What a Championship we have ahead of us.
There are a few things you can guarantee with the Guinness Six Nations: great tries, cold weather and lots of drama.
But the one thing you can never predict is how the Championship will play out and once again, I think this year is so difficult to call.
I can’t wait for it to get going on Saturday and we have so many fascinating storylines to keep us entertained.
Wales are going to be fascinating to follow. There is naturally going to be a transition period and the difficult thing for new boss Wayne Pivac is that, for a while, he is going to be in the shadows of what Warren Gatland achieved.
They are very, very big shoes to fill but Wayne hasn’t come from a foreign environment. He was the Scarlets coach so should fit in quickly.
He also has a quality team at his disposal. I know they’ve got a few issues with injury, especially at centre, but even then they can call on Nick Tompkins, who from what I hear is going to be fast-tracked in.
I played with him at Saracens and have watched him progress. You don’t want to put a world-class label on someone early on but he’s a world-class player.
They’ve got real strength in depth, and you can see with the likes of Louis Rees-Zammit. Will we see him? He has a chance.
For Italy, Benetton are doing really well in the Guinness PRO14 so that’s a great base to work from but they are probably a side in transition right now.
Conor O’Shea has gone and Sergio Parisse is about to have his swansong, which is great and shows how much respect he commands.
I’m not convinced they have got the ability to be able to compete at the very highest level straight away but they will battle hard.
They have a game against Wales in Cardiff in Round 1, which will be a good test for Franco Smith and his men.
Ireland are a really interesting team for me. Let’s not forget how good they were a couple of years ago.
They were the best team in the world under Joe Schmidt and Johnny Sexton was World Player of the Year.
But they peaked too early in terms of the World Cup. However, don’t count them out this year.
They are another team in transition, with Andy Farrell at the helm and no Rory Best, but the good thing for Ireland is that they are always going to be good. They are always very good in the Guinness Six Nations.
I’m interested to see if a couple of the Ulster boys get the nod too. John Cooney could start at nine, and Billy Burns may get an opportunity at fly-half. I think he will definitely be on the bench.
Farrell has got a great squad, they’ve now got so many top players. Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton are the heartbeat, Josh van der Flier is amazing around the breakdowns, CJ Stander is back in form and I’m delighted to see Stuart McCloskey there. He’s been epic.
Obviously I always want to see Scotland do well but in terms of Round 1, I think Ireland are probably happy to be playing them. They don’t travel to Dublin very well!
With Finn Russell not there, it makes this even tougher for Scotland. Remember, Ireland absolutely whitewashed them at the World Cup – and there was a lot of expectation in Scotland before that game.
They have also lost Greig Laidlaw, John Barclay and Tommy Seymour, which is a blow.
There are plenty of positives too of course: Darcy Graham is a quality winger, although he’s now picked up an injury, they’ve got strength in depth at lock, two world-class hookers to choose from and I think it’s great that Stuart Hogg is captain.
He’s the best player in the team and the best player Scotland have ever had arguably, definitely in the professional era.
It will be difficult for Scotland without Finn Russell though and I think Ireland are going to win in Round 1.
For me, France against England is probably the game of the first weekend because, regardless of whatever team France have put out in the past, going to Paris is always tough.
This year is especially exciting because France have got a new coach at the helm in Fabien Galthié.
I know he was there at the World Cup but he’s now the boss and they’ve made a load of changes to that team.
They’ve genuinely got some world-class players, especially Virimi Vakatawa and Baptiste Serin.
I also think the fact that the backbone of the French team has won the Under 20s World Cup in 2018 and then 2019 is a big thing.
The big addition for me is Shaun Edwards going in as defence coach. It was a big move for him to go there but I think he will be great. They have lacked that roll-your-sleeves-up attitude for a while.
Like everyone else, they will be desperate to beat England!
The problem for France in wanting to beat England, is that England are a world-class team.
They are well-coached, have massive strength in depth and they have the advantage of being a really settled team, so I think England have got to be favourites to win in Round 1, and favourites for the Championship.
Losing Billy Vunipola to injury was a blow and it did surprise a few that Eddie Jones did not call up a Nathan Hughes or Alex Dombrandt.
But I think the game has moved on a little bit from that type of player and England still have Kyle Sinckler, Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes and Mako Vunipola to carry big and be the bully.
I think France will scare England. I could see France winning that game but England are so settled and I think that will perhaps edge things their way through the Championship as a whole.