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There is always excitement ahead of the opening round of the Six Nations, but with passionate crowds returning to the iconic stadiums, this year feels even more special.
After an exciting Autumn Nations series dominated by the northern hemisphere sides, five of the six teams involved in the Six Nations appear capable of beating any of the others on any given day. And as a result, it is a very difficult tournament to predict.
Wales took the crown in 2021, having won four of their five matches.
Dan Biggar played a big part in those victories, and with 95 caps for his country, he is set to complete his century at this year’s Six Nations.
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However, the Welsh can’t continue to rely on the kicking of the Northampton fly-half, and they will be looking for some more development from the likes of back-rower Taine Basham, who was chosen by former Lions captain Sam Warburton as his Wales star of the autumn campaign.
Mark Pougatch presents the opening fixture of the championship, as Wayne Pivac’s reigning champions begin their defence with a tough fixture at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium against Ireland.
Andy Farrell’s Men in Green completed an amazing autumn campaign which has set them up for a good run at the Six Nations crown. And with the likes of Hugo Keenan, Andrew Porter, Ronan Kelleher and Caelan Doris now all established as key players, along with veteran fly-half Johnny Sexton, Farrell has a good blend of youth and experience to call upon.
The Welsh triumphed 21-16 at home against the Irish last year, but Farrell will be hoping to make home advantage count, as they did when they prevailed 24-14 at the Aviva in 2020.
After the opener in Dublin, Gabby Logan is at Murrayfield to present coverage of the hotly anticipated match between Scotland and England.
Scottish coach Gregor Townsend named five uncapped players in his initial 39-man squad. But the cauldron of the Six Nations may not be the right time to blood young talent, so Townsend will be hoping fully fit Bath centre Cameron Redpath and mercurial pair Stuart Hogg and Finn Russell can deliver the goods against the Auld Enemy.
The 2021 Six Nations was one to forget for Eddie Jones’s England – they lost all three matches against home nations opposition and finished fifth in the table.
But with Jones finally beginning to introduce an exciting new generation of talent, including Marcus Smith, Freddie Steward, Raffi Quirke, Alex Dombrandt, Sam Simmonds and Jamie Blamire, they went unbeaten during a successful summer and autumn and chalked up notable wins over Australia and South Africa.
Can they reclaim the Calcutta Cup, even without injured skipper Owen Farrell.
The final fixture of the opening weekend takes place tomorrow as the French welcome Kieran Crowley’s perennial wooden-spooners Italy to the Stade de France.
Despite the strengths of each of the home nations, Fabien Galthié’s Les Bleus start the Six Nations as favourites, and with World Player of the Year Antoine Dupont as their spearhead, they will take some beating.
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