England head coach Eddie Jones will face one of the sternest tests of his time with the Red Rose as they look to maintain their grip on the Six Nations trophy this year.
The men in white have managed to win the last two titles since Jones took charge at Twickenham and once again they are the favourites to lift the trophy this year at 10/11.
It’s not difficult to see why England are such heavy favourites as they boast a host of players that have been there and done it on the club and international stage, while they also have a strength in depth in the Aviva Premiership that the other nations can only dream of.
Once again Saracens stars Maro Itoje and Owen Farrell will be key figures in the heart of the England side and the pair will have only benefited from their experience of drawing a series with New Zealand on last year’s British & Irish Lions tour.
England have had injury blows with the likes of Billy Vunipola missing but such is the competition for places, Jones won’t struggle for cover ahead of their opener against Italy in Rome.
Jones has been keen to play down England’s challenge but those are the mind games the Aussie thrives on.
Don’t fall into Jones’ trap; England will take some stopping if they are to have that trophy prized away from them.
One side that have a strong claim to the throne are an Irish side that have produced some impressive individual displays over the last few years and are 8/5 to win the title.
In that time Ireland claimed their first ever win over New Zealand and thrashed the Springboks last year.
Head coach Joe Schmidt watched as his side denied England the Grand Slam at the end of the 2017 Six Nations and the Kiwi boss will be looking to use that result to instil confidence in the men in green.
The Irish will take heart from their club sides’ efforts this term, with both Leinster and Munster impressing on the European stage.
The two provinces have reached the quarter-final stages and it would not be a surprise to see the pair progress further in the prestigious club competition.
Fly-half Jonathan Sexton has continued to impress in a Leinster jersey and once again the physical 10 will be pulling the strings and driving the Irish forward through the tournament.
Momentum is vital in the Six Nations and Ireland’s challenge could all unravel at the very first hurdle if they slip up in their opening game against France in Paris.
The French, who themselves are an interesting outsider at 20/1 to win the title, are once again an unknown entity and can go from the sublime to the dismal in the blink of an eye.
Ireland will have to get the basics right but if they get that win in Paris, it could start the ball rolling for a side that will welcome Italy, Wales and Scotland to Dublin this year.
Fellow Celts Scotland have been causing a stir with their performances of late but those in the know north of the border won’t be getting ahead of themselves.
Just the 19 years have passed since the Scots claimed the last ever Five Nations title and the national side has seen some dark days since then.
However, starting with the work done by Vern Cotter, hope is growing at Murrayfield that their side could put in a serious title challenge this year.
Gregor Townsend has taken over the reins and has already made an impact since the summer with home and away wins over Australia and pushing the All Blacks close up in Edinburgh.
Again it could be a real uphill battle for the Scots should they fail to beat Wales in their opening game at the Principality Stadium on Saturday.
The Scots have not won in Cardiff since the side that Townsend played in got a result on Welsh soil in 2002.
However with the likes of fly-half Finn Russell and full-back Stuart Hogg in their backline, along with Jonny Gray and John Barclay in the forwards, there is reason for optimism.
Scotland welcome Auld Enemy England and France to Murrayfield , which has become a fortress for the Scots in recent years and those are not two bad fixtures to have on home soil.
Townsend will be determined to keep his side grounded but his team at 17/2 are certainly ones to look out for for the title.
Elsewhere and Wales would have to prove many doubters wrong to be challenging for the title come the final week of the championship.
The injury crisis in the camp is unprecedented ahead of that opener against the Scots.
Just looking at the backline, five British & Irish Lions are sidelined with Rhys Webb, Dan Biggar, Jonathan Davies, George North and Liam Williams out of action.
That is not to mention that Lions skipper Sam Warburton and Toby Faletau are missing in the back row, so much will rest on the shoulders of veteran lock Alun Wyn Jones.
Even with those names missing for the opener, you certainly would not rule out Wales making a winning start, especially considering that impressive home record against the Scots.
Warren Gatland’s focus is fully on Wales leading into the World Cup in Japan next year, having had his attentions switched elsewhere in 2013 and 2017 with Lions matters.
However at 16/1 and with the host of injuries in the Wales camp, it looks like it could well be a battle between England, Ireland and Scotland for the prestigious title this year.
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