England: Jeremy Guscott – 65 caps 1989-99 – BBC TV
England’s chances England only have two games at home, against Wales and Ireland which makes it hard. And, in effect, they have a new team. A lot will depend on what happens against Scotland on Saturday at Murrayfield.
Winners Ireland, France and Wales are the favourites. I’m tipping Ireland because their guys are in top form with Munster, Leinster and Ulster.
Player to watch There’s been a lot of talk about Owen Farrell starting at fly-half for England. His kicking is outstanding. What’s pleasing is to see a 20-year-old with the composure to score crucial kicks in the Premier League and the Heineken Cup.
I’m not sure that you’re going to see him making breaks and scoring tries because he’s yet to show us that side of his game. But you cannot underestimate the strength he brings to the side, knowing that when the opposition give away penalties, Farrell is going to knock them over.
Where they can improve They want to play at a high tempo and use the back line more than in the past. England have a very useful back three, a steady midfield and two very good passers of the ball in Hodgson and Farrell. It’s a new team with no baggage and I hope that gives them the freedom to play.
Scotland: Gavin Hastings – 61 caps 1986-95 – Radio 5 Live
Scotland’s chances The opening game against England is going to set up the season. If Scotland don’t win the first game, it’s going to be backs-to-the-wall stuff. But I think with the competition condensed into seven weeks a couple of injuries to key players can make it tough and I think that’s just what’s happened to England already. It’s going to be interesting. If I had to pick a winner it would be France but I wouldn’t put a lot of money on them.
Player to watch Greig Laidlaw could play at fly-half and become one of the influential No 10s who run the show. He switched from scum-half at Edinburgh and he’s now captained the team to the Heineken Cup quarter final. He’s got what it takes to be a playmaker – he’s very composed – and he’s a fine kicker, too.
Where they can improve Scotland need to be more courageous in the way they play. They led for 75 minutes against England in the World Cup and, had they scored a try and driven home their advantage, they would have won. A failure to cross the try line has been the real Achilles’ heel of Scotland’s game over the past few seasons.
Home advantage With the pattern of fixtures offering a home match one year and away the next, it means you only play a side away from home once every two years. So players don’t get familiar with away grounds. If you lose one year, and then go back there two years later, it can be unsettling.
You might have a few team-mates who’ve tasted success there in the past, but few people in the side who have any confidence that you’re going to win away from home. It makes it tough – it’s all part of the unique quality of the 6 Nations.
Wales: Jonathan Davies – 37 caps 1985-97 – BBC TV
Wales’ chances It’s between Wales and France but I’m quietly confident Wales can do it. They have composure, a good balance between backs and forwards and they look comfortable with what they’re trying to achieve. If Wales can generate the mentality they had in the World Cup, they can win the Six Nations.
Player to watch Toby Faletau is such an exciting prospect at No 8. He’s only 21 and he’s a dynamic player as we saw in the World Cup when he scored against South Africa. He has great balance and athleticism, and he reads the game well. Since then he’s grown in stature and confidence for the Newport Gwent Dragons. With his power, he’s a tremendously exciting ball carrier.
Where they can improve The set pieces are crucial – if Wales win clean possession at scrums and lineouts, they can play an expansive game. Rhys Priestland has great vision as a stand-off and if it’s there to play, he will orchestrate the rest of the three quarters. They have to show they can improve when they have got the ball. I don’t want to go back to watching Wales as a team that plays off scraps.
Gavin Henson He isn’t in the squad on form, he’s there on reputation and also he’s there because his presence will kick a few players up the backside. He has an opportunity to show what he can do in camp. The problem is that we end up talking about what he did years ago not what he’s done lately.
Ireland: Denis Hickie – 62 caps 1997-2007 – Radio 5 Live
Ireland’s chances It’s a very open competition but Ireland can definitely win. With all three of the Irish provinces in the last eight of the Heineken Cup, we can see this is a team with a lot of players in form. But a huge amount rides on the opener at home to Wales.
Player to watch Flanker Stephen Ferris is going to have a fantastic tournament. He’s a big, strong No 6, playing on the blind side. Watch for him around the fringes, carrying the ball forward. What he does really well is to make a half-break and then offloading in the tackle. And, in defence, Ferris makes big hits.
Where they can improve What let Ireland down in the World Cup was their defence. Ironically, in the 6 Nations last year there was a ferocity and an intensity to their defence that won them games. So they have to restore that quality but where they will want to improve is in quick recycling of the ball.
Out of action It’s the first Six Nations since 2000 that won’t feature Brian O’Driscoll. It’s a testament to his stature as the player of his generation. Twelve years after his debut in the competition people are saying Ireland are really going to miss him. But the back line are used to playing without him, at least at province level. Who will step in? I don’t know but the selectors won’t be gambling on a fresh approach.