Shane Williams, the Welsh rugby legend, has been giving his thoughts to WalesOnline about the chances of each team at this year’s Six Nations tournament.
With the opening weekend now upon us, the former winger believes this year is one of the most wide-open competitions in history.
With many of the sides coming off successful autumns, the home nations especially, the victorious team on a weekly basis will be anyone’s guess.
Speaking about his home team’s chances, he said: “It’s hardly been ideal preparation for Warren Gatland and his squad with so many key men struck down by injury. I am sure Warren will remain positive.
"He will feel he has players who can step in and do a job during this Championship.
“There is not much to choose between Wales and the Scots, as we found in previous years, an opening win can make all the difference. There have been plenty of occasions we have seen Wales head into a Six Nations with little expectation. It only takes one win for all that to change.”
Wales have lost many top players to injury, like Sam Warburton and Jonathan Davies, but they aren’t the only ones to suffer key losses.
Another team to have had a similar fate befall them is England. Both Billy Vunipola and Eliot Daly will miss the entire tournament.
Williams doesn’t seem ready to acknowledge this, though, claiming that Eddie Jones is “playing the injury card” in an “attempt to deflect pressure onto others.”
He clearly feels their crisis is only minor, and confidently declared that: “They have played some great rugby under Jones over the last couple of seasons and for me are the side to beat again.”
Having their two most difficult games (Wales and Ireland) at home will certainly benefit the Three Lions.
As Williams correctly points out: “The defending champions have a ridiculous amount of depth across the board to cover most/any loss of personnel."
As for the Scots, they have enjoyed a successful period since the 2015 World Cup and begin to look like genuine contenders on the world stage.
Ross Ford and WP Nel are their only major casualties, and they’ll look to get off to a fast start against Wales in game-week one.
Williams concurs, believing that: “If Scotland return north with a win, they can be contenders.”
The last team to win the tournament apart from England was Ireland, and they will be hoping they take their autumn form into the competition.
Their impressive 38-3 win over the Springboks shows how strong they can be, and Williams believes that their challenge will come right down to the “mouth-watering” finale with England.
There is one thing, however, which is almost certain in his mind though: "It will be a major surprise if Italy don’t finish anywhere other than bottom of the pile.”
His prediction for the final table is as follows:
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