With the Six Nations closing in fast, Planet Rugby brings you a preview of the upcoming battle for northern hemisphere supremacy.
With the Six Nations Championship closing in, Planet Rugby brings you our preview of this year's battle for northern hemisphere supremacy.
So much has happened since Wales claimed the Grand Slam in 2012, which is highlighted by the fact Rob Howley's side are fourth favourites for glory. Without their head coach Warren Gatland due to British & Irish Lions planning, the Welsh are trying to claw their way out of a dismal run.
Speaking of the Lions, that selection carrot for the pinnacle in any rugby player above the equator's career is also just around the corner so several internationalists from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales will undoubtedly – though they may say otherwise – have that in the back of their minds.
England and Ireland, at the moment, are set to feature most heavily in the squad but if Wales can recapture last season's form then their stars will be on the plane. Big pressure will be on captain Sam Warburton while fly-half Dan Biggar could not ask for a better opportunity to impress.
Ireland host England in Round Two in a game that should decide who will be challenging France for the title. Declan Kidney's line-up this weekend has a good blend of youth and experience as wings Craig Gilroy and Simon Zebo start while England host Scotland.
Scotland have nothing to lose in the campaign, with the exit of Andy Robinson leading to a new era under Scott Johnson. The interim coach has already made a few alterations in selection as Greig Laidlaw shifts from 9 to 10 and there is a return to 8 for Johnnie Beattie.
Last but not least, Italy go into the Championship with an opening game at home to France. How they would love to start with a repeat of their 22-21 triumph over Les Bleus at the Stadio Flaminio a couple of years ago. But with France looking strong, we're backing them in 2013.