The 2017 RBS Six Nations gets under way this weekend, and here at Stag Weekends, we can't wait for it to start! Last year's tournament threw up some classic encounters, and England won the championship for the first time since 2011; as well as completing the Grand Slam!
This week our usual Wednesday Wisdom blog brings you a preview of the upcoming championship. We go through each team and give you their pre-tournament odds of winning overall. Oh, and there's a downloadable wall chart attached at the bottom of this, which tells you all the dates and times of every Six Nations match over the coming weeks!
England - 5/6
Unsurprisingly, the holders are favourites for the tournament. England are seeking to become the sixth team in Six Nations history to successfully defend the Grand Slam.
Eddie Jones' side are without doubt the form team, after putting together a record 13 successive Test victories. England now sit second in the overall world rankings, with only the mighty New Zealand ahead of them.
That doesn't mean England should take their northern hemisphere opponents lightly though, especially with some key players missing through injury. Jones could be without his entire back row come the opener against France, and will be hoping Nathan Hughes can fill in for Billy Vunipola.
England face two of their toughest opponents in France and Wales, first. We will have a clear picture after those two games as to whether they can repeat last year's success.
Ireland – 2/1
Despite an underwhelming third place finish last year, Ireland have been installed as second favourites in the build-up to the tournament. That has much to do with their impressive form in the Autumn internationals; including wins over New Zealand and Australia.
They will have to do without Johnny Sexton in their opener away to Scotland, but Paddy Jackson has shown himself to be an able deputy over the last 12 months. Ireland look strong in the centre, with Garry Ringrose and Robbie Henshaw forging an impressive partnership at Leinster.
Head coach, Joe Schmidt, will be looking at a top-two finish as minimum in the tournament; and will know that his side have a good opportunity to build momentum early on with favourable fixtures.
Wales – 13/2
2013 winners Wales have gone under the radar when it comes to Six Nations title talk; with many seeing it as a two-horse race. However, they should not be underestimated, especially when you consider they will have home advantage in their matches against the pair.
They have Rob Howley at the helm for the tournament, as Warren Gatland turns his attentions to his British and Irish Lions role. The stand-in head coach enjoyed a successful Autumn international series, including wins over South Africa, Argentina and Japan.
Wales also have players in great form coming into the tournament; in particular Scarlets' centre Scott Williams. The 26-year-old has shone as a key try-scorer in his club side's Champions Cup campaign.
France – 12/1
Between 2002 and 2010, France won an impressive five Six Nations titles in nine seasons. But, since their Grand Slam win in 2010, they have become inconsistent and overtaken by England, Ireland and Wales.
Under the guidance of Guy Noves, the French regained some pride in the Autumn internationals. Wins over Argentina, and a hammering of Samoa, were followed by narrow losses to Australia and New Zealand, but there was much to take from the performances.
It feels as if France's campaign will hinge on their opener against England. A defeat could put them back on a slippery slope, but a surprise win could put them on the front foot.
Scotland – 25/1
Realistically, Scotland's ambitions are a top-three finish. The tournament will be the last five matches in charge for head coach Vern Cotter, who will be replaced by Gregor Townsend post-tournament. He will be hoping to sign off on a high!
After finishing fourth in last year's championship, it was a significant improvement on the Scots' usual battle with Italy to avoid the wooden spoon. They are a side packed with attacking flair; with the likes of Stuart Hogg drawing plaudits for his Champions Cup performances with Glasgow this season.
Scotland's weakness last campaign was in the backline, but if they can tighten that department up – along with taking advantage of three matches at Murrayfield – they could be a force to be reckoned with.
Italy – 500/1
As Italy's long odds suggest, anything other than a last placed finish would be deemed as a success. They were moments away from beating France in their opener last year, but narrowly lost and went on to get thumped in their remaining matches.
The introduction of former Harlequins boss Connor O'Shea has seen an upturn in form, the pinnacle being an Autumn victory over South Africa. However, a week later, the Azzurri lost to lowly ranked Tonga – those two results encapsulated their inconsistency.
Italy have a comparatively small pool of players to choose from, so will need to rely on key players staying fit and the form of Michele Campagnaro; who has been a consistent points scorer for Exeter this campaign.
Odds taken from Sky Bet
Image credits: Sky Sports, Real Sport, Gullivers Travel, England Rugby Travel
Date Posted: Wednesday 1st February 2017
Author: George Crewe