Six things to watch out for in the Six Nations

A look at how the teams are shaping up ahead of the big kick off in rugby's spring championship.

Six things to watch out for in the Six Nations SNS Group

The Six Nations begins on Saturday, with Scotland hosting England at Murrayfield.

Over the coming weeks, France, Ireland, Wales and Italy will also battle for supremacy in the annual rugby extravaganza.

Here, we look at the big questions set to be answered on the field.

Can Scotland break through their glass ceiling?

In four campaigns under Gregor Townsend, the Scots have yet to win more than three games in a championship, recording a highest finish of third.

If they are to fulfil their promise as genuine title contenders, they need to find a fourth victory – at least.

Home games have to be taken care of – that means continuing their good form against powerhouses England and France. Then the Scots will target wins away to Wales and Italy.

Scotland will be looking to retain the Calcutta Cup in their opening game against England.SNS Group

Finally comes a team Townsend is yet to taste victory over. Ireland in Dublin on the final weekend. A huge, daunting challenge.

But with the world-class ability of Stuart Hogg, Finn Russell, Ali Price and Hamish Watson in their ranks, could this be the year they finally smash their way into the reckoning?

Are France the best team in the world?

Les Bleus 40-25 victory over New Zealand in Paris in November certainly suggested they could be. In scrum-half Antoine Dupont, they have the consensus best player in the world too.

But Six Nations fans are always wary of applying such tags to France. So often, particularly away from home, they can be too easily swayed from their rhythm, beaten off the swaggering track they wish to follow.

The talent pool runs deep – Melvyn Jaminet, Gael Fickou, Romain Ntamack and Gregory Alldritt set pulses racing. Can they live up to the hype that’s building across Le Republique?

Are Ireland flying under the radar?

Andy Farrell’s side also put the All Blacks to the sword in the autumn and are burnishing their already-stacked player pool with more emerging talents.

Stars from Leinster – their all-conquering provincial side – form the bedrock of a team that is studded with British and Irish Lions stars like Bundee Aki, Tadhg Furlong, Tadhg Beirne and Jack Conan.

Scotland face a daunting trip to Ireland in the final weekend of the championship.SNS Group

Ireland have the muscle, they have the veteran maestro Johnny Sexton pulling the attacking strings, and they maintain the mentality to win big matches when it counts.

Can Italy show signs of life?

Seven long years have passed since the Azzurri last won a Six Nations match (against Scotland at Murrayfield, if you must ask).

The talisman Sergio Parisse is retired, head coaches have come and gone, and still Italy has had to wait for their team to make inroads on the established five other nations.

Green shoots of hope are apparent. In Paolo Garbisi, the 21-year-old upstart fly-half now turning it on for French club giants Montpellier, they have a star in the making to build around.

With calls growing louder each year to introduce relegation from the championship – or else expand to potentially welcome South Africa into the fold – time may be running out for Italy to assert their right to be part of a truly competitive tournament.

Will Wales defy expectations again?

Written off as also-rans in 2021, Wayne Pivac’s side only went and won the title.

Further depleted by injuries this time around, once more they are being cast as the team least likely to challenge (outside of Italy).

No Alun-Wyn Jones, George North or Taulupe Faletau. Nor Josh Navidi, Justin Tipuric or Leigh Halfpenny.

Can Wales mount a challenge this year?SNS Group

It is a different-looking Wales in 2022, but they are never a team short of courage or experience and they are famously well-coached.

Louis Rees-Zammit is one of the most exciting players on the planet, Taine Basham is pulling up trees in the back row and they have Lions in Josh Adams, Wyn Jones, Adam Beard and Dan Biggar.

You would be a fool to underestimate them.

Can England bounce back?

Finishing in fifth place last year stung the Red Rose. Losing to Scotland, Ireland and Wales (the reverse Triple Crown?) even more so.

Eddie Jones is building his ‘New England’, but even so he would rather have done so with his trusted lieutenants on the field Owen Farrell and Courtney Lawes.

The talent pool available to him is almost unfathomable and Freddie Steward, Max Malins, Joe Marchant and Lewis Ludlam are all immense. But none has collected more than ten international caps to date.

Huge focus falls on the Harlequins livewire stand-off Marcus Smith. Can he live up to his billing as the future of English rugby, and in so doing elevate this inexperienced squad up to another title challenge?