TheSPORTBible Six Nations Preview With Wales Legend Martyn Williams
On Saturday afternoon Scotland and Ireland kick off the 2017 Six Nations. As with every four years it takes on special significance with a Lions tour in the summer, but who will come out on top come the end of the tournament?
Not only is there a Lions tour in the summer but it is the ultimate tour, one to New Zealand to take on the All Blacks. Places on that plane will be at a premium and that adds more pressure for the home nations.
Holders and favourites England kick off the defence of their Grand Slam on Saturday evening when they take on France at Twickenham and on Sunday Wales open against Italy.
Eddie Jones side will be hoping to continue their good form of 2016, when they were undefeated, and many are hoping for a Grand Slam showdown on the last day of the tournament between them and Ireland at the Aviva Stadium.
And it's that home advantage on the last day that tips the balance in favour of Ireland as far as Wales legend Martyn Williams is concerned. He told us why he's going with the Irish as his tip:
"My prediction could all change as soon as early as after the first weekend. But before a ball has been kicked I'll just shade Ireland, I know that England are favourites but the fact the last game is in Dublin vs England, that just sways it for me.
"Ireland have got a really tough opening game against Scotland and they're missing a few players through injury. They're still a very very strong team and for my mind they've got the best coach in the world in Joe Schmidt."
For the first time the Six Nations will trial bonus points during matches. A team scoring four tries during the match will gain a bonus point or a losing side who lose by seven points or less will also win an extra point.
There is also extra points available for a team winning a Grand Slam, meaning if you win all your games then you will win the competition. The idea is to encourage attacking rugby but Wales former flanker doesn't believe it'll make too much difference, certainly not in the early matches:
"I think initially it won't make any difference because ultimately if you win all of your games and you win a Grand Slam bonus points are irrelevant because you're going to win the tournament.
"Maybe going into the last weekend, depending on how the previous for have gone, then maybe they'll make a difference. But I think initially I can't really see that. It'll just be teams trying to go out and get the win because you know it's about getting the win, especially the first weekend. I think it's imperative you get off to a good start."
Williams admitted that the bonus points probably benefit England as they're more likely to score tries whilst Ireland and Wales both execute a more "pragmatic style."
And Williams really does think the first weekend is something special adding, "It's always fascinating, the first weekend. The best one. Everyone's full of hope, full of optimism.
"There's the same old question as every year; Scotland will be the dark horse, which France are going to turn up? England and Ireland are the two favourites. Wales, we're not quite sure where they are at the moment.
"Every team has improved, it should be a good start on Saturday."
As for the Lions, Williams, who played in four tests over three tours, thinks that players have to find the right mix of thinking about the upcoming tour and taking their mind off it, "Everything you do as a player in the Six Nations is going to be thought of in the context of the Lions. Every article you see in the paper or online they'll be a Lions XV so you can't get away from it as a player, it is in the back of your mind.
"But you aren't going into a game thinking "I've got to play well today for the Lions." you've got to play well to win. It's in the back of your mind because it's inevitable but you aren't thinking about it all the time because you've got to play well.
"If you're not performing for your country you aren't going to play for the Lions anyway. It can be a distraction sometimes, that's probably leading up to the match but they'll be fully focused on trying to get to the results."
Finally the 100 cap man told us why the Six Nations is just so special, "Tradition, the history, the rivalries, the different countries.
"You've got the Celtic nations against England and then you throw in France and Italy, there's just a real mix. There's the colour of it all and walking out to the crowds.
"The rugby is phenomenal but it's the whole occasion. This event every year, there's a buzz around. The clash of cultures makes it more special than any other tournament."
An unbeaten England, an All Black beating Ireland, a resurgent Scotland, questions over Wales, France and Italy, bonus points and the shadow of the Lions Tour. The 2017 Six Nations may just produce something special!
Six Nations 2017 is live across BBC TV, Radio and Online from 4th February.