Sam James’ Preview of the Six Nations

1) Who is the one standout player for England that you think will impress?

Henry Slade…he just oozes class. An unbelievable centre!

2) Who is the one standout player outside of England that you think will impress?

Jacob Stockdale! He is probably the most in form player at the minute.

3) Looking at the England squad, who are your ones to watch? 

Obviously Henry Slade is one to watch in the England set up. He’s a very skilled and physical centre and he’s been showing that this season at Exeter. I’m hoping that he can shine if he gets the chance. Also, my team mates at Sale, Tom Curry and Chris Ashton…I know how hard they work and I’m aware of the skill set they will bring so I really want them to get their chance and hopefully we get to see the Ash Splash back in England colours. Of course, looking forward to seeing Billy Vunipola string a few games together and be a big ball carrying talisman we know him as in the England 8 shirt!!

4) Away from England, who are your ones to watch?

I think a couple of the France team could really impress, looking in particular at Gael Fickou and Teddy Thomas. I’m also hoping my old team mate Will Addison gets the chance to trade his form for Ulster into an Ireland shirt

5) Do you think this is going to be the most competitive Six Nations in some time?

Yes. As I mentioned before with France, they have a few standout players and their squad is looking quality however, saying that, in my eyes there will only be four teams putting up a fight for top spot. Wales, Scotland, England, and Ireland are probably playing the best rugby we’ve seen in a long time and with the World Cup approaching they’ll all want that confidence boost!

6) Who is your surprise package and why? 

I think the France squad as a whole could surprise a lot of people. Obviously everyone’s talking about how strong the home nations can be but with the right motivation I think France could really cause some upsets.

7) Which game are you most looking forward to and why? 

England v Ireland! It’s going to be a major swinging point into how the 6 Nations could go for either team. I think it will be the most physical game we will see out of all the games in the tournament.

8) Can you feel a ‘bringing to the boil’ of those selected players that you train with day in, day out?

As I’ve said before, Tom Curry and Ashton and also Josh Strauss are the hardest working men in the Sale squad. They’re always pushing themselves in the gym or with fitness and skill sets. You can just tell that at any time they are called upon for England or Scotland respectively that it’s a real privilege and something they really strive for. I’m really excited to see what they will bring if given the chance!

9) Do the games in the 6 Nations take on greater importance with it being a Rugby World Cup year or do you think people play for pride at the 6 Nations and take the RWC as it comes?

Yes, as I said before, I think everyone wants both the bragging rights and the confidence going into the World Cup! It will be a real boost to have the Six Nations under your belt, that’s why I don’t expect it to be a practice run for any of these sides. They’ll want to get the bumps and a fully competitive game with pressure so that they’re ready come the big, big games in the World Cup.

10) Coaching has always been important but now, more than ever, it has an increasingly bigger role in professional sport. 1) What type of approach do you think Eddie Jones will have for the Six Nations ahead of the RWC? And 2) Who is the coach that you think has got the edge in this years’ 6 Nations? 

Eddie Jones keeps his cards close to his chest with the wider world but with his players they’ll know exactly what he wants from each game. He’s one of the most dedicated coaches I’ve ever seen, especially with in depth analysis of every game and every player. With this, I think England will absolutely know what they need to target for each game! Additionally, I think the coach with the edge this year will be Gregor Townsend – with all the teams focusing heavily on defence these days, I really think Scotland’s attacking rugby will excite fans this year and may just give them the advantage in close games.

11) What do you think the secret is to winning the 6 Nations? What special ingredient do you need to get over the whitewash as winners?

I think for every team it’s all about the composure…the head of that being a decent group of senior players to lead when times are tough, especially in close games. You need those guys to not only lift you with their actions but also their important decisions on the pitch…whether that be to take the 3 or 5 or control your team as a whole if things get a bit loose!

12) In your opinion, who will be the top try scorer?

Tough question…Stockdale or Teddy Thomas!!

13) Everyone has got a shout this year…But who is your pick for the tournament and why?

It’s hard to look past Ireland with their recent form however, being English through and through, if we get a good result in the first hit out, we can really progress and get back into that winning streak and high quality performances we witnessed last year!!

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