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The 6 Nations kicks off this Saturday, with defending champions England looking to become the sixth team ever to successfully defend the Grand Slam.
Although England are the outright favourites, it promises to be an exciting championship. Ireland are good value to give England a good run for their money. The Irish have home advantage when they play them on the 18th March in what could well be the championship decider.
Although Wales are in a state of transition and the French are perenially inconsistent, both sides are perfectly capable of causing an upset.
Scotland and Italy have often been the whipping boys of the 6 Nations, though they’re much improved under their current coaches.
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Eddie Jones began his reign at Twickenham by winning England’s first silverware for five years. By the end of 2016 the Australian had presided over a sequence of 13 successive Test victories, including an impressive 3-0 series win over Australia.
England are now second in the global rankings and looking to supplant New Zealand at the pinnacle of the sport.
Having won the title in 2014 and 2015, Ireland endured a disappointing third-placed finish last year.
However, the Irish come into this year’s tournament with an impressive set of results at the end of 2016. Their stunning 40-29 win over New Zealand has given them a huge amount of confidence and underlines the ability in this side.
All the expectation and pressure will be on Eddie Jones’ England side, though Ireland will be the team to challenge them for the Grand Slam.
Wales are currently going through a period of transition. Alun Wyn Jones has replaced Sam Warburton as Captain and Rob Howley is in temporary charge, as Warren Gatland concentrates on coaching the British & Irish Lions for this summer’s tour in New Zealand.
Although they look to be some way short of challenging for the 6 Nations, they will have a major say as they face both England and Ireland in Cardiff.
It’s the question that’s asked before every tournament – which France team will show up?
Between 2002 and 2010, France won 5 6 Nations titles but have massively underachieved since then. Les Bleus have not finished higher than fourth in the last five seasons and it doesn’t look like that’s going to change this year.
That being said, the France squad showed they are improving during the Autumn tests under Guy Noves. Although they were beaten narrowly by Australia and New Zealand, France played very well in both games.
This will be coach Vern Cotter’s last tournament in charge of Scotland, who’s being replaced by Gregor Townsend.
Scotland have made huge improvements under Cotter, who’s transformed them into an exciting side packed with attacking intent and backed up by a deep talent pool.
Their run to the quarter-finals of the 2015 World Cup has been the clear highlight of the Cotter reign so far, though they’ve only enjoyed two wins from 10 games in the Six Nations.
Scotland won’t challenge for the title, though they’ll be a tough team to beat.
Like Scotland, Italy have seen a vast improvement in their performances and results.
Former Ireland full-back Conor O’Shea has taken charge of the Azzuri and overseen their first win over one of the ‘Big Three’ southern hemisphere teams, beating South Africa 20-18 in Florence.
Italy look likely to finish bottom although Conor O’Shea and accomplished defensive coach Brendan Venter, recruited on the eve of the tournament, could help them cause an upset along the way.