These are Oval Talk's predictions for the Six Nations, which starts this weekend with England an unknown quantity and France favourites to win the title.
Although France have lost to the likes of Italy and Tonga in the last 12 months, their recent Six Nations record is impeccable. In the last decade they have won five championships, including three Grand Slams.
They play Ireland and England at the Stade de France and it could well be the case that the title is decided before France go to Cardiff to face Wales on the last day of the championship.
With the likes of Morgan Parra, Dimitri Yachvilli and Francois Trinh-Duc, they probably have the most feared back line in the tournament.
With Paul O'Connell leading the side which has a back row of Jamie Heaslip, Sean O'Brien and Stephen Ferris, one of the best in world rugby, they are primed for a push for the championship.
The biggest game of the tournament will be Ireland's match against France, with the winners likely to go on and win the title.
They won many plaudits for their performances at the World Cup, but fell short in the big games against South Africa, France and Australia. Wales have also lost their inspirational winger Shane Williams to retirement and there are doubts over the fitness of Rhys Priestland and Jamie Roberts, not to mention Gethin Jenkins and Alun Wyn Jones, who are already out.
There are several question marks over Wales - and a lot rests on the young shoulders of George North. Warren Gatland is the most experienced coach in the championship and he will need to use all of it to help Wales finish any higher than mid-table.
Who knows how England are going to do this year as they defend the title? Stuart Lancaster has named nearly half a squad of uncapped players. They will either sink or swim - and their first match against Scotland is a baptism of fire. England have not won at Murrayfield since 2004 and it will be at least a decade before they do so again. This will be a real test for new captain Chris Robshaw.
Lancaster's team also have to play away to France, and that will be a gargantuan task. England might cause some surprises with their new mixture of ball carriers and big hitters, but this tournament has come too soon for the new-look side.
Other than Scotland's opening game against England, in which they will give absolutely everything to beat the auld enemy, Andy Robinson's team will do nothing.
Under Robinson, Scotland have won three and lost 11 of their 15 matches in the Six Nations. Frankly, that just is not good enough. Scotland are a team lacking confidence and ability and will finish towards the bottom yet again.
It is safe to say that the Azzurri will not win the Six Nations. But with Jacques Brunel having replaced Nick Mallett as coach, Italy have certainly become more ambitious. The former Perpignan coach has set his team the challenge of being in a position to win the Six Nations in the next two or three years and become one of the top six nations in the world.
But for this championship, at least, Italy should focus on winning two games - like they did in 2007, when they beat Scotland and Wales. Avoiding the wooden spoon must be their main objective; anything more than that will be a bonus.
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