- George North (Wales) 14
- Tommy Seymour (Scotland) 14
- Simon Zebo (Ireland) 13
- Virimi Vakatawa (France) 15
- Giovanbattista Venditti (Italy) 12
Finally we come to the last line of defence: Full back. Again there’s plenty on show here, with Wales being represented by Leigh Halfpenney and his metronomic boot and Liam Williams elusive running. Stuart Hogg will electrify any pitch that he sets foot on for Scotland while Ireland’s Rob Kearney and England’s Mike Brown will forge away nicely in the backfield (although the latter might just run straight into a defender). You can also fit Italy’s Luke McLean, despite him lining out at 12 this weekend.
- Stuart Hogg (Scotland) 15
- Liam Williams (Wales) 14
- Scott Spedding (France) 13
So that’s that!