Team-by-team guide

  • Last Updated: January 28 2013, 16:37 GMT

We take a look at the teams who will be contesting this season's RBS Six Nations championship:

Captain's roll call: Who will lift the 2013 Six Nations trophy?
Captain's roll call: Who will lift the 2013 Six Nations trophy?

ENGLAND

COACH: Stuart Lancaster

Having secured the job on a permanent basis following last season's tournament, Lancaster was beginning to come under pressure after autumn defeats to Australia and South Africa. The stunning victory over New Zealand changed all that, but also brings a high level of expectation.

CAPTAIN: Chris Robshaw

Came in for some merciless criticism of his leadership in the autumn, and his suitability for the number seven role was questioned. A stunning personal display against New Zealand and Richie McCaw changed all that, and he has proved to be an excellent appointment by Lancaster.

STAR MAN: Manu Tuilagi

Continues to improve as England find different ways to utilise the Leicester centre's power. Impressed throughout the autumn and his combination of pace, power and fearsome defensive work means he is firmly in contention for Lions honours - but will miss the opener with Scotland due to injury.

FORM SINCE 2012 SIX NATIONS: L (SA) L (SA) D (SA) W (Fij) L (Aus) L (SA) W (NZ)

Verdict: The challenge for Lancaster and company will be dealing with the expectation created by the magnificent win over New Zealand. England are not yet the finished article but they start the tournament as favourites, and need to deliver to prove the victory against the All Blacks was not a flash in the pan.

FRANCE

COACH: Philippe Saint-Andre

The signs are that Saint-Andre is starting to forge a powerful side following the chaos of Marc Lievremont's reign. Last year's Six Nations spluttered to its conclusion with defeats to England and Wales, but impressive autumn wins over Australia and Argentina suggest Les Bleus are on the march.

CAPTAIN: Pascal Pape

Saint-Andre has chosen to stick with the Stade Francais lock after he led Les Bleus to three wins from three during the autumn in the absence of Thierry Dusautoir.

STAR MAN: Frederic Michalak

Brought out of the international wilderness by Saint-Andre, the Toulon half-back enjoyed an outstanding autumn as he guided Les Bleus to wins over Australia, Argentina and Samoa from the number 10 shirt. Is showing the sort of form that marked him out as a star over a decade ago.

FORM SINCE 2012 SIX NATIONS: L (Arg) W (Arg) W (Aus) W (Arg) W (Sam)

Verdict: Starting to hit their stride under Saint-Andre, and France possess so much talent they must always start among the favourites. The coach will hope for consistency, but trips to Dublin and Twickenham will prove testing.

IRELAND

COACH: Declan Kidney

Kidney is under pressure after heavy defeats at the hands of England and New Zealand (twice) over the last 12 months. Ireland convincingly saw off an exhausted Argentina at the end of the autumn, but more is expected from the Six Nations.

CAPTAIN: Jamie Heaslip

The number eight surprisingly got the nod ahead of talismanic centre Brian O'Driscoll, but impressed when handed the role of skipper during the autumn and is seen by Kidney as Ireland's long-term leader.

STAR MAN: Rob Kearney

One of the best full-backs in the world. Kearney's excellence was one of the main reasons for Leinster's Heineken Cup triumph of last season. Immaculate under the high ball, with a booming left foot and sharp counter-attacking game, Ireland will be delighted to have him back from injury.

FORM SINCE 2012 SIX NATIONS: L (NZ) L (NZ) L (NZ) L (SA) W (Arg).

Verdict: Ireland have the raw materials to challenge any side on their day, the problem has been that those days have been few and far between of late. For a side containing talents such as O'Driscoll, Kearney, Jonathan Sexton, Sean O'Brien and Heaslip, they must do better.

ITALY

COACH: Jacques Brunel

The former coach of Colomiers and Perpignan acquitted himself well after succeeding Nick Mallett, but progress for the Azzurri is proving steady rather than spectacular. Defeated Scotland last season and should have beaten England. Will be seeking at least one win from home fixtures against Wales, France and Ireland.

CAPTAIN: Sergio Parisse

Italy's best player by some distance, the number eight would grace any side in the world game. A gifted and powerful ball carrier with a supreme attitude to the defensive side of the game who leads by example.

STAR MAN: Sergio Parisse

The likes of Andrea Masi and Alessandro Zanni are valuable contributors to the Italian cause, but they cannot touch Parisse's mix of athleticism and grit. Rugby followers can only wonder at the sort of impact he would make if he played for one of the international game's big guns.

FORM SINCE 2012 SIX NATIONS: L (Arg) W (Can) W (USA) W (Ton) L (NZ) L (Aus).

Verdict: Took the game to New Zealand and Australia in the autumn before falling to defeat, and will hope recent improvements can lead to a campaign including more than a solitary win. A handful at home and will fancy their chances at Murrayfield.

SCOTLAND

INTERIM COACH: Scott Johnson

The Australian has previously held roles with the Wallabies, Wales and the United States, and gets the chance to lead Scotland after Andy Robinson's departure. Few expectations to deal with, given Robinson won just two of his 15 Six Nations matches.

CAPTAIN: Kelly Brown

Flanker Kelly Brown has been chosen after taking the role towards the end of Andy Robinson's reign.

STAR MAN: Richie Gray

Gray may be playing in a struggling Sale team, but the distinctive lock forward remains one of Scotland's few world class players. The 23-year-old allies great athleticism around the field with his finesse as a reliable line-out forward.

FORM SINCE 2012 SIX NATIONS: W (Aus) W (Fij) W (Sam) L (NZ) L (SA) L (Ton)

Verdict: After a miserable autumn, a trip to face soaring England on the opening weekend is less than ideal. Johnson and his squad have nothing to lose, but hard to see anything other than a wooden spoon battle.

WALES

INTERIM COACH: Rob Howley

Howley finds himself in the uneviable position of trying to fill the shoes of Warren Gatland after the Kiwi guided Wales to the World Cup semi-finals and a Grand Slam. The former scrum-half is under pressure after a run of seven defeats and has got a long injury list to cope with.

CAPTAIN: Sam Warburton

The Cardiff Blues' man has been short of his best form so far this season, but remains a talismanic figure for Wales. Wales benefit immeasurably from his assured leadership and pilfering work at the breakdown, and he is a certainty to be a Lions tourist barring injury.

STAR MAN: Jonathan Davies

It says everything about Davies' form over the last 18 months that the New Zealand Herald selected him at centre in their World XV ahead of All Black Conrad Smith. Davies' combination of pace and power make him a handful for any defence and he has a knack of being in the right place at the right time.

FORM SINCE 2012 SIX NATIONS: W (Bar) L (Aus) L (Aus) L (Aus) L (Arg) L (Sam) L (NZ) L (Aus).

Verdict: Rarely can the defending champions have entered a Six Nations in such apparent difficulty. Autumn defeats to Argentina and Samoa were particularly worrying, and hopes of a Six Nations revival have been hamstrung by a crippling injury list. Unlikely to lift silverware this year.


Click here for completely free £10 bet with Sky Bet & £5 free every week