Explosive. That's the only word to describe the opening fixtures in rugby's sensational start to the Six Nations Championship.

It will pulsating in Paris and the atmosphere will be bubblin' in Dublin as France, Wales, Ireland and England all aim to kick off what could be a Grand Slam-winning campaign.

No-one knows what France are capable because they blow so hot and cold.

Wales have won nine games on the bounce but I'm not convinced their Autumn opponents were really on the A game.

It's coach Warren Gatland's last Six Nations' campaign and what a perfect send-off it would be to lift silverware.

Ireland are a machine and the champions and Six Nations favourites for a reason.

And then there's England. A team that played entertaining, free-flowing rugby when Eddie Jones first rode into town.

Now all they do is kick it. And that's exactly what the RFU might do with coach Jones if England fail in the next six weeks in what is the last real action before the World Cup.

And with that tournament in Japan meaning so much in September, it might play a big part in how teams and players perform.

No-one wants to miss a World Cup tournament and the crunching, intensity the game is played at these days, you wouldn't blame any of the nations' six sides for thinking about the future and no the present.

Still, it's all a case of who wants it the most and the next 48 hours will give us some pointers.

Wales may not need to be at their best against France tonight but England certainly will if they are going to keep their Grand Slam hopes alive tomorrow tea-time and cause a real upset in Ireland.

As for Scotland, Stuart Hogg says his side are in it to win it.

Well, a victory at home to Italy in what many would label the battle for the wooden spoon tomorrow will still back up his outrageous claim.


It’s back. And it’s back with a bang.

The mercurial France lock horns with in-form Wales as an amuse bouche for Ireland’s mouthwatering clash with England as the four serious contenders stake their title claims on the opening weekend.

According to the bookmakers, at least, Ireland are sure things to beat England and at least enough of the other four teams to lift the trophy on March 16.

But Ireland know their chances of winning the competition could rest on getting off to a fast start and a visit from England is not the banker opener Joe Schmidt would have wanted.

A trip to Wales also raises question marks over Ireland’s odds of 4/5 to win the competition, while England have plenty of work to do to justify their 3/1.

Not only do Eddie Jones’ men head to Dublin, but they enter the Dragons’ Den on February 23 when crossing the Severn Bridge.

Ireland and England could beat each other into submission when they do battle, causing themselves problems further down the line.

And it wouldn’t be beyond Gatland’s powers to mastermind a first Six Nations title in six years as he signs off from the competition, would it?

Home games against Ireland and England sway things in Wales’ favour - as long as they can get the better of the pesky French - who are nothing if not unpredictable - first up.

As for the other two, Scotland appear to have too many injuries to mount a sustained challenge, while Italy are, well, they’re Italy.


The Six Nations is always at its best when there’s healthy competition for the crown and this year looks set to be fiercely-contested.

Bookmakers have installed Ireland as odds-on favourites and it’s hard to look beyond them for this year’s title.

In a squad full of match-winners, Joe Schmidt’s Irish squad also boasts the huge presence of prop Tadhg Furlong whose brute force has laid the foundation for much of his nation’s recent success.

The scheduling of this year’s tournament also looks set to play a part though, with heavyweight clashes between Wales and France preceding England’s visit to Dublin on the opening weekend.

Victory in Paris would lay down a huge marker for Warren Gatland’s men, who will also host the Irish in Cardiff (traditionally an unhappy hunting ground for the visitors) on the final weekend.

The fact that England’s home games outnumber Ireland’s by two to three advances their cause too, and if they were to emerge with a win at the Aviva then it could certainly spur them on to outright success.

Scotland will be out to build on last year's impressive resurgence, and the form of influential stand-off Finn Russell is likely to dictate that success.

France are always touted as a title threat, but a poor away record that has seen them lose their last eight way from Paris undermines their credibility as realistic contenders.

Italy will be favourites to land the wooden spoon once more, which is no disgrace in terms of the wealth of talent they’ll be facing.

And the has to be Ireland.