Six Nations 2016: England and France start new eras, Ireland out to make history
The start of the Six Nations this weekend will herald a new dawn for England and France, while Ireland begin their quest for an unprecedented treble against Wales.
Eddie Jones was charged with the task of lifting the gloom surrounding English rugby after a dismal World Cup campaign on home soil.
Stuart Lancaster paid the price for England becoming the first host nation to fail to make it out of the pool stage of a World Cup in their homeland, with Jones named as his replacement.
Big things are expected of the vastly experienced Australian, who is the first coach from overseas to lead England, and his side are the bookmakers’ favourites to win the tournament despite their World Cup woes.
Jones has made his mark by bringing in new coaches and appointing Dylan Hartley as captain, but the former Australia and Japan coach has already been criticised for failing to blood talented youngsters in the Calcutta Cup clash at Murrayfield on Saturday.
Whether Jones can apply the Midas touch remains to be seen and Scotland will see a home encounter against their old rivals as a great opportunity to get over the heartbreak of their World Cup quarter-final defeat to Australia.
Vern Cotter’s side were on the verge of reaching the semi-finals when referee Craig Joubert awarded a controversial late penalty, which condemned them to an agonising defeat.
Scotland lost all five Six Nations matches last year, but they should be a different proposition after such an encouraging World Cup.
While Jones has stuck with the old guard for his first game in charge, new France coach Guy Noves named four debutants in his side to face Italy at Stade de France on Saturday.
Fiji-born wing Virimi Vakatawa is the standout selection from Noves, who is plotting to shed Les Bleus’ perennial underachievers tag after replacing Philippe Saint-Andre.
France also have a new captain in the form of Toulon hooker Guilhem Guirado following Thierry Dusautoir’s retirement.
Ireland are aiming to become the first side to win three consecutive Six Nations tournaments, but the defending champions will have to do so without the inspirational Paul O’Connell.
Rory Best has replaced the retired O’Connell as skipper and although Joe Schmidt has plenty of talent at his disposal, he will have to do without the injured Iain Henderson, Luke Fitzgerald and Marty Moore for the entirety of the tournament.
Peter O’Mahony is also sidelined and Schmidt has other injuries to contend with, which could hamper Ireland’s bid to make history.
Warren Gatland knows all about the tribulations of having a lengthy injury list, but the New Zealander has been able to name a strong side to face Ireland at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday.
Prop Rob Evans and wing Tom James were surprise inclusions in the starting line-up, and Wales have the ability to be crowned champions if they can click into gear.
Italy coach Jacques Brunel will be out to end his reign on a high note as the outsiders go about trying to ruffle a few feathers.