An American guide to the Six Nations Championship
Distract yourself from the scene in the US at the moment to watch some international rugby union.
As the conclusion of the NFL season approaches, and the dead zone of the American sports calendar begins, let's step away from the United States for a bit (and let's be honest, who wouldn’t right now?!) to look at one of the most historic tournaments in the world.
What is the Six Nations Championship?
The Six Nations Championship is an annual rugby union tournament that takes place between England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland (otherwise known as the Home Nations), France and Italy.
The tournament started in 1883 as the Home Nations tournament with England, Ireland Scotland and Wales. France was added in 1910 and Italy is the most recent team, playing their first tournament in 2000.
England are the defending champions and have the most outright wins with 27, followed closely by Wales who have 26.
What are the major talking points?
England are coming off an undefeated 2016 campaign under head coach Eddie Jones.
The Red and Whites have won 13 consecutive matches, which included the Grand Slam last year, which means England beat all five of their Six Nations opponents.
The England side have been dealing with a lot of injuries to key players such as Anthony Watson, Chris Robshaw and Billy Vunipola but they will be looking to continue their run of good form.
Ireland are coming off their biggest win in a century when they beat the New Zealand All Blacks in Chicago in their fall series.
Ireland are a very young side as 19 players on their roster have less than 10 caps. The Irish side will be looking to bounce back after a disappointing 2016 campaign where they finished third.
Always a consistent side, Wales will be looking to win their first championship since 2013. The Welsh finished second to a dominant England team last year, and will be looking to exact their revenge at Millennium Stadium on February 11th.
Who are the players to watch?
For England, two players to watch are Owen Farrell and Maro Itoje. Farrell now sits second in the England all-time leading points scorers, only behind legendary fly-half Jonny Wilkinson.
Itoje makes his return to the England lineup after missing all of the fall tests, and will be placed in a new position in the back row by moving from second-row to flanker.
Scotland's Stuart Hogg has been in incredible form as of late. If Scotland wants to make some noise this tournament, Hogg needs to be at his best.
France’s Louis Picamoles is the only player on the French squad who plays outside of France, playing his trade at Northampton Saints.
The number-eight will look to dominate the scrum, especially with England’s injuries.
Who are the favorites?
Despite the injuries, it is silly to bet against England. They are the most talented team, with a deep roster that should allow them to cruise through the tournament. Still, do not count out the Irish and Welsh.