The RBS Six Nations championships this year will hold extra significance with a World Cup on the horizon in September. Each side will be eager to gather momentum and gain some form ahead of rugby union’s flagship tournament.
The reigning champions, Ireland, are the best placed Northern Hemisphere side to break the stranglehold that New Zealand currently have on the sport.
After an impressive Autumn series with wins over Australia and South Africa, Joe Schmidt’s men bring a wealth of confidence and ability to the table in this years Six Nations.
Their campaign last year was near perfect; the only blemish was narrow defeat to England at Twickenham.
However, the result didn’t affect the destination of the trophy as it headed to the Aviva Stadium for the first time in five years.
This happened at England’s expense who were edged out on points difference despite winning the Triple Crown.
Stuart Lancaster’s men have faltered of late with a below-par Autumn series coming after the previous year which featured a victory over the All Blacks.
Injury problems have mounted in the build-up with players like Alex Corbisiero, Geoff Parling and Mako Vunipola all ruled out of a tricky opener in Cardiff against Wales.
England will be looking to overcome their Cardiff hoodoo after they capitulated in the final game of the 2013 Six Nations, resulting in Wales winning the tournament.
Warren Gatland’s team are among the favourites to triumph this winter after their strong climax to the Autumn internationals with victory over South Africa.
The Welsh have a good record in the Six Nations over recent years having won the tournament on three of the last seven occasions.
They are able to call upon some of the best players in European rugby with the likes of Leigh Halfpenny and George North so will always be counted as low prices with the bookmakers.
Meanwhile, France will be looking to quash any existing memories of their dismal Six Nations campaign last year.
Phillipe Saint-Andre knows his team possess bundles of ability but it hasn’t quite gelled for them as of yet, despite a morale boosting win over the Wallabies in the Autumn.
With Italy and Ireland in their World Cup group, Les Bleus will be looking to grab a psychological edge on those sides.
Italy are often the wooden spoon winners – an attribution no team ever wants to have.
But they’ve become accustomed to the title because they haven’t built on there best campaign from two years ago.
Look out for number eight Serge Parisse: if he plays well, Italy tend to give sides a match. A visit to the Stadio Olimpico can often be a potential banana skin as well.
A side on the up however are Scotland. Vern Cotter has revitalised a wounded animal and turned them into strong competitors over the past year.
The performances of an impressive Glasgow Warriors side have been reflected in the growth of Scottish rugby as a whole.
Murrayfield will host three matches and Scottish fans will hope their cocophany of noise can motivate their team to a improved campaign this year.