Six Nations: Team-by-team guide

  • Last Updated: January 27 2014, 23:55 GMT

Check out our team profiles for England, Wales, France, Ireland, Scotland, and Italy ahead of the Six Nations.

Stuart Lancaster: Aiming for Six Nations glory
Stuart Lancaster: Aiming for Six Nations glory

ENGLAND

Coach: STUART LANCASTER

Attacking fluency remains England's missing ingredient, with Lancaster at pains to add cohesion behind the scrum.

Owen Farrell starts the tournament as clear first-choice fly-half, but Lancaster's next decisions at centre could come to define his tenure.

Restore fit-again Brad Barritt at 12 as defensive fulcrum extraordinaire, or persevere with playmaker Billy Twelvetrees in a bid for balance in attack.

The reality could be far less clear-cut, with Barritt potentially outside Twelvetrees at 13 in the absence of Manu Tuilagi.

Bath's George Ford will be a wildcard offensive option at outside-half.

As thoughts start to turn to the World Cup in 2015, Lancaster knows it is time for England to hone their attacking personality.

CAPTAIN: CHRIS ROBSHAW

Lancaster has kept faith with Harlequins flanker Robshaw, in the face of temptation to hand the role to Northampton loose forward Tom Wood.

It is the clearest indication yet that Lancaster sees Robshaw in the role for the World Cup.

While Robshaw may be Lancaster's chief lieutenant, there are still those who suggest he is not the natural foraging openside England need to balance their back-row unit.

If Gloucester's Matt Kvesic is to be the coming man in that position, he will have a job to oust the skipper.

STAR MAN: COURTNEY LAWES

England's injury glut leaves some eight frontline stars either out altogether or big doubts for any action in the championship.

So in truth head coach Lancaster's main star men will probably be missing, prop Alex Corbisiero and Tuilagi both pivotal losses.

Leicester lock Geoff Parling's absence paves the way for Northampton's Lawes to partner Joe Launchbury in the second row.

Exocet tackling, confrontational ball-carrying, line-out potency and plenty of back-row experience mean it is time for the man from Franklin's Gardens to come of age in the international arena.

FORM SINCE 2013 SIX NATIONS

W (Arg) W (Arg) W (Aus) W (Arg) L (NZ)

_____________________________________________________________

Back England at 12/5 to win the Six Nations
_____________________________________________________________

WALES

COACH: WARREN GATLAND

Gatland has already coached Wales longer than anyone else, but extended his tenure to 2019 with a new contract in December.

The victorious British and Irish Lions boss will lead Wales gunning for a record third-straight title, and his side are rightly installed as tournament favourites.

With exacting standards in preparation and action, Gatland neither suffers fools nor rules with a complete iron fist.

His measured approach earns wide plaudits outside the squad and huge loyalty within it.

CAPTAIN: SAM WARBURTON

The Lions skipper's long-term future remains as up in the air as the entire set-up of Welsh rugby, with the civil war between clubs and union showing no signs of abating.

But Warburton's ultra-professional approach and his humility will allow him to put aside his uncertain whereabouts for next season.

Whether he will remain at Cardiff Blues, be under a central contract or even move to an Aviva Premiership club for next year, once the Six Nations kicks off none of that will matter.

His tenacity and accuracy at the breakdown are all-but unrivalled in the northern hemisphere, and he is no slouch with ball in hand either.

STAR MAN: GEORGE NORTH

A wrecking-ball when he darts off his wing, a deadly finisher when he stays on it.

A terror under the high ball, a physical presence in defence, and a wing with quick feet for a big man too.

North could just about be the professional era's prototype star, but he is certainly Wales' chief asset and ready to torment defences at every turn.

Settled into life at Northampton, the former Scarlet has been in rich form.

Opposition coaches will have spent weeks and months devising complex plans designed simply to stop this express-train defence-buster, make no mistake about that.

FORM SINCE 2013 SIX NATIONS

W (Jpn) L (Jpn) W (SA) W (Arg) W (Tonga) L (Aus)
_____________________________________________________________

Back Wales at 15/8 to win the Six Nations
_____________________________________________________________

FRANCE

COACH: PHILIPPE SAINT-ANDRE

The former Gloucester coach has stopped short of sweeping change, but has still opted to dispense with several high-profile and experienced stagers.

Fly-halves Francois Trinh-Duc and Frederic Michalak have both been discarded.

Neither has ever managed expert control of France's notoriously fickle rudder, but many coaches would still have persevered with both, and most with Trinh-Duc.

Uncapped Stade Francais out-half Jules Plisson comes in, rewarded for more than holding his own against experienced Springbok club-mate and rival Morne Steyn.

The French Top 14's obsession with size and power, and their sometimes wanton disregard for regimented conditioning programmes, might suit club rugby across the Channel.

The danger is that the French clubs' size and weight race could leave Saint-Andre's international pack that half-yard short of world-class pace.

CAPTAIN: PASCAL PAPE

The stand-in skipper has led France in regular captain Thierry Dusautoir's absence in the last two years.

Openside flanker Dusautoir's torn biceps is a huge blow to France, who rightly rely on the Toulouse dynamo to drive their pace, intensity and aggression.

Toulon's Virgile Bruni replaces Dusautoir in the back row, but France will miss their metronome, and Pape must step up to drive tempo and rhythm.

STAR MAN: WESLEY FOFANA

An outside centre who has everything, but who naturally relies to some extent on the quality of ball provided by his pack.

Clermont's regal 13 can still make something out of nothing, but is at his best cutting scything outside lines to capitalise on front-foot ball.

France must create the opportunities to set Fofana free, while opposition defences will know they can ill afford to give the 25-year-old any space or time on the ball.

FORM SINCE 2013 SIX NATIONS

L (NZ) L (NZ) L (NZ) L (NZ) W (Tonga) L (SA)
_____________________________________________________________

Back France at 5/2 to win the Six Nations
_____________________________________________________________

IRELAND

COACH: JOE SCHMIDT

The former New Zealand schoolteacher got to grips with his new job in the autumn, with Ireland so nearly toppling the All Blacks in that agonising 24-22 defeat in Dublin.

Schmidt's exacting and meticulous gameplan and systems took longer than expected for the players to grasp, those at least who had not been coached by the Kiwi at Leinster.

The Munster and Ulster nucleus for example conceded they had spent too long focusing on structure and not enough time firing themselves up for the frustrating and comprehensive Australia defeat.

All that changed with the tenacity displayed against New Zealand, and now Schmidt's task is to find greater harmony between the two vital elements.

CAPTAIN: PAUL O'CONNELL

Munster's warhorse lock still has designs on next year's World Cup, and with the way the Irish provinces and national side look after their top stars, there should be no betting against it.

The 34-year-old has committed himself to home province Munster by signing a new two-year deal, rejecting advances from the Top 14 in France.

All that aside, the talismanic lock will be desperate to reproduce the bullishness shown in that November New Zealand clash.

On-field leadership will be crucial to Ireland sustaining their physicality, mindset and grit, and O'Connell knows he will be central to all of the above.

STAR MAN: BRIAN O'DRISCOLL

Though the former Ireland and British and Irish Lions captain will retire at the end of the season, at times it seems even he cannot quite believe it.

Poised to eclipse Ronan O'Gara's Irish caps record of 128, the Leinster centre will be 35 by the time the tournament starts.

O'Driscoll will never now manage a win over New Zealand after that last-gasp Dublin defeat in November, so will turn his attention instead to one final Six Nations tilt.

So totemic against the All Blacks, O'Driscoll's great and myriad powers are waning, however.

No longer can the Leinster stalwart scythe defensive lines from deep, hampered slightly by his faded half-yard of pace.

He may well not waltz through backlines as in Australia for the Lions in 2001, but anyone who takes O'Driscoll lightly is forgetting his world-class abilities in defence.

Still one of the best over the tackle area, O'Driscoll's miserly and aggressive work without the ball keep him a prize asset for Schmidt.

FORM SINCE 2013 SIX NATIONS

W (USA) W (Can) W (Sam) L (Aus) L (NZ)
_____________________________________________________________

Back Ireland at 11/2 to win the Six Nations
_____________________________________________________________

SCOTLAND

COACH: SCOTT JOHNSON

Mind games, forceful personality and big hair: the garrulous Aussie is never dull, but neither is he anyone's fool.

Brazen, brash and straight-talking, he is also one of the game's shrewdest operators.

Johnson will need all his tactical insight to drive Scotland into any kind of even keel in this tournament though, when the realities of his squad are accepted.

Passion, commitment and desire are not in question one iota, but midfield invention most certainly is.

His biggest challenge will be to unearth some inside-back ingenuity.

CAPTAIN: KELLY BROWN

Saracens' marauding loose forward will get the nod, provided he wins the number seven shirt.

Coach Johnson's latest ploy to keep his squad on their toes is to pitch Brown into a straight fight with Glasgow's Chris Fusaro for the openside role.

The 31-year-old ought to withstand pressure from the new squad addition, but faces a battle nonetheless.

Should Brown come through as expected, his relentless qualities will once again suit the Scots down to the ground.

STAR MAN: STUART HOGG

For that missing inside-back guile Scotland and Johnson should look no further.

Full-back or fly-half, Hogg has carved open the best of defences.

Scotland could do far worse than employ Hogg as an auxiliary midfield playmaker while retaining the 15 shirt, as England have tried with Alex Goode.

If Johnson feels Hogg is not brutal enough in defence to warrant a centre berth, at least that way he can exploit the Glasgow livewire's attacking instincts for all they are worth.

FORM SINCE 2013 SIX NATIONS

L (Sam) L (SA) W (Ita) W (Jpn) L (SA) L (Aus)
_____________________________________________________________

Back Scotland at 33/1 to win the Six Nations
_____________________________________________________________

ITALY

COACH: JACQUES BRUNEL

The bespectacled Frenchman guided Perpignan to the Top 14 title in 2009 after a European Challenge Cup triumph with Colomiers.

Silverware is not realistically in his or Italy's sights but the ambitions and the methods remain admirably lofty.

A canny coach that builds Italy teams in his image, expecting them to survive on their wiles and be resourceful enough to make the sum exceed the parts.

CAPTAIN: SERGIO PARISSE

As subtle as they come with the hands and vision of an international three-quarter, Parisse also boasts the bite of a back-row combat veteran.

The Stade Francais stalwart remains Italy's talisman and clear standout star.

Many of his talent would decry the lack of peers of equal ability, but Parisse is far too polished, and frankly, too good to worry.

Instead at times he drags his team-mates kicking and screaming to his near-matchless level.

Genius, artistry, work-rate and incision: not a bad combination.

STAR MAN: MARTIN CASTROGIOVANNI

For variety's sake the former Leicester scrummage cornerstone is shoe-horned in ahead of the peerless Parisse.

Castrogiovanni may not be the force of yesteryear, but one sighting of his shock of mottled hair is still enough to raise the hackles of any hardened loosehead in Europe.

Sharing duties with Carl Hayman at Heineken Cup champions Toulon is bound to keep mind and frame sharp, and Italy will need big Castro with both elements in top gear.

Loves a midfield trundle and a tight-exchange tussle, his infectious and boundless exuberance are always a feature of the Italian fight.

FORM SINCE 2013 SIX NATIONS

L (SA) L (Sam) L (Sco) L (Aus) W (Fij) L (Arg)
_____________________________________________________________

Back Italy at 100/1 to win the Six Nations
_____________________________________________________________

_____________________________________________________________

New Sky Bet customers: Free matched bet up to £30
_____________________________________________________________