This year’s Six Nations is sure to be an interesting competition, with England, France, Italy, Ireland, Scotland and Wales all hoping to start off 2017 in style with a big win at the most prestigious tournament in European rugby.
England come into the contest as holders and clear favourites, with coach Eddie Jones winning all 13 of his matches in charge last year, including a 3-0 series whitewash in Australia and a Six Nations Grand Slam.
However, the team will be dealing with injuries to key names including Chris Robshaw and Billy Vunipola, which could give other teams a better chance of dethroning the champions.
Behind England, Ireland are perhaps the team most likely to take home the trophy. Coming in off the back of a fantastic 40-29 win against New Zealand in America, which illustrated the team’s true potential, will surely have provided them with lots of confidence.
Captain Rory Best is an injury doubt for the tournament, so Ireland may have to go without one of their star players, but other key players such as scrum-half Conor Murray and flanker Iain Henderson could still make a big impact.
Scotland could also make a big challenge for the title as they come in on good form, and Vern Cotter will be handing over the coach role to Gregor Townsend after the tournament, so a win could be the perfect way to bid farewell. Huw Jones at centre is a newcomer to the scene and Stuart Hogg at full-back and captain Greig Laidlaw both offer a commanding presence.
On the other hand, Wales are in a transitional period at the moment with a Alun Wyn Jones replacing Sam Warburton as captain. Rob Howley will also be in charge temporarily, but Welsh fans will still expect the big result!
Italy and France winning would represent a massive upset, as both teams come in on poor form and do not look like challenging. New Italy boss Conor O’Shea will be looking to make progress after no Six Nations wins in 2016, while France coach Guy Noves can only hope for improvement from their second-from-bottom position last year.
Key players are often the difference in Six Nations games and, every year, it seems like a new name emerges to make an impact on the international stage.
This season, there are plenty of world-renowned players on show. While captain Chris Robshaw will be unavailable, flanker James Haskell, who was a key part of last year’s Grand Slam, should be fit to play a major role, though he may need to miss the first game.
Fly-half Owen Farrell could be another difference-maker. The Saracens man kicked several penalties in the team’s series win over Australia and was nominated for the 2016 World Player of the Year Award.
Ireland have their own Owen Farrell in the shape of Johnny Sexton, who has been a vital part of their great form in the last year. With Jamie Heaslip and Connor Murray alongside him, the Irish are stacked with talent and ready to make a push for the trophy.
Scotland are not lacking in exceptional talent, either. Fly-half Finn Russell is a key member of the team and, alongside captain Greig Laidlaw and Stuart Hogg, will be sure to make a big impact in any success the Scots have this year.
Wales have some fantastic players capable of turning a game on its head. Sam Warburton, despite no longer being captain, is a massive asset at flanker, while scrum-half Jamie Davies and winger George North were both nominated for player of the tournament last year and will be hoping to upset the favourites with some big wins.
Italy and France do not have the all-round consistency of the other teams, but they have some explosive players. For Italy, Sergio Parisse is certainly their biggest name and will soon be the most capped Six Nations player ever. On the other hand, France were dealt a huge blow when Wesley Fofana was ruled out of the tournament through injury, though captain Guilhem Guirado is sure to rally his teammates and take a step forward with some strong showings.