Today, as France and Italy begin their first match, the 2012 Six Nations tournament start with more questions than certainties. After a very even World Cup, where no team with the exception of the champions New Zealand showed great supremacy or fire power, the performance of the European teams will be tested.
Even though European national leagues are an attractive destination for south hemisphere players, their national teams have historically fallen against their southern rivals. The last World Cup was an occasion for the Europeans to shorten the gap, and now it´s time for them to confirm the tendency.
All teams are in the process of renewing their roosters, with the possible exception of France, were Phillippe Saint-André was substituted as head coach by Marc Liévremont, who kept most players from the previous era but modified the main fifteen.
Ireland is always a promise, and after a wonderful World Cup, with astonishing victories over Australia and Italy only stained by some mistakes that determined a painful loss against Wales, is one team to watch. The new pair of centers, Murray and Sexton, will replace Stringer and O´Gara with continuity as a mission.
Wales is living the dream. With a very balanced combination of youth and experience, the Welsh face a real chance of winning the tournament, and they will surely take their shot.
Scotland is not doing great. In fact, scoring is as difficult to scots as it is for other teams to score in Murrayfield. So, even though they may not have the biggest chances, they are sure to be a rock in the shoe of anyone visiting Edinburgh.
Being realistic, Italy can only dream of running away from the Wooden Spoon, the prize awarded to the team that finishes last. Castrogiovanni and Parisse cannot by themselves form a competitive squad without significant help from the rest of the team.
England is always a candidate to the trophy, if not the Grand Slam. With a squad based in the Saracens spinal cord, the replacement coach Lancaster will try to exploit the potential of a young and strong squad.
All in all, only time will tell who comes away victorious, but it´s surely going to be an even tournament, where subtle differences in attitude, precision and accuracy will mark the difference.
The fifteen games will take place this weekends, and on the 11th, 12th, 25th and 26th of February, the 10th and 11th of March and the final three games on the 17th of February.