We’re at that time again- the end of January is near, the snow has piled up and people’s chilly days are only brightened with the possibility of seeing a slip on the ice. For rugby fans, however, this means only one thing. The Six Nations has returned. The pressure’s on.
The last time the men in white ran out they delivered a thumping win over New Zealand. With what could be a title decider against France at home, this could England’s best chance for a Grand Slam. What will be scrutinised most about England is whether they manage to get some attacking consistency from a back-line that has been too lethargic and defence-orientated in the past. Providing the platform for players such as Manu Tuilagi to spring from could make them the ones to beat. Key Player: Whoever starts at fly-half. Please don’t bring back Charlie Hodgson. Prediction: 1st
The French were overlooked in last year’s Autumn Internationals, but if any of the Home Nations had enjoyed the success that the French had then the papers would be raving about them. Convincing wins against Argentina and Samoa followed a destruction of Australia similar to England’s victory over New Zealand and if the French banish the tag of inconsistency that has haunted them since the days of Serge Blanco it could fall down to a shoot-out between them and England. Key Player: Wesley Fofana. The Clermont centre has continued where he left off from last year’s Six Nations to become one of the most feared centres in world rugby. Prediction: 2nd
Without a win in seven, ninth in the world and with no regional teams able to qualify for the Heineken Cup or Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-finals, Wales are under the cosh. Their mounting injury crisis that has left them stricken of second-rows has not helped the cause and means it will be arguably their greatest triumph yet if they win. Key Player: Jamie Roberts. The Welsh will be looking to their centre to inspire and re-produce the form from South Africa four years ago. Prediction: 4th
Ever since the height of their powers a couple of years ago, the Irish have found it hard to string together much consistency. There can only be so much longer that Ireland rely on Brian O’Driscoll and will be looking to Jonny Sexton to take over the reins in terms of controlling the back-line. The sprinkling of world-class quality in players like Jamie Heaslip and Tommy Bowe, his atrocious Subway advert aside, means that you cannot discount them completely, however it is hard to see them having a dramatic impact at the top of the table. Key Player: Brian O’Driscoll. The God of Irish rugby-need I say more? Prediction: 3rd
Out of all the Home Nations, it is Scotland who must be looking with most trepidation to the forthcoming Six Nations. Defeat to Tonga last autumn did nothing to ease the Scottish woes inflicted in last year’s Six Nations that saw them pick up the wooden spoon. Although new coach Scott Johnson may be able to turn things around, the Scots do not currently have the quality they possessed. Another winless Six Nations would spell disaster for Scottish rugby. Key Player: Tim Visser. The Dutch-cum-Scottish winger has proved he can consistently score in the Pro12. Scotland fans will be praying he can do the same for them. Prediction: 5th
To say Italian rugby has improved in the last decade would be an understatement; they have gone from whipping boys to running the world’s best, perilously close that was embodied by their four point defeat to England last year. At the moment, however, it still seems a straight shoot-out between Scotland and Italy for bottom place and with the tie at Murrayfield this year the Scots just nudge it. Key Player: Andrea Masi. Despite Sergio Parisse being Italy’s best player, Masi’s switch to London Wasps has payed dividends, emerging as a quality player for the English team. 2013 could be his time to shine on an international stage. Prediction: 6th
By Ben Blosse