What can be expected from Ireland's Six Nations opponents in 2016?
The tournament begins on Saturday afternoon10:47 Friday 5 February 2016, 10:47 5 Feb 2016
The Six Nations begins on Saturday afternoon with a doubleheader between France and Italy, followed by the Calcutta Cup game in Edinburgh between Scotland and England.
On Sunday afternoon, Ireland welcome Wales to Dublin. While Ireland's Six Nations prospects have been widely spoken about in recent weeks, what can be expected from Ireland's opponents in the coming weeks?
18 points! That is the combined total from the previous two Six Nations that England lost both tournaments by, on points difference. For a team that are seemingly in a rebuilding period they have been the Six Nations bridesmaids in recent years. A slight improvement in performance this year may seem them win the trophy for the first time since 2011.
Eddie Jones has entered the fray after guiding Japan to a historic World Cup win over South Africa last year. Japan's set pieces were among the highlights of the tournament and with Jones bringing Steve Borthwick with him into the England camp, the team may spring a few surprises from the training ground during games.
Still smarting from last year's World Cup elimination at the Pool Stages, England have two changes to try and repair the damage with the Twickenham crowd. They welcome Wales and Ireland to the London venue and with away games in Rome and Paris, Jones will fancy his side lifting the trophy in Paris on March 19th.
Tempers flare between England’s Mike Brown and Sam Warburton of Wales during their World Cup game last year. Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/James Crombie
Tipped to come out on top by Brian O'Driscoll, Keith Wood and Liam Toland, the Welsh tend to shine in the championships which follow World Cups. Grand Slam winners in 2008 and 2012 right after previous World Cups, their experience could be telling again in 2016.The core of the squad is hugely experienced with George North, Gethin Jenkins, Dan Lydiate and captain Sam Warburton among a core who have been there, done that and worn the red shirt with distinction. The front five of their pack has also been cited as one area that will overpower Ireland in the opening game on Sunday and should they prevail, momentum could swing their way.
The core of the squad is hugely experienced with George North, Gethin Jenkins, Dan Lydiate and captain Sam Warburton among a core who have been there, done that and worn the red shirt with distinction. The front five of their pack has also been cited as one area that will overpower Ireland in the opening game on Sunday and should they prevail, momentum could swing their way.
Three home matches is a slight advantage with one of those against France, coming before a trip to Twickenham to face England - who they edged 28-25 at the World Cup - in Round 4.
Former Toulouse head coach Guy Noves has taken charge of the national team after the World Cup debacle but has he been given the job too late in his career? Noves was one of the World's most regarded coaches as the led the team to two Heineken Cups in three years in the mid-2000's. He has not won a major trophy since 2012 when he led France to the Top 14 title.
After the World Cup shambles under Phillipe Saint-Andre, Noves has a rebuilding progress on his hands. French morale is at an all-time low after their 62-13 loss to New Zealand in the World Cup quarter-finals. Inspirational captain Thierry Dusautoir has retired from the international game and hooker Guilhem Guirado looks set to lead the team.
Noves will be delighted that his tenure starts with a home game against Italy. The team will also be given the opportunity to exorcise their World Cup demons when they return to Cardiff, to face Wales. Home games against Ireland and England will be targetted as Les Bleus will try and regain the Parisian support in Stade de France.
France will be hoping to bounce back after their World Cup drubbing to New Zealand. Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan
Wooden spoon ... second bottom ... third ... wooden spoon ... the last four Six Nations have mostly been punctuated by lows.
But the 2016 Six Nations catches a Scotland in more optimistic mood after a World Cup when they were arguably the most impressive of the Northern Hemisphere sides. Reaching the quarter-finals, only a highly contentious refereeing call by Craig Joubert prevented them from shocking eventual runners-up Australia.
Along with Glasgow Warriors recent consistency in the Guinness Pro 12 (Top 4 finishes have come in each of the past four full seasons), Scottish rugby doesn't appear to be in as dark a place as usual. Scotland do have a tough start to the Six Nations though, hosting England first and then heading to Cardiff in Round 2, with defeats likely to knock recently acquired confidence.
Italy players celebrate as referee George Clancy awards Italy a penalty try at the end of the game against Scotland in 2015. Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy
The traditional whipping boys of the Six Nations are coming off a disappointing World Cup where they lost to both Ireland and France. Head coach Jacques Brunel looks like he has only one more Championship in charge as reports of Conor O'Shea taking charge of the Azzurri are not going away.
Luckily for Italy, they continue to be led by one of the best players in the World in Sergio Parisse. World Cup retirements have lost the Italians of leaders like Mauro Bergamasco, but with Parisse leading the side, opposing sides will need to be wary.
Italy's best chance of a win, usually comes against Scotland. Last year they were victorious in Murrayfield against Scotland. It may be tougher this year to earn a win for Brunel's side to earn a win.
Reporting by Daniel Kelly and Raf Diallo
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