With the Six Nations only days away, we thought we would give you a quick run down on each side along with and their prediction on who will come out on top come March 17th.
With a handful of the best players from the last decade, including Jonny Wilkinson and Shane Williams, announcing their retirement from the international game shortly after the Rugby World Cup, it will give the next generation of players an opportunity to show what they can do at a higher level.
England will be looking to re-build after a disappointing Rugby World Cup which saw them knocked out in the quarter finals with a lot of press regarding a number of negative off field incidents. With a new coaching set-up and a squad which has been freshened up, fans will be hoping for encouraging signs initially rather a tournament victory. England have some injuries to key players, such as Toby Flood and Manu Tualagi, however the pair are expected to be available for the latter part of the tournament. We can see England finishing 3rd in the standings.
Look out for young Saracens back Owen Farrell who has had a great start to the season which has earnt him a place in the squad. He should feature heavily in the new plans.
After finishing runners-up to New Zealand at the Rugby World Cup, the signs are promising for the French. However, after last years loss to Italy in the competition it shows that you don’t know what side will turn up when they take to the field. The coach has big selection decisions to make before each game when it comes to the half back pairing. Does he start Biarritz scrum half Dimitri Yachvilli at 9 then play another scrum half in Morgan Parra at 10 or go with Francois Trinh-Duc who is an accomplished fly half. We expect to see France finishing as runners up this year.
Wesley Fofana is new to the France set-up but is expected to make a big impact in the side whether it be on the wing or in the centres.
Regular captain Brian O’Driscoll has been ruled out due to injury and we expect the side to miss him. Without his presence in the starting XV, someone else will need to step up to fill the gap left from their normal go to man. Ireland will also challenge at the lineout and scrum but will need their backs to be ruthless in attack and make the most of the platform that their forwards give them. With O’Driscoll missing, we can see the Irish just behind England in the table on points difference.
Munster scrum half Conor Murray finished the RWC as first choice scrum half and will be looking to cement his place in the team at the Six Nations.
Managed a shock victory over the French in last years tournament but still finished at the bottom of the table. Italian rugby is slowly progressing and is finally being recognised in a country where football is the main sport. A lot will be expected of last years player of the tournament Andrea Masi along with Leicester Tigers prop Martin Castrogiovanni. Unfortunately we can see Italy once again finishing at the bottom of the pack although they should managed a win in one of their five games.
Stade Francais number 8 and Italy captain Sergio Parisse is their key player and has carried the team through matches on numerous occasions.
The current signs for Scottish rugby are very promising. After narrowly missing out on qualifying for the RWC quarter finals, the Scotland team will be looking to be seen as much stronger competition against their rivals at the Six Nations. Edinburgh hooker Ross Ford has taken on the captaincy and will need to lead from the front if the team are serious about breaking in to the top four in the competition. The Scottish will be tougher opposition this year however we expect them to finish in fifth ahead of Italy.
Young second row Richie Gray is on his way to Sale at the end of the season and will be looking to impress his new supporters before his arrival.
Unfortunate not to make the Rugby World Cup final, Wales will be looking to give their opposition a backlash when they face them. The squad have been on another extreme training break in Poland and will be looking to complete the hard work on the field with wins. Openside Sam Warburton was one of the standout players of the RWC and now teams will have to find ways of playing against his particular strengths especially at the breakdown. We can see Wales being crowned the 2012 Six Nations winners but a grandslam may be too much as they have to play both Ireland and England away.
Number 8 Toby Faletua impressed at the RWC and will one of the main ball carriers for the Welsh. The Newport Gwent Dragons man will be looking to make his mark on his first Six Nations.
That’s what we think – what are your predictions for the Six Nations?