Have you got your rugby tickets ready? The Six Nations is a few short weeks away and the question on everyone's lips is who will be lifting the trophy on the final day of play on 16 March.
After a record breaking 38-21 win against world champions New Zealand in December, England fans should feel no doubt that their team is capable of beating any side in Europe on their day. However, whether Stuart Lancaster's squad is capable of sustaining the intensity and discipline needed throughout the five-match competition is up for question considering their patchy performances in their other autumn test matches.
World Cup finalists France had the most successful autumn series of the northern hemisphere teams defeating Australia, Argentina and Samoa. Their players will not also have the added pressure of trying to catch Warren Gatland's eye for a place on the Lions squad, so they could be the marginal favourites for 2013 champion winners. Six Nations tickets in the French capital always guarantee an electrifying treat, and their final encounter against Scotland at 8pm could light up the city if it ends with a title-winning result.
While Ireland have produced some memorable results in recent years, 2012 was not particularly kind to them - the low point came in a 60-0 demolition by New Zealand in Hamilton in June. Nevertheless, there is reason for the Irish to be optimistic: their club sides are doing well in domestic and European competitions and talismanic captain Brian O'Driscoll makes his return to the Six Nations after an injury forced him out of last year's competition. If they manage to do well against Wales at the opening game in Cardiff they could go all the way.
It's fair to say that Italy probably don't have the necessary qualities right now to win the title, but that doesn't mean they aren't capable of a shock result - they proved that in 2011 when they defeated France. Having already beaten Wales and Scotland in this competition will they now manage to beat Ireland or England? The sensible money says no, but there are no guarantees in the Six Nations.
Not since 2006 has Scotland placed higher than fifth in the final table, but the Scots won't be turning up this spring just to make up the numbers. With Dutch wonder winger Tim Visser now in the squad (he's already scored four tries from five tests) and a new manager, Scotland will be hoping they can change their ailing fortunes.
Finally we have the defending champions and grand slam winners, Wales. Since their campaign winning encounter with France last year the side has gone downhill, losing all their matches (except for an unconvincing win over the Barbarians) and dropping swiftly down the rankings. A huge injury list, under-performing clubs, and a temporary change of manager while Gatland is busy with the Lions could makes the possibility of a successful Six Nations defence seem like a pipedream. It's been proven time and time again that the first match often sets the tone for Wales, so with an opening match at home in the Millennium Stadium it's vital they get off to a good start if they want to do well.
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