If you need a reminder of what the craic is with 6 Nations fantasy rugby, have a gander over here.
The Bloodbath to Come
Let’s just get straight to it: England are hosting Italy at Twickenham. That alone should make you try and pick as many Englishmen as possible, because for all their protestations around improvements, it’s highly doubtful that Italy will provide anything more than the training ground exercise that they’ve served up in the previous 120 minutes of rugby.
Meanwhile, those pesky Scots are travelling to Cardiff after shipping a few injuries, key among them being Greig Laidlaw and Josh Strauss. The latter has been replaced by John Hardie, who’s hardly a slouch, but the loss of Laidlaw could well impact Scotland’s gameplan significantly, which may not be the worst thing! Wales meanwhile will be wondering why rugby matches still are more than 75 minutes long, after snatching defeat from the jaws of victory against a higher ranked team again. George North is back, and no doubt Wales will want to get back on track against their celtic cousins.
Sandwiched in between those matches has Ireland and France battering each other into submission, with the big headline being that Jonathan Sexton is back, baby. Wee Paddy Jackson fans (myself included) will no doubt be disappointed that he’s dropped to the bench, but it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion when the guy coming back has the resumé of Sexton’s. France have a relatively settled team, bringing in Yoann Huget on the wing and Bernard Le Roux along with Rabah Slimani to give their pack some beef.
As tempting as it is, I’m not going to recommend an all-English front row. While there could be some fatman tries against the Italians, I think it’s better to bank on some more solid performers and expect fireworks from elsewhere. If you are going to get an English prop in there, Joe Marler is your man, or if you’re feeling brave, throw in Mako Vunipola and hope that he’ll barrel his way to the try-line from the bench. Otherwise, it’s hard to go against usual suspects Tadgh Furlong, Rabah Slimani and Rob Evans.
- Mako Vunipola (England) 13.4 cost/0 points scored in last round
- Rob Evans (Wales) 11.3/8.7
- Tadgh Furlong (Ireland) 13.9/36.5
At hooker, again, you could take a punt on Jamie George, who’s shown some great impact off the bench for England. It isn’t hard to imagine busting through some tired Italians late in the game, and Dylan Hartley is being benched relatively early in games, although this might change against the Italians to give him gametime. Rory Best returns for Ireland, and will hope to have built a more robust lineout unit, but his open field game is usually pretty on point. Ken Owens is a tough aul nugget of a man, and I reckon he could go well against a depleted Scotland.
- Jamie George (England) 12.5 cost/18.3 points scored in last round
- Rory Best (Ireland) 12.5/10.5
- Ken Owens (Wales) 10.8/10.6
In the “middle row” (™ Scottish Rugby Union) things are fairly settled. It’s hard to bet against guys like Gray, Launchbury or Itoje right now, but Donncha Ryan is making a decent fist of it.
- Joe Launchbury (England) 13.9 cost/52.5 points scored in last round
- Maro Itoje (England) 15.15/37.5
- Donncha Ryan (Ireland) 10.9/44.2
In the back row, the Fridge with a Head™ himself, James Haskell is back in a starting jersey. If he can avoid running into the posts, dude has the game to score a short-range try or two against the Italians. Elsewhere, Sam Warburton is enjoying a career resurgence as a result of being unburdened by captaincy. While CJ Stander picked up the headlines in Italy with his hat-trick, I think he’ll be an increasingly marked man and might find points a little harder to come by, not to mention his price has ballooned. Someone who had a quietly brilliant game two weeks ago in Rome was Jamie Heaslip and if attention is going to be on the more “obvious” ball carriers in Ireland’s team, he could sneak in.
- James Haskell (England) 13.45 cost/15.6 points scored in last round
- Sam Warburton (Wales) 14.25/7.5
- Jamie Heaslip (Ireland) 15.85/63.5
The wee(ish) fellas
While he wasn’t at his best against the Scots, Conor Murray will be hoping for an improved performance against the French. He has a tendency to show up for big games, and loves to score short-range tries in the 6 Nations so it could be time for him to earn selection. Danny Care is a guy I have found a lot of time for over the last 6 years or so, and I think he’s a little better at sniping than Ben Youngs would be, and with him starting against Italy he could be a solid pick. In the all-celtic affair, it’s hard to see past the class Rhys Webb has shown, but if you’re looking a bargain, Ali Price is great value.
- Conor Murray (Ireland) 15.45 cost/45.9 points scored in last round
- Danny Care (England) 12.15/6.3
- Ali Price (Scotland) 8.85/6.7
At 10, there’s plenty of choice, especially for anyone who’s been on the Paddy Jackson hype train. Do you go straight in and pick Jonathan Sexton, knowing he’ll probably play the fewest minutes out of the fly-halves in action? There’s no doubt he’s a class act, but for me it’s a question of whether he can last long enough to make an impact. I think this weekend’s celtic smackdown game might be made for Finn Russell. Unless Wales make a big change in gameplan and stop kicking downfield, Russell will have a lot of opportunities to counter. And then there’s the weekly conundrum of George Ford or Owen Farrell.
- Jonathan Sexton (Ireland) 13.4 cost/0 points scored in last round
- Finn Russell (Scotland) 14.3/10.9
- Owen Farrell (England) 15.4/40.5
Down to the centres and there’s a new kid on the block with Ben Te’o getting his first start for England. After scoring a match-winning try against France off the bench and being consistently robust against Scotland, this could be painful for the Italians, who have promoted from the bench themselves with Michele Campagnaro starting for the first time in this year’s tournament. Big Mick has a tendency to do wonderful things no matter how much Italy are getting walloped, so he could be worth a pick if you can’t pick from the other nations (or you’re a sadist or something). Keith Earls could still be a pretty good shout to bring in from the wings, as he’s in try-scoring form with Ireland, but with Ireland’s midfield being somewhat leaky it could also be an opportunity to give French flair a go with Gael Fickou.
- Ben Te’o (England) 11.9 cost/11.3 points scored in last round
- Gael Fickou (France) 14.65/42
- Michele Campagnaro (Italy) 12.35/-6.8
On to the fliers, and George North is back after resuscitating his dead leg over the last few weeks. Opposite him will be Tommy Seymour, who’s as good as Dan Biggar under a high ball and at least 80% less suicidal and is probably quietly underrated outside of Scotland. Against Italy, you’re looking at Jonny May hoping to run straight rather than crab across, but if he can find a gap it’d be hard to bet against him scoring.
- George North (Wales) 15.4 cost/61 points scored in last round
- Tommy Seymour (Scotland) 14.1/5
- Jonny May (England) 14.45/4.3
Finally, at full back, it’s still pretty much a choice between Stuart Hogg eyeing up the try-line or the boot of Leigh Halfpenny. For arguments sake let’s throw Mike Brown in, because he’s playing against Italy.
- Stuart Hogg (Scotland) 15.85 cost/28 points scored in last round
- Leigh Halfpenny (Wales) 15.15/10.5
- Mike Brown (England) 14.45/35.5