As every Six Nations campaign approaches the more and more it starts to feel like Christmas Eve and the unwrapping of rugby presents can’t almost be felt in one’s mind’s eye.
More often that not though the unwrapping can leave you a little bit flat. It sometimes feels like you’re hoping for your club’s new shirt but instead get their socks from the previous season.
This season is like three Christmases all rolled into one though.
Every week there is a game that has you licking your lips with anticipation and each week that match could jump from top billing to bottom of the pile due to what has gone on the previous day or week.
Add into the mix that we have a World Cup this year, three of the top four teams in the World Rankings are in the competition and Ireland beating New Zealand last year (take a breath) surely then, this is going to be the mother of all Six Nations.
Love or hate the Friday night start, you don’t get much better than Wales travelling to France to go toe to toe with the locals under the lights of the Stade de France.
Wales, inside their own camp, will be expecting to compete for a Grand Slam. They haven’t lost since last year’s competition and have won every match fairly convincingly since then. All the attention may be on Ireland and England heading into the competition but it will suit Wales to fly under the radar.
France are back to their unpredictable best. One week they look like world beaters and the next they are playing like amateurs and being beaten by Fiji at home. Fiji were courageously brilliant on that night but the men in Blue were atrocious.
Les Bleus’ squad is still an exciting one though and some raw young talent is breaking through. They will take this one game at a time and should they lose at home to Wales on the opening weekend, then the tournament will be a long, hard slog with trips to Twickenham and the Aviva Stadium as part of their schedule.
Scotland are another team that can sometimes flatter to deceive and if they are to be taken seriously as contenders then their inconsistency will need to be addressed. Italy ay home is the perfect start for them to gain momentum whilst dusting off some rust.
The annual speed bump of the Azzuri are not in great shape and unfortunately for them they are likely to brushed aside with relative ease week after week.
The main event for the first round of matches is without a shadow of a doubt, over in Dublin.
Some may have wished this to be the last match in the hope of a decider but we had that chance last year and unfortunately England’s woeful form didn’t allow the curtains to be opened.
This is the best way to open a Championship for these two if you are a neutral because of the effect it will have on both the winners and losers. The full character of the squads will be tested.
It’s not just bragging rights resting on this match but the mental effect that will be had on the rest of their respective seasons.
Ireland feel invincible right now. They have seen of the present World Number One team and are hunting that top spot down themselves.
The only blot on their copy book last season came in Australia during the summer but since then not a foot has been put wrong.
A loss would dent that invincibility and when doubt starts to creep into a squad, it can manifest and cause all sorts of mischief. A win and I can’t see anyone stopping them or even getting close to them until the business end of the World Cup in Japan.
England’s campaign will be won or lost in the first three weeks. France at home and Wales away follows the test in Dublin and if there isn’t more than one win from those three games then the Red Rose will be on a slippery slide.
The matchups against Italy and Scotland at home will be of little consequence to the Twickenham faithful other than attempting to exact revenge from last season’s humiliation at Murrayfield.
The connotations of one team winning or losing week to week will swing this year’s tournament one way and then the next and that unpredictability is why it could be the best in years.
Anyone can beat anyone on their day and some of the teams like Wales or Scotland who may not be as fancied at the World Cup as England or Ireland could well strike some fear into their respective groups.
Ireland could be less feared with some chinks in their seemingly impregnable armour and England may, or may not, make up for last season’s debacle.
No one can be sure of at least 75% of the results and just when you think you are certain you do, one flash of brilliance or outrageous mistake may sway you another way.
Eddie Jones is releasing his best poetry to date in a bid to get into people’s heads but once there is 15 against 15 on the field his talking needs to be done by his players and it will be the last thing any other coach or player will be thinking about.
This instalment of the never ending Six Nation saga is set to start unfolding on Friday night in Paris and if any rugby fan in Europe or anywhere else in the world isn’t glued to their TV or in the stadium then they must have something extremely important happening in their lives.
This may well be the first Christmas in a long time that you actually get that prized shirt you wanted and you never know, it may even be signed by your favourite player!