Six Nations Opening Weekend Squad Breakdown
The 2020 Guinness Six Nations tournament commences this weekend, with two matches on Saturday and a lone one on Sunday. Erin McRitchie breaks down all the matchday squads, including new coaches, debutants and experienced returnees.
Six Nations time of year has returned once more. (Photo: Erin McRitchie)
Fixture One: Wales v Italy (referee Luke Pearce, KO 2:15pm)
Johnny McNichol starts on the wing at 14 for his first cap. McNichol scored a try for Wales against the Barbarians in November, but the game was an uncapped encounter. And he joins Josh Adams and Leigh Halfpenny in the back three.
Uncapped Nick Tompkins could make his debut off the bench.
It is a well experienced side that along with the aforementioned Adams and Halfpenny, includes Ken Owens (73 caps), captain Alun Wyn Jones (134 caps), Justin Tipuric (72 caps) and the returning Taulupe Faletau (72 caps) – with this being the No 8’s first international appearance since March 2018.
Josh Navidi misses out with a hamstring injury, whilst Liam Williams, Owen Watkin, Gareth Davies and Elliot Dee are all deemed not to be 100% ready for selection.
Wales have won 18 of their last 21 Six Nations home matches.
Hooker Luca Bigi takes over the captaincy from Sergio Parisse, who is widely expected to retire after the tournament – the No 8 has already confirmed he will only play in his side’s home games, though it is unknown if he will play both fixtures or just one, against Scotland and England.
Lock Niccolo Cannone starts for his debut as he pairs Alessandro Zanni, who will gain his 118th cap in the encounter. There is also the possibility for fellow forward Danilo Fischetti to make a debut off the bench.
Fly-half Carlo Canna actually lines up in the centre to aid 10 Tommaso Allan with the game management, whilst fan-favourite Michele Campagnaro is ruled out due to injury.
Italy have lost their last 22 Six Nations games – a tournament record.
Fixture Two: Ireland v Scotland (referee Mathieu Raynal, KO 4:45pm)
Former Irish U20 captain Caelan Doris will make a starting debut for Ireland as he takes the No 8 jersey, having impressed for Leinster this season. Whilst fellow Leinsterman Ronan Kelleher could also gain a cap should he be used off the bench.
New head coach Andy Farrell has selected a side packed with international caps as Jonny Sexton takes the captaincy in his usual partnership with Conor Murray – with Murray being picked ahead of ridiculously in-form Ulsterman John Cooney. Cian Healy, Tadhg Furlong, Iain Henderson and CJ Stander bolster the forward pack.
Peter O’Mahony is available on the bench, as is the returning second row powerhouse Devin Toner, who missed out on the World Cup squad.
Ireland haven’t been beaten by the Scots on home soil in 10 years, with the last defeat being a Dan Parks 78th penalty winning effort in a 23-20 encounter.
The Scotland team is one also full of change, the main one being the inclusion of uncapped Edinburgh back row Nick Haining in the starting 15. Haining will take the No 8 jersey to pair his club teammates Jamie Ritchie and Hamish Watson.
On the bench, Cornell du Preez could make his return to international test rugby for the first time in years, and it is a remarkable inclusion considering the gruesome larynx injury he sustained in September 2018.
It’s a split pack with four forwards from Glasgow and Edinburgh, whilst the backline features two exiles, two Glasgowmen and one Edinburgh figure in Blair Kinghorn – who made more metres than any other player in last year’s Six Nations, with 493.
Another Edinburgh man, Magnus Bradbury, misses out on selection with a thigh strain.
Stuart Hogg takes up the captaincy from the retiring Greig Laidlaw and John Barclay.
Fixture Three: France v England (referee Nigel Owens, KO 3pm)
Mohamed Haouas will make his starting debut at tighthead, as will fullback Anthony Bouthier. Whilst Boris Palu and Cameron Woki could also gain caps if they come off the bench.
It is very much a youthful looking French side, with an average squad age of 24.
Toulon’s Charles Ollivon takes the captaincy despite the back row only having 11 caps. In fact, the most capped player in the squad is inside centre Gael Fickou who has represented Les Blues 51 times.
Camille Chat is ruled out of the match, having already been replaced in the squad by Teddy Baubigny due to a calf injury.
Full back George Furbank is handed his starting debut for England as he replaces Anthony Watson who has been ruled out due to a calf injury. The only other possible debut will come for Will Stuart, should he be used off the bench.
Other than Furbank and Stuart, it is an impressively experienced side, boasting the likes of Owen Farrell, Ben Youngs, George Ford, Jamie George and Courtney Lawes.
Eddie Jones’ self-entitled ‘kamikaze kids’ Sam Underhill and Tom Curry back one another up in the back row.
There are exclusions though, most notably, Mako Vunipola misses out, with Joe Marler being preferred for the starting jersey and Ellis Genge appointed to the bench.