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Six Nations 2015: Early Predictions for Opening Fixtures

Published by Bleacher Report on Tue, 03 Feb 2015

The 2015 Six Nations gets underway on Friday, with Wales and England primed for a Millennium Stadium opener of cataclysmic proportions.Defending champions Ireland must wait until Saturday to get their tournament up and running in Rome before Scotland take on France at the Stade de France hoping for an upset.The Cardiff clash in particular looks set to have a massive bearing on the final standings, with both Wales and England hoping to have a big say in where this year's title ends up.It makes for a most unpredictable fixture, but we persevere nonetheless in attempting to forecast this weekend's opening batch of matchups.Wales vs. EnglandThis year, Wales coach Warren Gatland will be looking to construct a more free-flowing and offensively adept version of the Wales side that beat South Africa and Fiji during the autumn internationals.For English counterpart Stuart Lancaster, glitz and sheen will come as secondary to merely achieving a winning start in Cardiff this weekend, with injuries severely hampering his selection.The Welsh were the first team to announce their starting XV for this weekend's fixtures, per Wales Online, a lineup far less restricted in terms of player absence:The losses of Owen Farrell and less recently Manu Tuilagi are devastating for Lancaster, but it's in the forwards that Ben Morgan, Joe Launchbury, Courtney Lawes, Geoff Parling and others will be missed.Despite those setbacks, 2003 Rugby World Cup winner Will Greenwood insists England still have the superior pack heading into Friday's meeting:There's a new pressure on George Ford to thrive as England's first-choice No. 10, with the loss of Farrell actually promising to pay dividends for an up-and-coming fly-half merely hunting a consistent bite of the cherry.Ultimately, though, injuries will unfortunately affect the visitors, who return to the Millennium Stadium two years after suffering a record 30-3 defeat at Welsh hands and are at risk of stumbling again.Prediction:Wales by 10Italy vs. IrelandAs holders of the Six Nations belt, Ireland couldn't hope for a better fixture in which to settle their nerves than that of the Azzurri, with Italy looking likely to finish as this year's Wooden Spoon side.Joe Schmidt's men are largely regarded as the northern hemisphere's in-form team, having gone through their November series unbeaten, dusting off the challenges of South Africa and Australia in the process.According to RTE Rugy, No. 8 Jamie Heaslip is a mild concern for Schmidt, with Opta's Russ Petty illustrating just what an omnipresent figure he's been for the team in recent years:Jacques Brunel's last year in charge of the Italian squad will hope to engineer something inspired from this Italian squad, but it's an all-too familiar storyline that back-row hero Sergio Parisse remains their one truly elite asset.Captain Paul O'Connell may say otherwise, per The42.ie, but Irish prospects are quite the opposite, heading into this year's contest as favourites to tie up back-to-back crowns:Schmidt is unearthing a new wave of stars in the Ireland setup to complement those long-standing icons of years gone by, bringing a new dimension in depth to what once looked a fairly shallow outfit.Schmidt may even afford to rest a sample of those players still making returns to fitness, but even with a selection of second-stringers, Ireland's coaching superiority and above-average standards will be too strong for the hosts in Rome.Prediction:Ireland by 15France vs. ScotlandQuite possibly the two most ambiguous and hard-to-read teams coming into the 2015 Six Nations, France and Scotland come together in Paris on Saturday in a meeting that could by all means go in either direction.The Scots have made some extremely promising strides under Kiwi coach Vern Cotter, who will look to shake up the European order in his first Six Nations competition.France helmsman Philippe Saint-Andre isn't as new to the Six Nations scene, but many within his fresh-faced squad are and the potential of seeing those less-seasoned stars thrive under the spotlight is real.Two of those are playmaking pair Rory Kockott and Camille Lopez, whom rugby writer Gavin Mortimer says are leading the race to start as the half-back combination:Scotland lost only one of their three autumn internationalsa 16-24 defeat to New Zealand at Murrayfieldbut they did concede an average of 22 points per game.It's likely that Lopez will be called upon to capitalise on many a kicking opportunity in what could be a frosty, tetchy encounter for both outfits, and one decided by who has the calmest head come penalty decision time.Prediction:France by 10
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