The 2021 Six Nations Championship kicks off on Saturday, a little over three months after England were crowned 2020 kings of Europe at the end of a Coronavirus-stalled tournament.
Rugby fans were sweating on the French authorities giving the green light for teams to swerve Covid-19 quarantine restrictions, with confirmation coming earlier this week.
It paves the way for 15 fixtures over five weekends between now and 20 March, as France, Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Italy attempt to topple Eddie Jones’ Red Roses.
Six Nations 2021: Predictions for Saturday, 6 February
Prediction methodology explained: The expected win percentage is based off publicly available odds. For example, if a team’s odds are 2.30, the expected chance of winning is 43%. If the odds are 1.62 the expected chance of winning is 62% and so on. These are accurate at the time of writing but are subject to change. Where there is no value listed, the odds were not available at the time of writing. Score margins use the methodology developed by Rugby Vision.
Italy vs France
France kick off their 2021 Six Nations campaign in Italy on Saturday, looking to go one step further to lift the crown after being denied by England in 2020’s delayed finale.
This weekend’s opener comes too soon for injured fly-half Romain Ntamack, meaning Mathieu Jalibert comes in.
Gregory Alldritt has made it in time, though, to anchor the scrum, with star wing Damian Penaud also making it as far as the bench.
Italy will give full debuts to centre Ignacio Brex and Michele Lamaro at eighth man, with rookies Paolo Gabrisi and Stephen Varney pairing up in the half-backs.
Azzurri coach Franco Smith is attempting to steer the country to a first Six Nations win since 2015 at the Stadio Olimpico.
Italy Starting XV: Trulla; Sperandio, Zanon, Brex, Ioane; Garbisi, Varney; Traore, Bigi, Riccioni, Lazzaroni, Sisi, Negri, Meyer, Lamaro.
Replacements: Lucchesi, Fischetti, Zilocchi, Cannone, Ruzza, Mbanda, Palazzani, Canna.
France Starting XV: Dulin; Thomas, Vincent, Fickou, Villiere; Jalibert, Dupont; Baille, Marchand, Haouas, Le Roux, Willemse, Cretin, Alldritt, Ollivon.
Replacements: Bourgarit, Gros, Aldegheri, Taofifenua, Jelonch, Serin, Carbonel, Penaud.
England vs Scotland
Old rivals England and Scotland kick off this year’s competition with a bang in a Calcutta Cup clash at Twickenham on Saturday.
Owen Farrell captains the home side in London, with Ollie Lawrence making his bow in the competition in place of Manu Tuilagi.
The Red Rose are battling a host of absences in the pack with Kyle Sinckler, Mako Vunipola, Joe Launchbury and Sam Underhill all missing, with the mercurial Joe Marler pulling out for personal reasons.
Cameron Redpath will make his Scotland debut, despite having played for the Auld Enemy at youth level.
Finn Russell makes his return after missing the Autumn Nations Cup through injury, while Fraser Brown and Stuart McInally both miss out through injury.
England Starting XV: Daly; Watson, Slade, Lawrence, May; Farrell, Youngs; Genge, George, Stuart, Itoje, Hill, Wilson, Curry, B Vunipola.
Replacements: Cowan-Dickie, Obano, Williams, Lawes, Earl, Robson, Ford, Malins.
Scotland Starting XV: Hogg; Maitland, Harris, Redpath, Van der Merwe, Russell, Price; Sutherland, Turner, Z Fagerson, Cummings, J Gray, Ritchie, Watson, M Fagerson.
Replacements: Cherry, Kebble, WP Nel, R Gray, Graham, Steele, Van der Walt, Jones.
Six Nations 2021: Predictions for Sunday 7 February
Wales vs Ireland
Wales and Ireland do battle in the Six Nations Championship at the Principality Stadium, as the pair begin their campaigns in Cardiff.
Ireland have undergone a period of transformation under English coach Andy Farrell during his first year in charge.
The visitors are missing wing Jacob Stockdale for the competition opener but are able to welcome back Jordan Larmour to the squad.
Wales will be without Josh Adams, after the winger was suspended for breaching Covid-19 regulations in the build up to the first weekend.
Liam Williams is also banned for Wayne Pivac’s men.
Wales Starting XV:
Leigh Halfpenny; Louis Rees-Zammit, George North, Johnny Williams, Hallam Amos; Dan Biggar, Tomos Williams; Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, Tomas Francis, Adam Beard, Alun Wyn Jones (capt), Dan Lydiate, Justin Tipuric, Taulupe Faletau.
Replacements: Elliot Dee, Rhodri Jones, Leon Brown, Will Rowlands, Josh Navidi, Gareth Davies, Callum Sheedy, Nick Tompkins.
Ireland Starting XV:
Keenan, Earls, Ringrose; Henshaw, Lowe; Sexton, Murray; Healy, Herring, Porter, Beirne, Ryan, O’Mahony, Van der Flier, Stander.
Replacements: Kelleher, Kilcoyne, Furlong, Henderson, Connors, Gibson Park, Burns, Larmour.