The nights may still be long and the weather cold, but expect some fiery encounters as Europe’s top sides lock horns and contest the 2017 Six Nations.
A lot can change in 12 months. This time last year, England were the laughing stock of seemingly every other rugby nation. Now, after being revitalised under coach Eddie Jones, they’ve gone from the ignominy of a group stage exit from the World Cup to Grand Slam winners. Can they continue their winning streak and claim another title?
And what of the rest? Will Ireland rediscover their Six Nations mojo after a disappointing showing last year? Can France match their Flemish flair with consistency? Will Wales cope without the presence of Lions-bound coach Warren Gatland? Might Scotland be able to turn promise into winning results? And could Italy finally be competing for something other than the wooden spoon?
As ever, with the undoubted skill and ability to match any side in world rugby, les Blues are the dark horses. Their fans must be begging they can finally do away with their tendency to have a demeanour akin to a petulant child and be the force they should be. With their performances either being black or white, get ready to be entertained and infuriated by the lack of any grey.
But even with a potentially resurgent French side, is an English Grand Slam still inevitable? After a series whitewash handed out to Australia in their own backyard, and further wins in the autumn, they’re undoubtedly the team to beat.
Yet for many, it’s too close to call. Ireland’s coach Joe Schmidt has even described it as “the most competitive Six Nations in the four years since I’ve been here… If you asked anyone now to predict a one to six in two months’ time I don’t think too many people would get it right.”
It’s not hard to see why. Ireland claimed an historic first ever win over New Zealand, unquestionably the best side in the world. The Welsh dragon could roar again under the new captaincy of talismanic lock Alun Wyn Jones. Scotland came within a whisker of beating Australia and beat world cup semi-finalists Argentina last November. Plus, Italy need to perform to show they belong in the competition after Georgia shot up the world rankings. The added opportunity of Lions selection could also mean an upturn in performances from the home nations.
So, with this year’s championship shaping up to be one of the most competitive and unpredictable in recent years, sit back and enjoy a feast of rugby.
Who do you think will win the Six Nations? Let us know below.