- Bite-sized guide to the RBS 6 Nations
- England play France on Saturday, 4 February
- Captain Hartley is solely focused on Les Bleus
With a week to go until the 2017 RBS 6 Nations gets underway, we take a look at some of the stories, stats and figures of the teams involved.
Since England's Grand Slam in last year's RBS 6 Nations, they have completed a summer whitewash of Australia and an autumn series-clean sweep, ending 2016 with 13 consecutive wins. Despite good form however, head coach Eddie Jones has warned his side of complacency, and has adopted a game-by-game mentality for this year's competition.
SQUAD UPDATE | James Haskell & Jack Clifford will arrive in Portugal today (6pm) to join-up with England’s RBS 6 Nations training squad. pic.twitter.com/DFlfS3RneG— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) January 25, 2017
Stories to look out for: Although injury concerns surround a number of key players, Jones' squad has been bolstered by the return of Maro Itoje, Anthony Watson, Jack Nowell, James Haskell and Jack Clifford; the quintet haven't played in an England shirt since June 2016. Jones also named three uncapped players in his squad: Alex Lozowski, Mike Williams and Nathan Catt.
Last year’s finish: 1st
Competition record: Played: 85, Won: 60, Drawn: 1, Lost: 24
Eddie Jones said: "We want to beat France. That is all we are worried about; it is only thing we are in control of. We beat France, then we will worry about what happens after that."
Les Bleus pushed Australia and New Zealand the full 80 minutes in their November 2016 meets, and for a time, looked likely to seal historic wins. England head coach Jones has branded them as one of the most improved teams in Europe, and under the guidance of Guy Noves - the former Toulouse head coach - they pose a real threat in this year's RBS 6 Nations.
Stories to look out for: There is much excitement and hope pinned on 22-year-old replacement scrum-half, Baptiste Seri, who boasts 24 points to his name after just five international caps. The youngster plies his trade at Bordeaux-Begles, and scored 12 points on his international debut against Argentina last June. The hulking figure of Mathieu Bastareaud has also returned to the French back-line, in the absence of Wesley Fofana.
Last year’s finish: 5th
Result against England last year: Lost (21-31)
Competition record: Played: 85, Won: 54, Drawn: 2, Lost: 29
Guy Noves said: “We cross the advantage line more than others, but we do not score, so the ratio is not very good. We have to try to reverse this ratio, and must be killers in some areas so that we can chase wins.”
Ireland were the only side to beat New Zealand in 2016, they also toppled Australia in Dublin and squeezed past South Africa in Cape Town. Joe Schmidt's men finished third in last year's competition, and are ranked the fourth best side in the world. They will be expected to do well in this year's RBS 6 Nations.
Stories to look out for: Irish club rugby is experiencing a resurgence in Europe, through the exploits of Leinster and Munster, and it is a trend Schmidt's men will be aiming to transfer onto the international stage.Three uncapped players have been drafted into the senior squad, in: Andrew Conway, Niall Scannell, and his brother Rory. The appointments come off the back of stellar performances for their respective provinces. They face England on the final day of the tournament.
Last year’s finish: 3rd
Result against England last year: Lost (21-10)
Competition record: Played: 85, Won: 55, Drawn: 3, Lost: 27
Joe Schmidt said: "We have to strive to get back in the top two again."
Italy have undergone a backroom-staff reshuffle since last year's competition, with former Harlequins head coach Conor O'Shea now at the reigns. Since his appointment, the Azzuri have beaten Canada, the USA and South Africa. Alongside attack coach - and former England international, Mike Catt - O'Shea has given Italian rugby a new lease of life.
Stories to look out for: Former London Irish player, and ex-Saracens head coach Brendan Venter, has been brought into the Italian set-up as a defence coach. The 47-year-old's tactics proved integral to the historic win over the Springboks, and his uncompromising style should reflect in the Azzuri's defence this year.
Last year’s finish: 6th
Result against England last year: Lost (9-40)
Competition record: Played: 85, Won:12, Drawn:1, Lost:72
Conor O’Shea said: "We want to make our supporters unbelievably proud of their team."
Scottish rugby has undergone a revival, with club side Glasgow Warriors making the last eight in the European Champions Cup for the first time in their history. Much of that side makes up the national squad, and so with continuity confirmed, and established names returning to the fold, Vern Cotter's men will be full of confidence heading into this year's RBS 6 Nations.
Stories to look out for: Full-back, Stuart Hogg, is set to earn his 50th cap in Scotland's second game - against France. 2017 will also be Vern Cotter's last Championship in-charge of the national team, as the reigns pass to Gregor Townsend at its conclusion.
Last year’s finish: 4th
Result against England last year: Lost (9-15)
Competition record: Played: 85, Won: 21, Drawn: 2, Lost: 62
Vern Cotter said: "We will be competitive, that is one of the aims. Feet on the ground, get stuck in, give it our best shot and see what happens."
With Rob Howley stepping-in as interim head coach in the absence of Warren Gatland, there has been a captaincy re-shuffle in the Welsh camp ahead of the Six Nations, with Alun Wyn Jones replacing Sam Warburton.
Stories to look out for: Howley has picked seven uncapped players. Thomas Young, Owen Williams, Olly Cracknell, Ashton Hewitt, Steffan Evans, Rory Thornton and Aled Davies have all been included in the senior squad ahead of Wales' first game, against Italy. They face England on 11 February at the Principality Stadium.
Last year’s finish: 2nd
Result against England last year: Lost (25-21)
Competition record: Played: 85, Won: 47, Drawn: 3, Lost: 35
Rob Howley said: "We back ourselves at the Principality Stadium and have a very good record in the RBS 6 Nations, in particular at home."