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Why France, Scotland and Italy face another year of pain in the Six Nations and World Cup

Ben Darvill 28 Jan 2019

Can France finally put to bed their inconsistent tag, will Scotland remedy their poor away form, and can Italy at last challenge in the Six Nations? 

No team wants to come into a World Cup year on the back of a poor 2018, but both Italy and France struggled massively, and while Scotland have shown marked improvement over the past few years, we still think they are some way off being in the upper-echelon of world rugby. The Six Nations features first for the trio as a chance to get into the swing of things, but we feel they face a tough opening to 2019 and, ultimately, a painful year that culminates with the biggest tournament in rugby; the World Cup. 

READ MORE: 5 best outright best for the 2019 Six Nations 

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READ MORE: Why England can dominate the Six Nations and win the World Cup 

READ MORE: Are Wales the real deal in the Six Nations and the World Cup? 

Here, we explain why we feel the three will struggle to really establish themselves in 2019, and why the year will likely pass them by as far as silverware goes. 

Another French flop? 

The French players look dejected after losing to Fiji. (Photo by ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP/Getty Images)

It seems to be a phrase as old as time, with France always ‘brilliant on their day, but awful the rest of the time'. Perhaps another archaic phrase best sums up why this is still relevant with it is a case of ‘if the shoe fits’ for France. French flair is something that can light up a stadium, but this seems to happen so rarely these days, with mistakes and poor performances undermining the last few years for the side. Last year, France finished in fourth in the Six Nations following two wins and, despite the fact they finished above England, it was a massively underperforming English side they pipped by just a single point, with France never actually threatening to win the championship or finish particularly high up. Indeed, France have not finished in the top two in the Six Nations since 2011, and while it has been true for years that domination in Europe does not always culminate in world domination, and this is doubly true for a side languishing in the depths of the Six Nations’ table, with France’s 2015 World Cup and last competitive match against New Zealand ending in a 62-13 quarter-final humiliation. 

In the autumn of 2018 they were subjected to more punishment, losing 29-26 to South Africa and 21-14 to Fiji, with their only win of the series coming against Argentina in a 28-13 victory. Unlike teams like Wales and Ireland, France just do not seem to be able to win matches when they are not playing well. If the French are on song then they can challenge any side in the world, but when things are not going well for them, they seem to fall apart, with the simplest of tasks performed incorrectly, costing them points and position via penalties and ill-discipline. France begin their Six Nations’ campaign against Wales in the opening game of the tournament, and while they will fancy themselves at home, we think the welsh are just better than them in every element of the game, be that in the forwards or backs, and in their running game or their defence. If the French are to lose their opening match then we worry for them this year, and if they continue to struggle, then they could be facing a shock wooden spoon and yet another poor World Cup campaign.

Scotland the brave but beatable? 

Wales beat Scotland 21-10 in their autumn international match last November. . (Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images)

What a few years it has been for Scotland, with the side at last performing on the pitch and battling the best teams in the world in more even contests. A 54-17 win over Fiji in the autumn of last year was as flowing a Scottish performance that we have seen in some time, while they were very unlucky to fall to a 26-20 loss to South Africa, although they did bounce back to beat Argentina 14-9 in their final match to end on a high, giving them some real confidence going into 2019, however, we feel that while there is a lot of room for optimism, they must be realistic this year.

Scotland are formidable at home and it would take a brave person to bet against them, no matter who they play. This was showcased in 2017 as Scotland put in an outstanding performance to threaten to beat New Zealand before falling short in a 22-17 loss. Despite this defeat, the Scottish were able to display that even the best side in the world cannot simply go to Murrayfield and expect to win, with the side very tough to beat at home. They will therefore have a massive say on proceedings in the 2019 Six Nations as they host trophy chasing Ireland in week two before welcoming Wales in week four. The pair will arrive desperate for a win, but as previously mentioned, Scotland are superb at home, and they will fancy themselves to gain massive wins over the two, which will likely have a large bearing on where the title goes and who may or may not clinch a Grand Slam. 

However, as good as they are at home, they are suspect on the road. A 21-10 loss to Wales in the Autumn may not sound too damaging, but they did not ever really threaten to win the game, while in the 2018 Six Nations, they did beat France and England at home in very impressive performances, but they were hammered 33-7 and 28-8 by Wales and Ireland respectively, while they barely clinched the win against Italy in a 29-27 away victory, while England hammered Italy 46-15 without ever really playing too well, showing the difference between a world class side like England, and a Scottish side that are still in need of improvement on the road. 

This year, Scotland must contend with away games against France and England, and if they are to be major contenders for the championship, they simply have to win at least one of these matches, something that we think is very unlikely. Of course, with Scotland’s club sides starring in the European Champions Cup this season, anything can happen, and perhaps they will return to the national set up and bring an ability to win on the road along with some real confidence. However, until Scotland can remedy this inability to consistently win on the road, they can’t really be earmarked as potential winners of the Six Nations, while they will also struggle to go far in a World Cup in which they have no home games. 

Another inevitable Italian demise? 

Italy were left dejected as they had no answer to New Zealand, who ran out 66-3 winners when the two sides last met. (Photo by FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images)

Well, what can be said about Italian rugby right now? A loss to New Zealand is nothing to be embarrassed about, but the manner in which they lost was pathetic as they went down 66-3, barely showing any sort of attacking intent as they were easily beaten by the world champions. In the Six Nations last year, Italy were beaten by 31 points, 36 points, 17 points and 24 points, with their only match in which they lost by a single-figure margin coming against Scotland in their final match. This year, Italy begin their campaign with an away trip to face Scotland, a clash that has recently been the one that would decide where the wooden spoon is going. However, the Scottish are now a long way ahead of their opponents, and they will likely target a big win at Murrayfield, with Italy struggling to impose themselves for years. Perhaps the Italian’s hopes of a win come in their final match of the tournament against France at the Stadio Olimpico, with the French a side Italy will feel they can beat at home. However, this is not really enough, and pinning their hopes of a win in their final game shows how far they have fallen behind the rest of the teams in the competition. While France are a team we can see picking up the wooden spoon this year, it would take an incredibly brave bettor to back against Italy picking up the unwanted accolade, while we worry for them at the World Cup too. Italy will battle in Pool B of the competition and, despite the fact they will feel they are the big favourites to beat Canada and Namibia, they will surely be beaten by New Zealand and South Africa, meaning their World Cup will end at the group-stage. 

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Why France, Scotland and Italy face another year of pain in the Six Nations and World Cup

France, Scotland and Italy face a tough 2019 as they languish some way behind the very best in the world with the Six Nations and World Cup beckoning

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