Itâ€™s nearing the end of January, and once more the Six Nations is beginning to edge over the horizon, with the first games taking place on the 2nd February.
Like many of you, my attention begins to turn towards who will win, can anyone get a Grand Slam, and are there any Dark Horses?
When looking at the teams at the moment, there seem to be a few accepted truths about them. England are on the rise, Wales are a force declining, Ireland likewise, France look strong, Scotland are all over the place and Italy are, well, Italy.
These judgements are all made on sound enough evidence, but in my view they are a bit too narrow, they feel like almost lazy judgements.
So in this latest Uncut piece, Iâ€™ll take a slightly (only slightly) deeper look at each side, and assess where I think they will finish.
England were, without question, fantastic in beating New Zealand in the QBE Internationals. The attacking flair and dynamism across their play, at the breakdown, in backplay, in defence, was excellent.
They have been growing as a force ever since Stuart Lancaster took over the Head Coaching role, taking a surprise second place in last seasonâ€™s Six Nations.
However, against South Africa and Australia they were poor, or at least in attack they were poor, defensively they looked very solid. What those who cite the All Blacksâ€™ result as evidence for Englandâ€™s progress forget is that come Scotland on the 2nd February, England are as likely to perform as they did against South Africa as they are to perform like they did against the All Blacks.
If they play like they did against the All Blacks England can win a Grand Slam, play like they did against South Africa and they will end up in a defensive battle in every game, with the result hanging on the lottery of who kicks their goals better.Â
In terms of depth of talent, France should win the Six Nations. Their player base is unbelievable, as the form of the French sides in the Heineken Cup shows. A fantastic summer tour, plus an excellent autumn series has the French as most peopleâ€™s favourites for the Six Nations, and it is hard to disagree.
Under Phillipe Saint Andre they have turned to a more restrained, less flamboyant style of play, though with Freddie Michalak pulling the strings at fly half, magic is never too far away.
The worry for me with the French though is the same worry that comes with the French every year, inconsistency and divisive decisions. I think the inconsistency has been somewhat ironed out by Saint Andreâ€™s style of play, but his decision not to give the returning Thierry Dusautoir the captaincy seems like a major division just waiting to happen.
They could finish anywhere from first to fifth, they should win it. They certainly wont lose to Italy again though, that hurt.
Injuries. Injuries have been the curse for this Ireland side of late, they have a squad of 22/3 men who are really top players, but they simply have not got the depth when you dig too far below that.
Tommy Bowe, Stephen Ferris, Paul Oâ€™Connell and Dan Tuohy are all injured, those are big big players, players who would get into any side in the tournament, so how Ireland deal with their loss will be key.
How the decision to keep the captaincy with Heaslip, despite the return of Oâ€™Driscoll, sits with the squad will be an important factor too. For so long Oâ€™Driscoll has been this teams talisman and it is important for him to be able to remain so even without the armband.
If they can get a few performances together though this is a team that could potentially challenge for a Grand Slam, particularly with the fixture schedule in their favour this year.
The return of Rob Kearney will be key, and keep an eye out for Heaslip leading the side â€“ if he goes well he could become a contender for the Lions captaincy.Â
Last year was Italyâ€™s best ever Six Nations, and it is hard to see them bettering that again this year.
Defeating France was probably the greatest moment in Italyâ€™s rugby history. Realistically though it looks like their clash with Scotland will be the only chance of victory.
The trouble for Italy is that they have an over reliance on the same old faces, but it is asking too much for the likes of Sergio Parisse to make the difference for them week after week.
They also desperately need to find a goal kicker, they cannot afford to keep missing easy points.Â
A poor autumn for Scotland was encapsulated by a shocking defeat to Tonga, after which Andy Robinson resigned, leaving Scott Johnson as interim Head Coach for the Six Nations.
Edinburgh and Glasgow both had pretty poor Heineken Cup campaignâ€™s, though Glasgow did beat Northampton and are going well in the Pro 12.
All is not quite so gloomy for Scotland though. One of the most surprising statistics from the last Six Nations is that Scotland made more line breaks than any other side; they just could not finish them.
What that shows is that Scotland are capable of performing well, they just need better composure and more patience when they break the line.
Unfortunately for Scotland though, the same problem exists that has done ever since 1999 really, a lack of top class options at 10, 12 and 13. If they can find some long-term solutions in those positions, they could become a dangerous side.
Confidence will be key.Â
Like Ireland, injuries could be key to Walesâ€™ Six Nations hopes. Rhys Priestland, Alun Wyn-Jones and Dan Lydiate a just a small number of their ever increasing injury list.
However the return of Adam Jones at tighthead is a huge positive for the principality. His absence was a real factor in their disappointing autumn, and Rob Howley will be hoping his return will help to spark their Six Nations.
Their autumn form should not be ignored, but it should be taken with a pinch of salt, this is a team that won the Grand Slam last year and are capable of producing some of the most stylish and potent rugby in the world on their day.
In Roberts and Davies they boast the best centre partnership in Europe, while at full back Leigh Halfpenny is becoming world class with every cap.
They, like France, really could end up anywhere in the table it just depends on their confidence. They are certainly much better than their autumn form suggests.
Prediction: 4th (I am not confident on this!)
By Angus Savage