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RBS Six Nations 2017 Round One Preview

‘Rugby’s Greatest Championship’ returns this weekend as Europe’s elite sides battle it out in the opening round of the RBS Six Nations 2017. Round one of this historic tournament see’s Scotland take on Ireland, England welcoming France to Twickenham and Wales travelling to Italy.

England v France – Twickenham – Saturday 4th February 4.50pm

England enter the Six Nations as the defending Grand Slam champions and the world’s No.2 ranked side behind New Zealand.

After a perfect 2016 which saw Eddie Jones’s side register 13 consecutive Test Match victories (14 including the win over Uruguay in 2015); England know victory on Saturday will see them surpass their longest ever winning streak of 14-games, set in 2002/03.

But after a series of major injury blows, the hosts know that they face a stern examination of their credentials against an improving French side.

The loss of the Billy Vunipola, Mako Vunipola, Chris Robshaw and George Kruis has prompted a switch around in the pack. Nathan Hughes will continue to deputise in the absence of Billy Vunipola, while Tom Wood will continue at openside flanker.

World Rugby Young Player of the Year, Maro Itoje, will switch to blindside flanker from second row. While Joe Marler returns at prop after a remarkable recovery from a fractured leg.

The backline has a much more settled feel, with just one change from the side that faced Australia, with Elliot Daly returning on the wing. On the bench England welcome back James Haskell and Jack Nowell from injury and will be hoping for major impact from two of their finest players.

France produced some fine efforts in the Autumn Internationals and will be looking to continue that form at Twickenham. Livewire scrum-half Baptiste Serin will be one of the real danger men for the visitors.

Remi Lamerat and Gael Fickou are named as the centre partnership in the absence of the injured Wesley Fofana, with Mathieu Bastareaud omitted from the matchday 23, while Fijians Virimi Vakatawa and Noa Nakaitaci continue on the wings.

Prediction: Injuries will be no excuse for Eddie Jones, he will be expecting his side to make it 15 consecutive wins. Twickenham looks to be returning to the fortress of old and despite the recent resurgence of France, England should come out on top.

England 27-19 France

Scotland v Ireland – BT Murrayfield Saturday 4th February 2.25pm

This game has the potential to be one of the highlights of the tournament and is the perfect way to start the Six Nations 2017.

After their unbelievable autumn which saw them beat the All Blacks, Ireland and their coach Joe Schmidt will be expecting to claim another Six Nations title in March. But the men in green will begin the Six Nations without star fly-half Johnny Sexton.

In his place Ulster’s Paddy Jackson will step into the number 10 shirt. In the back row, Schmidt has been able to name arguably the strongest in the competition with CJ Stander, Sean O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip all starting.

In the centres all eyes will be on the pairing of Garry Ringrose and Robbie Henshaw. The highly-rate Ringrose has been compared to Brian O’Driscoll and makes his first Six Nations start. While Henshaw will be looking to cement his status as the best inside centre in the British Isles.

Scotland also enjoyed a fine autumn series and are many peoples outside tips for tournament success. In Vern Cotter’s final Six Nations, Scotland will be finally looking to deliver on the promise of recent performances.

Centre Huw Jones returns to the side after injury, and will feature in a talented back division alongside Stuart Hogg, Tommy Seymour, Finn Russell and Sean Maitland. The talented Gray brothers continue in the engine room, while Ryan Wilson, Hamish Watson and Josh Strauss complete the back-row.

Prediction: A game filled with stars, both sides have bags of attacking potential. Ireland are one of the tournament favourites and have the pedigree to go all the way, whereas Scotland will be looking to fulfil their potential. But Ireland should just edge a tight encounter.

Scotland 24 – Ireland 26

Italy v Wales – Stadio Olimpico Sunday 5th February 2.00pm

The final game of the weekend see’s Wales travel to Rome to face Conor O’Shea’s Italy in a fascinating encounter.

With Warren Gatland away on Lions duty, Rob Howley has taken temporary charge of Wales. With Alun Wyn-Jones now leading the side, Sam Warburton switches to blindside flanker with Justin Tipuric starts at number seven.

At inside centre Scott Williams is preferred to the experienced Jamie Roberts, and will partner Jonathan Davies. While Rhys Webb returns at scrum-half and will play alongside Dan Biggar.

Conor O’Shea enters his first Six Nations in charge of Italy and after a historic victory over South Africa, he will be hoping to build a level of consistency that has been lacking for a number of years.

Prediction: This is a potential banana-skin for Wales despite fielding a near full strength side. Italy showed in the Autumn they are trying to expand their game and O’Shea will have them fully primed and firing for this game. Italy could cause an upset.

Italy 23-20 Wales

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Sides Ready To Do Battle in RBS Six Nations 2017

The RBS Six Nations Championship kicks off with Northern Hemisphere rugby in decent shape.

England won all their autumn internationals, defeating Argentina, South Africa, Fiji, and Australia, while Ireland turned over New Zealand, an absolutely magnificent performance.

And this is Lions year, with a tour of the Land of the Long White Cloud in prospect. That means players will be looking to perform out of their skins to stake their place and follow the legends in what is an iconic tradition.

England looking for second Six Nations Grand Slam – but injuries could make it tough for Eddie Jones

For England, it will be important that the pack goes well and they can overcome a spate of injuries which has taken out the likes of Mako and Billy Vunipola, while in the backs there is no Manu Tuilagi – the Leicester and England battering ram is gone for the season with serious knee damage.

Much will depend on brilliant forward Maro Itoje and the George Ford-Owen Farrell partnership. James Haskell and George Kruis return.

However there is concern at prop and it will be interesting to see how England go in the tight scrum.

Captain and hooker Dylan Hartley told the RBS Six Nations launch event: “Last year there were a lot of column inches about Maro Itoje and George Kruis, Jack Nowell and Anthony Watson. We didn’t have those guys (in some of the November Tests) but with that opportunity comes for others, Jonny May came into the team, Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes stepped up. We’ve got good depth and a good squad.”

First up for England is the French, Le Crunch.

French skipper Guilhem Guirado, believes Les Bleus have some unfinished business.

He said: “We were very frustrated at the result of the RBS 6 Nations last year. We had a good start with two wins over Italy and Ireland. We were extremely disappointed that we couldn’t finish with a win against England after two defeats against the other teams. We have built our side from that.”

France are showing definite signs of improvement but have their own injury troubles. Veteran Toulon centre, burly Mathieu Bastareaud is back after being called up to replace Henry Chavancy.

Wales looking to regain Six Nations title under leadership of Alun Wyn Jones

New captain of Wales, the outstanding Alun Wyn Jones, will be looking to make his mark. Widely tipped for the Lions captaincy, he will demand maximum effort from his team.

Wales are without head coach Warren Gatland, who will lead the British & Irish Lions, but having won the Championship four years ago under Rob Howley, Jones is confident they can perform under him once more.

The Welsh are at their most dangerous in Lions years.

Wales head to Rome for their opening game, taking on an Italian side brimming with confidence from a first victory over South Africa in November.

Parisse will again be the main man for Italy

For Sergio Parisse, it is will be his 56th Six Nations contest; for Italy’s new boss Conor O’Shea it will be his first.

Parisse said: “I’m very excited every time to play this tournament. For me and Italy it’s a huge honour. We started a new chapter of our history with Conor O’Shea, the win against South Africa was special for the team and all the Italian players and supporters. As a nation we have to change a few things to be really competitive. We have to perform in every single match.”

O’Shea is a wily customer and he will improve the Italians.

Scotland prepare for their final Six Nations Championship with Vern Cotter in charge

They will rely heavily on the boot of captain Greig Laidlaw but the squad, once really thin, is much improved. Laidlaw said: “We’re excited about going into the Championship, the manner in which Glasgow qualified for the Champions Cup was brilliant. Their players who have come in have brought a lot of confidence into the squad and we’re trying to spread that confidence throughout.

“We’d like to see Vern off with a great championship.”

Ireland hoping to build on fantastic Autumn Campaign with Six Nations title

Ireland enter the RBS 6 Nations as one of the favourites, still basking in that first ever win over New Zealand in November. Indeed, seeing off Australia, South Africa and New Zealand in a calendar year.

Skipper Rory Best, battling for the Lions captaincy himself, believes the team are in good spirits. Much will depend on keeping quality half backs Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton fit.

Previously opponents have looked to nobble Sexton in the belief that this could be decisive in restricting Ireland’s play. But these days there is a more than capable deputy in Ian Madigan. CJ Stander is the outstanding forward.

The destination of this year’s Championship could go down to the wire, Ireland v England on March 18 in Dublin.

That is going to be a cracker.

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