Six Nations: Everything you need to know

4:40 PM GMT

The Six Nations and all its glory returns again for 2017 where champions England will defend their coveted crown.

The Grand Slam follows a sensational autumn series of rugby which saw Eddie Jones’ men go unbeaten, Ireland topple the All Blacks in Chicago and Italy defeat South Africa for the first time in their history.

Here’s everything you need to know ahead of the highly anticipated first round of fixtures this weekend.

Rory Best, Greig Laidlaw, Dylan Hartley and Alun Wyn Jones will all hope to feature on the British & Irish Lions tour in June. AFP / BEN STANSALL

England

The question on the lips of every England fan is, will it get much better? After they discarded every tier one team in 2016 bar the All Blacks — whom they didn’t play — confidence is sky high. Injuries to the likes of Billy and Mako Vunipola haven’t been ideal preparation, but what Eddie Jones has learnt over the course of an historic year is that he has strength in depth.

Milk, sea air and Phil Pask – the secrets behind Joe Marler’s recovery

Eddie Jones’ referee watch sees him become star of the show at Rosslyn Park

Ireland

Seen as the biggest threat to Eddie Jones’ England, Ireland come in on the back of an impressive 2016. They defeated the All Blacks for the first time, had a win over Australia, and will feel they let a series victory over South Africa slip through their fingers last summer.

Graham Henry: Joe Schmidt’s coaching evolution and why he is a truly special coach

WATCH: Are Ireland genuine Grand Slam contenders?

Wales

Despite labouring at times, Wales equalled their best autumn record by November’s end with victories over Argentina, Japan and South Africa — but the disappointing defeat to Australia and the manner of those wins leaves many worried that this could be a Six Nations campaign to forget.

How Alun Wyn Jones’ journey to the Wales captaincy began in Patagonia

History shows Sam Warburton can flourish without captaincy for Wales in Six Nations

Scotland

Although they are underdogs, there is a swagger about Vern Cotter’s Scotland side for this Grand Slam. They don’t just think they can compete, they believe they can win. Their opening game, at home against Ireland, could set them as an outside bet for the Six Nations crown.

Scott Hastings, Andrew Henderson solve Scotland’s centre dilemma

WATCH: Could Scotland spring a Six Nations surprise?

France

Despite back-to-back defeats to Australia and New Zealand, France finally looked to be on the brink of something special towards the end of last year. Noa Nakaitaci and Virimi Vakatawa look set to light up the tournament.

Revitalised France will still fall short in bid for Six Nations glory

WATCH: Which France will show up for the Six Nations?

Italy

It seemed to all that victory over South Africa was a turning point for the Azzurri — then they fell to a defeat to Tonga. After that result it is difficult to see Italy making strides in this year’s Six Nations, but it will be an interesting test for boss Conor O’Shea in his first Grand Slam.

Waking the Italian rugby giant: Conor O’Shea’s short, medium and long-term plans for the Azzurri

Results secondary as Italy aim for improvement under O’Shea

Fantasy

Pick players with the potential to score tries. That is one strategy suggested to selectors choosing their fifteens for our 2017 Six Nations Fantasy competition.

There are no changes to the rules that governed last year’s game, so the best rewards are heavily weighted towards try-scorers.

2017 Fantasy Rugby!
Pick your team from the hundreds of players about to fight for the championship and be in the mix to win a MacBook Pro.

The big change is in the tournament itself. This will be the first Six Nations with bonus points for scoring four or more tries or losing by small margins (seven or fewer). The organisers hope the reward will encourage more attacking play and yield more tries, but will the innovation really change teams’ approach to matches? While the jury may still be out on that one, it makes sense for punters to consider packing their fifteens with possible try-scorers.

Six Nations Fantasy Rugby: How it works, what changed, who to pick

Six Nations 2017 ultimate preview: The teams, the coaches, the players

All Sports Fantasy Rugby XV – Cristiano Ronaldo, Usain Bolt, Conor McGregor plus more

British and Irish Lions

British & Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland will use the Six Nations to help with his team selection. David Rogers/Getty Images

Warren Gatland will have an idea of his British & Irish Lions squad for the summer tour of New Zealand as the Six Nations starts. We look at who could start the first test against the All Blacks.

On current form: The British & Irish Lions team to start vs. All Blacks

Gatland: Six Nations will count for a lot of players

Source Article from http://www.espn.co.uk/rugby/story/_/id/18612481/six-nations-2017-preview-england-france-ireland-scotland-wales-italy
Six Nations: Everything you need to know
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