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Six Nations: France not the finished article yet

It's that time of the year for Six Nations predictions and once again the 2022 championship looks set to be a wide-open contest.

France are the favourites in the odds but whether Les Bleus can handle that tag and deliver a title leading into a World Cup year on home soil in 2023 remains to be seen.

French must handle pressure

With a team of stars and some impressive results over the Autumn Internationals behind them, it's no surprise to see France as the tournament favourites going into the first round of fixtures.

It was 2010 the last time the French lifted the Six Nations trophy and they are 6/4 to finish top of the pile this season.

November's 40-25 demolition of New Zealand, a first win against the All Blacks in 21 years, has meant expectations are sky high among the French public of what this team can achieve.

That's not only for the upcoming Six Nations but also the 2023 World Cup on home soil, with France at 5/2 to lift the Webb Ellis Cup in Paris next year.

France welcome Italy, Ireland and England to Paris this season and face tricky trips to Scotland and Wales.

On paper this should be France's tournament to win but as history has shown, it's easier said than done and there might well be an upset on the way.

Irish form looks promising

With Leinster, Munster, Connacht and Ulster enjoying strong seasons, there is also plenty expected of Ireland going into the Six Nations.

Ireland also enjoyed a win over the All Blacks back in November, as they have proven themselves to be one of the strongest teams in the international game.

A team with a solid and structured game, they are capable of beating any team on their day.

Finding consistency will be the key for the Irish, who have won the title once in the last six years of the competition.

Skipper Jonathan Sexton will once again be a key figure for the side, as the 36-year-old out-half continues to defy the years and deliver performances in big games.

Keeping Sexton fresh for the whole tournament will be just one job for Ireland head coach Andy Farrell, who will see nothing less than a title, priced at 11/4, as a measure of success this spring.

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What to expect from new-look England?

With a changing of the guard and a number of injuries to experienced players, we are still waiting to see what Eddie Jones' England will bring to the party this season.

Owen Farrell, Jonny May and Anthony Watson are all out of the Six Nations, while Courtney Lawes and Jonny Hill are the latest players to be ruled out for their opening game of the competition against Scotland on Saturday in Edinburgh.

With Manu Tuilagi and Sam Underhill expected to return towards the backend of the competition, Jones has the opportunity to give others a chance to impress ahead of the next World Cup.

Harlequins fly-half Marcus Smith will be hoping to play a big role, with his creative flair helping his club side win the Premiership title last season.

Whether Smith is given the license to play his own expansive game remains to be seen, and we will have a much better picture of where England, who are 3/1 for the title, are at after their Calcutta Cup showdown with Scotland.

Consistency key for improving Scots

Last season Scotland missed out on a great opportunity to land a first Six Nations crown following rare wins in both London and Paris.

Ultimately a one-point defeat to Wales and three-point loss against Ireland cost Gregor Townsend's side the title.

If Scotland can continue on their upward trajectory then they will certainly hope to be in the mix for the title come the final weekend of the campaign.

Eight Scottish players going on the British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa last summer stands the squad in good stead with that experience under their belts.

A 15-13 win over Australia over the Autumn Internationals was another indication this settled side are moving in the right direction.

False dawns and Scottish rugby have gone hand in hand over the last couple of decades and now the Scots are finally looking to deliver, with the men in blue at 10/1 for the title.

Doubts over defending champions

It's not a common sight to see a defending Six Nations champion as a side outside the top three teams in the outright odds the following season.

But that's exactly where Wales find themselves, as they go into the tournament as a 10/1 shot for the title.

Again, injuries have been an issue, with skipper and talisman Alun Wyn Jones expected to miss most of the tournament.

A few red cards helped the Welsh cause on their way to the title last season, but Wayne Pivac's side can't rely on referee decisions any longer.

The Welsh can certainly not be written off, especially with them so hard to beat in Cardiff.

However it will take a mighty effort to overcome the likes of France and Ireland for the title.

Another tough season for the Azzurri

After failing to register a point on the table last season, it looks like being another tough campaign for Italy.

Until another side in Europe, or possibly further afield, can regularly compete with Italy, then their place in the Six Nations is likely to remain.

It was 2015 the last time Italy won a game in the Six Nations, and the longer that wait continues, the bleaker the picture looks for the Azzurri, who are 8/1 to finish the campaign with one win.

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