Ireland look most likely to challenge England for the Six Nations crown

England captain Dylan Hartley and head coach Eddie Jones with the Six Nations trophy. Picture: John

England captain Dylan Hartley and head coach Eddie Jones with the Six Nations trophy. Picture: John Walton/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Norwich RFC head coach Jonny O'Brien returns with his thoughts ahead of battle beginning in this year's Six Nations.

What an exciting Six Nations we have ahead of us.

A new bonus point system is being tested in this year's competition which encourages teams to score more tries which can only be a good thing. England go in as favourites and are still unbeaten in the Eddie Jones era. Similarities are being drawn with the 2003 World Cup winning team; how far can this team go?

One of my other fancied teams are Ireland. In November they did the impossible and beat New Zealand in an historic victory. Ireland coach Joe Schmidt admits that this year's aim is to finish in the top two, which certainly looks achievable.

Wales have had a change in leadership on and off the field with Rob Howley taking over as coach – he's been less than impressive. Alun Wyn Jones takes over from the ever-impressive Sam Warburton as captain.

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Scotland look like an improving side and with a large contingent of Glasgow players who for the first time have made it through to the knockout stages of the European Champions Cup. Could they be the surprise package?

France, the serial underachievers, can never be written off. The amount of highly-paid foreign players plying their trade in France is having a negative effect on the national team. They seem to lack a clear game-plan and have lost the flair they are so well known for.

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I feel it's going to be a tough competition for Italy. Last year they didn't win a match and I can see history repeating itself.

The opening game is Scotland v Ireland at Murrayfield, which should be a close affair. The tactical kicking and forward dominance of Ireland against the exciting and creative Scottish back-line should make an enthralling start to the competition. I feel Scotland could upset one of the early favourites.

England v France at Twickenham should be a feisty affair, with both teams losing players to injury. For me, France create plenty of chances but aren't clinical and England certainly are. England to win.

Sunday's game is Italy v Wales and although not firing on all cylinders I expect Wales to win comfortably.

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