England will begin their campaign to make history with a third consecutive Six Nations title as they take on Italy in Rome on Sunday.
The defending champions had a successful autumn campaign, claiming three convincing wins from three Tests, but will have some unfortunate absentees from the upcoming tournament due to injury and disciplinary action. Billy Vunipola will have to sit the tournament out due to a broken arm sustained in Saracens’ recent game against Ospreys. Loosehead prop Joe Marler will also be missing due to a six-match ban for a dangerous clear-out at a ruck on Sale Sharks flanker TJ Ioane.
Still, England have proved on multiple occasions that their strength comes from the depth of their talent, and the Six Nations will be a worthy proving ground for several up and coming players to show their worth in the run up to the World Cup in Japan next year.
Prediction: Eddie Jones’ men don’t have it all their own way in the tournament but manage to overcome stern tests against Scotland and Ireland to record another Grand Slam victory.
Warren Gatland’s side will feel they have much to prove this year after a disappointing 2017, coming fifth in last year’s tournament and enduring an equally lacklustre time in their autumn internationals.
However, with the return of several Lions players and some fresh talent breaking into the team, it would be foolish to rule the Welsh out of the running. One new face likely to make an appearance in their upcoming game against Scotland will be Josh Adams, the Worcester wing and current top-scorer in the premiership.
Unfortunately, they will be missing Bath fly-half Rhys Priestland for most of the tournament, who has had to pull out due to a hamstring injury. Wales will now be looking towards Dan Biggar, Rhys Patchell, Gareth Anscombe or Owen Williams as a replacement number ten.
Prediction: Wales will do well to shrug off their recent string of disappointing games. Victory against France and Italy should be expected, but Wales will fall short when facing the home nations sides.
Scotland had a strong autumn campaign, rising to fifth in the world rankings after winning two games against Australia and Samoa, and coming breathlessly close to beating the world champions, the All Blacks.
New head coach Gregor Townsend has brought a fresh attitude to the team, creating a side that is dynamic in attack, scoring 16 tries in their autumn tests.
Prediction: New leadership and a strong performance in their autumn tests make Scotland the one to watch this tournament. While they have proven their strength in attack, Ireland are on a roll that will be difficult to break and England’s defence remains all but impenetrable. Scotland to take third place.
Ireland also made it three wins from three Tests in their Autumn campaign, including a record win over the Springboks. Unfortunately, Ireland have been lacking in the depth of their squad recently, and this became evident when what was effectively a second-tier Irish team struggled to overcome Fiji, just scraping a win.
Prediction: Unbeaten in their last seven games, Ireland will be looking to improve upon their second-place finish in last year’s tournament, but will suffer their only defeat of the tournament to Eddie Jones’ team.
There is hope amongst the French that new coach Jacques Brunel will bring a new dynamic to the team after the departure of Guy Noves earlier this month, following a disappointing run of six consecutive games without a victory.
Following a somewhat controversial yet successful bid to host the 2023 World Cup, France will be looking to shake things up, and use this tournament as a first step in the right direction.
Prediction: Jacques Brunel’s new direction is much needed for the French, but perhaps a touch too late. France should avoid the wooden spoon this year, but don’t expect much more.
Italy continue to soldier on, with just one win in 11 games in 2017. That victory came against Fiji in November and was a small glimmer of light in a poor run of results. The perennial whipping boys will be eager to avoid the wooden spoon in 2018.
Prediction: Italy will as always put in an earnest performance, and there will be no lack of heart, but their seventh wooden spoon looms.