All eyes will be on England as they begin their Six Nations title defence against France at Twickenham, where they will look to extend their winning streak to 15 Tests, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
England vs France
England have been tipped as favourites to retain their Six Nations crown, with many expecting the season-ending clash against dangerous Ireland to be a potentially title-deciding encounter.
However, they can’t just expect to rock up and roll France over. Les Bleus did show some signs of progress during last November’s Tests, but they have suffered a considerable blow with an injury to Wesley Fofana.
England will still be bristling with confidence after their undefeated 2016 season, and have named a powerful team – with superstar Maro Itoje on the flank – that should be too strong for France.
England – 15 Mike Brown, 14 Jonny May, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Elliot Daly, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Nathan Hughes, 7 Tom Wood, 6 Maro Itoje, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley (c), 1 Joe Marler.
Subs: 16 Jamie George, 17 Matt Mullan, 18 Kyle Sinckler, 19 Teimana Harrison, 20 James Haskell, 21 Danny Care, 22 Ben Te’o, 23 Jack Nowell.
France – 15 Scott Spedding, 14 Noa Nakaitaci, 13 Gaël Fickou, 12 Rémi Lamerat, 11 Virimi Vakatawa, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Baptiste Serin, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Kévin Gourdon, 6 Damien Chouly, 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Sébastien Vahaamahina, 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Guilhem Guirado (c), 1 Cyril Baille.
Subs: 16 Clément Maynadier, 17 Xavier Chiocci, 18 Rabah Slimani, 19 Arthur Iturria, 20 Loann Goujon, 21 Maxime Machenaud, 22 Yoann Huget, 23 Jean-Marc Doussain.
Scotland vs Ireland
After a disappointing Six Nations campaign last year, Ireland made great strides during the second half of 2016, which saw them impress against the Boks in June, while also securing a historic first-ever win over the All Blacks towards the end of the year.
Ireland have become an extremely dangerous team under the guidance of astute coach Joe Schmidt, and while an away trip to Scotland first up on Saturday will be a tricky encounter, they should be backed to secure a comfortable victory.
Ireland have a settled team, with South African-born CJ Stander once again set to play an influential role in the loose trio, and will be determined to positively start their campaign as they aim to reclaim the Six Nations title.
Scotland – 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Alex Dunbar, 11 Tommy Seymour, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Greig Laidlaw (c), 8 Josh Strauss, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Ryan Wilson, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 Fraser Brown, 1 Allan Dell.
Subs: 16 Ross Ford, 17 Gordon Reid, 18 Simon Berghan, 19 Tim Swinson, 20 John Barclay, 21 Ali Price, 22 Duncan Weir, 23 Mark Bennett.
Ireland – 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sean O’Brien, 6 CJ Stander, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Iain Henderson, 3 Tadgh Furlong, 2 Rory Best (c), 1 Jack McGrath.
Subs: 16 Niall Scannell, 17 Cian Healy, 18 John Ryan, 19 Ultan Dillane, 20 Josh van der Flier, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Ian Keatley, 23 Tommy Bowe.
Italy vs Wales
Italy’s win over the Boks last November will have given them belief that they can cause another upset over Wales, but the Welsh will head to Rome on Sunday with a point to prove.
Lest we forget, Wales also had little trouble in overcoming the Boks last year, and boast an experienced team that includes influential roleplayers such as Leigh Halfpenny, Dan Biggar and Sam Warburton.
Wales head into this campaign under the guidance of coach Rob Howley, who is covering for British and Irish Lions boss Warren Gatland, and look to have all the firepower necessary to start his short-term tenure with a convincing win.
Italy – 15 Edoardo Padovani, 14 Giulio Bisegni, 13 Tommaso Benvenuti, 12 Luke McLean, 11 Giovanbattista Venditti; 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Maxime Mata M'Banda, 6 Abraham Steyn, 5 George Biagi, 4 Marco Fuser, 3 Lorenzo Cittadini, 2 Ornel Gega, 1 Andrea Lovotti.
Subs: 16 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 17 Sami Panico, 18 Pietro Ceccarelli, 19 Joshua Furno, 20 Francesco Minto, 21 Giorgio Bronzini, 22 Tommaso Allan, 23 Michele Campagnaro.
Wales – 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Scott Williams, 11 Liam Williams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Ross Moriarty, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Sam Warburton, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (c), 4 Jake Ball, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Nicky Smith.
Subs: 16 Scott Baldwin, 17 Rob Evans, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Cory Hill, 20 James King, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Sam Davies, 23 Jamie Roberts.
Photo: Dave Winter/Getty Images