Outside view: What the experts think
Who will win and why? I'm not saying this because it's an Irish newspaper but I think it will be Ireland if they can keep key players like O'Driscoll and D'Arcy free from injury. And also if this young man Sean O'Brien, whom I respect immensely, keeps going so well . . . I was saying in Wales six months ago to watch this boy. France would win it every year if they played to their ability. But they never do. So Ireland.
I think it's too tight for a Grand Slam. In England we had one or two swallows in the autumn but they don't make a summer. Ireland had the setback of Munster failing to qualify for the quarter-finals in Europe though Leinster are going well -- as we shall see in Leicester -- while France had that horrible experience against Australia. And Wales got no teams at all into knock-out stages in the Heineken. If England can get a win in Cardiff, it will give us momentum. And the opposite if not. I'll say England because I want them to win! And a deciding game at the Aviva in the end.
I have a lot of time for Scotland if they can get a decent start against France, who I'd expect to win it. Italy are always a bit of a bogey team for us but even so I'd fancy Scotland to make the top three this year. They have a lot of togetherness from their performance in the November internationals -- their team spirit is good. England are on the way up as well.
Is there time to recover for the World Cup from a poor Six Nations?Yes, I think there is. If you look at Wales's situation where they've lost two world-class props before the start -- if it doesn't work out then at least you have them coming back and the confidence that would give you. Yes, I think the Six Nations will have a great bearing but you can still look at the World Cup and say: 'This is a separate competition and we can put our hands up if we get our players back'.
Everyone is going into the Six Nations looking for some real for confidence going into the World Cup. The warm-up matches in August are just that: getting players reacquainted with each other and the calls, etc. If you come out of the Six Nations not having done well then you've got a real job picking people up.
You're building from the autumn for the Six Nations and if you don't finish on a high I think you've still got time to rebuild it, you can still make changes. The World Cup is similar to the Six Nations in how it focuses the mind. A lot of rugby has to do with attitude and while you'd want to come out of the Six Nations with good results, it's not the end of the world if you don't.
Are we about to get our best tournament ever or does the game need more changes? I watched every game Wales played in the autumn internationals and we are still a long way behind New Zealand and Australia, who played tremendous rugby. Everything was geared towards counter-attack and all the players could handle the ball. It was magnificent. If we change our ways in the northern hemisphere and have the full-backs countering instead of kicking the ball back, I think we could have a tremendous Six Nations for fans and players alike. It depends on the outlook of the coaches.
I think we've had enough changes in the laws and the interpretations. We need some stability because even when there haven't been changes in law there have been changes in instruction or interpretation. Let's hope that we have some consistency now because it's a much better game than when I was playing: the level of teamwork, the physicality, the unit skills. It must be terrific to be part of it, particularly when it's all going well.
I think we're going to get a great Championship because it's so even, but are we going to get a lot of tries scored? I'm not so sure. There is still so much emphasis on defence and I wonder if there could be more incentives for the attacking side. I accept though that the more rewards there are for scoring tries the more likely you'll be to concede penalties. It's difficult.
-- BRENDAN FANNING
Sunday Indo Sport