Andrew Baldock: Expect the unexpected in the Six Nations
IF THE bookmakers have got it right then this season's RBS 6 Nations Championship title race will be a head-to-head between England and France.
And based on the most recent form guide - this season's autumn internationals - it is hard to dispute that theory.
Both countries posted notable victories during November, with England famously beating world champions New Zealand and France crushing Australia.
In contrast, defending Six Nations champions Wales lost all four of their November fixtures; Ireland beat Argentina, but lost a game they should have arguably won against South Africa; Scotland suffered three defeats, including at home to Tonga; and Italy were beaten by New Zealand and Australia.
But the beauty of the Six Nations is that, more often than not, you just never know what will happen. And this season is no exception.
Yes, the title could effectively be decided by England's late February appointment with France at Twickenham, yet it is a competition when expecting the unexpected should never be dismissed.
Who is to say that Wales will not lose their opening game at home to Ireland on Saturday week - and then beat France in Paris seven days later?
What price Ireland winning in Cardiff before losing to England at home eight days later? What odds on Scotland suffering a Murrayfield defeat against Italy and then defeating Ireland a fortnight later?
The predictability and unpredictability of the Six Nations go in hand. No-one can say with any great sense of surety where the silverware will end up two months from now.
Assessing next week's opener against injury-hit Wales, Ireland captain Jamie Heaslip said: "Their results in November (Wales lost all four of their autumn Tests) don't really reflect their form. One or two scores could have made it a very different outcome.
"The first game is a massive momentum builder. You can't win a Grand Slam in the first game, but you can lose it."
England start at home to Scotland - the Scots have not tasted Twickenham success for 30 years - but red rose boss Stuart Lancaster said: "It doesn't matter which way you look at it, Scotland at home with a new coaching team is a difficult fixture.
"Two years ago we'd won four out of four and got thrashed in Ireland, and two years before that we got beaten by even more in Croke Park.
"We beat France away last year so they are motivated coming to Twickenham, and the list goes on why every game is going to be tough."
This week's Six Nations media launch in London was accompanied by an air of optimism that pervades all coaches and captains before the serious business begins.
Yes, the form guide is there - one which the bookies accurately reflect - but chances of the exact finishing order they predict turning out that way are a long shot.
Aviva Premiership club Worcester are involved in tests that could lead to new goal-line technology being introduced to the sport.
GoalScan has been created by Hereford-based technology company IA Technology Limited, which is aimed at removing any doubt as to whether a penalty, conversion or drop goal has been successful or not.
They have designed a device that generates an electronic curtain which, when intruded by a rugby ball, transmits a signal to the referee. It will also, if required, activate flashing lights within the bar, LCD units and television monitors.
The company now hope that GoalScan can be progressed in partnership with the International Rugby Board, with Worcester's players due to test the device at Sixways this week.
"We have experienced some doubtful decisions here at Sixways Stadium, so when I was approached by IA Technology we immediately thought it was a great idea," Worcester chairman Cecil Duckworth said.
"I contacted the Rugby Football Union, who were also very impressed. Hopefully, it will be accepted by the IRB, and I give the project my wholehearted support."
The company say benefits of GoalScan will empower referees, offer an instant verdict with no delays in play, will be interchangeable with other rugby grounds and is cost-effective when compared to technology used in other sports like tennis.
If current experiments prove successful, it is planned to design and build prototypes for trial at Twickenham.