The 2012 RBS Six Nations kicks off on Saturday 4th February, the 13th tournament in its present format and the 118th overall. France are clear favourites for the title (best price 2.63, Coral) under new coach Philippe Saint-André, while England and Italy also come into the tournament under new management. The Six Nations certainly promises to be an intriguing and open competition this time around. Here’s a run down of teams and their chances of winning.

England


Coach: Stuart Lancaster
Captain: Chris Robshaw
Form: WWWWL
RP.com Prediction: 4th
Current Odds: 5.50 (Stan James, William Hill)

Key men:
Last year’s top try scorer Chris Ashton will need to be on top form if England are to succeed, while last year’s points scorer Toby Flood is now the most experienced player in England’s Six Nations squad, with 46 caps.

Summary:
England come into the 2012 Six Nations off the back of a disappointing World Cup performance, marred by scandal and controversy off the pitch, and sloppiness and poor under-achievement on it. Under caretaker coach Stuart Lancaster, England are a side in transition. England may have won the title in 2011, but expectations are lower this time around and a respectable showing with positive signs for the future will do for the fans.

Third place is England’s most realistic hope, but if the young guns can win their opening tie against old foes Scotland, before beating Italy to raise confidence further, who knows what could happen?

France


Coach: Philippe Saint-André
Captain: Thierry Dusautoir
Form: LLWWL
RP.com Prediction: 1st
Current Odds: 2.63 (Coral)

Key men:
The French side is built around captain and IRB Player of the Year Thierry Dusautoir, while the vastly experienced Imanol Harinordoquy is arguably the best Number 8 in the world and was hugely responsible for France’s massive turnaround in form during the World Cup back in the summer.

Summary:
After proving the doubters wrong and making the World Cup final, French expectations will rightly be high ahead of the 2012 Six Nations Championship, particularly with the arrival of new coach Philippe Saint-André, who appears to be placing the emphasis on professionalism, rather than flair and egos. Although the French will have the least preparation time of the six sides, they do have a nice easy opening game at home to Italy, ahead of a crucial match against Ireland, which will also be on home soil. Those games could prove key to building confidence and momentum this Six Nations tournament.

Ireland


Coach: Declan Kidney
Captain: Paul O’Connell
Form: WWWWL
RP.com Prediction: 2nd
Current Odds: 6.00 (Betfred)

Key men:
Stephen Ferris and Sean O’Brien have been in top form of late and had impressive World Cup campaigns. The powerful forwards will play key roles in any Irish success.

Summary:
Ireland have a tricky opening match against Wales in the 2012 Six Nations, but they are at home, which could prove crucial. Their second match is a trip to France and if they can emerge from those two matches with positive results, then the rest of the tournament should be doddle and anything less than second place will be a massive failure in those smiling eyes of the Irish supporters. The squad may be ageing, but Ireland are one of the more settled sides in the contest, which should be to their advantage.

Italy


Coach: Jacques Brunel
Captain: Sergio Parisse
Form: LLWWL
RP.com Prediction: 6th
Current Odds: 201.00 (Stan James, BetVictor)

Key men:
Andre Masi was the first Italian player to collect the Player of the Tournament award at last year’s Six Nations, but as always, Italy’s key player will be the indomitable Sergio Parisse, one of the best back row players in the world and an inspirational captain.

Summary:
Perennial Six Nations strugglers Italy look set for another wooden spoon battle, but at last year’s Six Nations, they raised the bar a notch. Not only did they beat France in a truly memorable encounter, but they really gave Ireland a game too and were desperately unlucky to lose to a late drop goal. With new coach Jacques Brunel looking to build on that platform, talking of a more expansive game and believing that he can make Italy into genuine contenders in just two years, it remains to be seen whether or not last year’s Six Nations heroics can be repeated – or maybe even bettered.

Scotland


Coach: Andy Robinson
Captain: Ross Ford
Form: WWWLL
RP.com Prediction: 5th
Current Odds: 26.00 (SportingBetLadbrokesWilliam Hill)

Key men:
Stand in captain Ross Ford will be expected to lead from the front, while Dan Parks is going to need to shine with the boot, if Scotland are going to have any joy in the 2012 Six Nations.

Summary:
Scotland were poor during the World Cup and a chronic lack of tries has seen them struggle of late. In fact, the Scots have scored just 20 tries in their last 24 test matches and with the recent retirement of ultra reliable kicker Chris Patterson, it’s tough to see where the points are going to come from. However, with the opening 2012 Six Nations tie against old rivals England – a fixture that always brings out the best in Scotland – on home soil, Scotland have every chance of getting all the points against a transitional England team. If Scotland can get a result in that game, confidence will be high and a strong Six Nations campaign could well follow; lose however, and it looks like another wooden spoon battle with the Italians.

Wales


Coach: Warren Gatland
Captain: Sam Warburton
Form: WWLLL
RP.com Prediction: 3rd
Current Odds: 4.00 (SportingBet, Ladbrokes)

Key men:
19 year old George North is the perfect replacement for outgoing wing legend Shane Williams, while 21 year old Toby Faletau had a storming World Cup. If these youngsters continue to shine, the future of Welsh rugby looks particularly bright.

Summary:
Wales have received a kind draw for the 2012 Six Nations, with three of their games to be played on home soil, including what could be a crunch tie against France. They have to travel to Ireland for a tricky opening fixture, but the two met during the World Cup in the summer and Wales triumphed, so confidence will be high. The only negative for Welsh prospects is the injury list, that has seen the likes of Alun-Wyn Jones and Lloyd Burns miss the tournament, while Gethin Jenkins will miss the crucial opening fixture.

Conclusions


It’s safe to say that the 2012 RBS Six Nations looks open and it’s really tough to call the winner. One bet that does look safe is the “No Grand Slam Winner”, though it won’t make you rich at a best price of 1.73 (Coral).

There are a few Six Nations bets out there that make some appeal though, if only to keep things interesting throughout the tournament. Stan James are offering 4.00 about Scotland collecting the wooden spoon – a very serious risk given the Italian performance at last year’s competition, especially if Scotland fail to fire in their opening match against England. The final match of the 2012 campaign for Scotland is in Rome and with the home support, maybe Italy can spring a surprise?

Another bet that I quite like is the 2.75 offered by Stan James about France finishing as the top try scoring nation. The French have outscored almost everyone in the last few Six Nations campaigns, consistently reaching double figures in the try scoring department. With a depth of talent all over the field and the squad almost certain to be rotated, it’s tough to nail down one French player who could finish as overall top try scorer in the competition, but France certainly look the best bet as a team to outscore the other five sides.


Bet on the 2012 RBS Six nations with Coral

France – 2.63
Wales – 3.75
England – 5.00
Ireland – 5.00
Scotland – 26.00
Italy – 151.00