The Six Nations kicks off this weekend, and we’re as giddy as Richie McCaw at the side of a ruck.
However, when asked to predict what might unfold in the coming weeks, things become quite difficult.
So what will happen?
Before the Rugby World Cup in September, this writer wrote a similar piece to this one, ahead of what transpired to be an amazing two months of rugby football.
The predictions were that England would not qualify from their group, Scotland would reach the semi-finals, and Damian De Allende would finish as top tryscorer, justified by the fact that South Africa would put up a cricket score on Japan in the opening game.
One was correct, one narrowly missed, and one… Well, De Allende scored one try in the tournament.
Not to lose faith, here’s the Six Nations edition.
France to win the championship
Guy Noves takes over Les Bleus with expectations at an all-time low. The French were demolished at the World Cup. If they thought the loss to Ireland was bad, the following week’s humiliation at the hands of New Zealand was, well, humiliating.
Nobody is giving France a prayer this week, and that is when they are dangerous. The schedule is kind to them, opening away to Italy and home to Ireland. A trip to Cardiff on the middle weekend will be tricky, and their Grand Slam ambitions may become unstuck in the Principality Stadium.
Picked on form rather than reputation, the squad will be hungry to make a point under the new coach. Noves has discarded of the dead wood. Virimi Vakatawa’s inclusion shows that the French are starting afresh. They will be dangerous.
Then again, they may just flop…
Scotland to finish bottom
Back to back Wooden Spoons. It doesn’t exactly have a ring to it. Especially if you are Vern Cotter. Or if you are Scottish.
The Scots are being fancied by many to step it up a notch this year.
But what evidence is there? They almost reached the semi-final of the World Cup, but overall 2015 was once again a year where they flattered to deceive.
They have come out with big one-off performances on many occasions down through the years, but this has not led to anything.
If Greig Laidlaw and Co. do not get off to the perfect start this championship against England, and history suggests that they won’t (2006 was the last time they won their opening match), then things will become difficult, and fast.
Italy are not being talked about much before this championship, and rightly so, but they will be targeting one win. Any ideas which win they are targeting? Yep, you guessed it; Scotland at home.
There is a lot of hype surrounding Cotter’s side this year. That was also the case 12 months ago after a November campaign which included a win over Argentina and a narrow loss to New Zealand. If they do not keep themselves grounded, they will find themselves in deep trouble.
Keith Earls to finish as tournament top try scorer
Not since Imanol Harinordoquy in 2004 has a forward been the top try scorer in the Six Nations, so we’ll rule half of the tournament out of the running.
Ireland have an easy run-in at the end of the campaign, with Italy and Scotland making the trip to Dublin.
With the crystal ball firmly out, Ireland will win two out of their first three games, which are at home to Wales before going away to England and France. This will leave them with the pressure of having to build up a big points differential.
The second half of the Italy and Scotland games will be open as the Irish chase tries. Earls has shown in recent weeks with Munster how dangerous he can be. Watch this space.
OK, don’t put your house on these three coming true, but stranger things have happened.
What are your predictions for the Six Nations? As always, join in the debate over on our rugby Facebook page.