Six Nations 2011: What the experts say

MATT DAWSON England's World Cup winning scrum-half and now a leading pundit and television personality.

I'd like to think the Six Nations will end up being between France or England.

You can never underestimate Ireland, and Wales, despite suffering a lot of injuries, are still capable of being a surprise package, but France have such strength in depth that they will be formidable opponents.

While England got to the final of the last World Cup, it wasn't a convincing performance and it had taken longer than most people anticipated for them to get to the position where they can reasonably expect to be at least in a semi-final of a major competition.

There have been hiccups and mistakes along the way and from an outsider's perspective it's easy to criticise team selection, tactics or the impact of the current league structure, but they are now coming into their own.

The two things Martin Johnson has brought to the team is stability and pragmatism. He's not someone who hides his feelings and that's one of his great strengths.

When he was captain you always knew where you stood and we now have an England side which is at least built on strong foundations.

Last season's Six Nations was full of negative, percentage rugby. Teams were kicking infield and trying to squeeze the opposition. It wasn't pretty. There was a fear of being penalised or losing possession.

Luckily, the changing of certain law interpretations has given the emphasis back to the attack because it is not so easy to steal the ball. Top defenders can still poach possession, but there is more tempo and flow to games.

LYNN HOWELLS

Doncaster Knights' director of rugby, who was formerly on the coaching staff of the Welsh national team.

Wales's chances are very slim this year.

The only saving grace is that their first game is at home. They'll struggle up front against England. They're not strong enough because they've lost Gethin Jenkins and a number of other players.

Wales have always had a problem with strength in depth, because it's such a small country.

If they lose their front row players then they're always going to struggle.

Having said that, if Wales can manage to play the opening game against England in the loose then they get a flow to the game. If it's in the tight England should win.

It amazes me that they've moved James Hook to full-back, they've effectively taken him away from the play.

He should be playing at No 10. He has the potential to be Wales's most influential player, if used right.

Jamie Roberts at inside centre alongside the young lad from Scarlets, Jonathan Davies, is also an exciting combination.

Overall however, there is a massive problem with regional rugby in Wales, with none of the teams qualifying for the latter stages of the European competitions.

The whole point of moving towards regional rugby was to compete with the big England and big French teams.

So having no teams in the last 16 of the European competitions will knock the confidence of the players.

They are second-best in that competition, so they might fear they will be second-best in international competition as well.

ALEX MORENO

Leeds Carnegie's forwards coach was born in Argentina but the prop played five times for Italy.

Italian rugby has improved massively since the national team were invited into the Six Nations.

The team has come on a lot, as have the Italian leagues, which have been aided by the two teams in the Magners League.

Italian Championship games are now screened on television which shows the growth of the game in the country.

However, there's still plenty of work to do to get us up to the standards set in the Six Nations.

Encouragingly, the Italian second team is very strong at the moment.

On the face of it that might not worry the established countries, but where in the past we have plundered Australia and New Zealand, and in my case Argentina, for players, this team is almost full of young Italians.

So we are at least now producing our own players on a regular basis.

We already have the likes of Sergio Parisse, who is one of the best No 8s in the world, and Martin Castrogiovanni who is one of the best props in the world.

On top of that, a lot of players who have experienced Six Nations rugby over the past decade are now graduating to the coaching staff at Italy and are passing on their wisdom.

So again, that is positive. People who have been involved for 15 years are helping the team develop.

Six Nations wise, if we win a couple of games and the rest are really tight then that would be considered an achievement, but with only two of the five games at home, that will not be easy.

But this is a World Cup year and everybody will be working hard.

GUY EASTERBY

Former Ireland international now manager at Leinster. He previously played for Otley, Rotherham and Harrogate.

Ireland have got a very good chance.

They've got a very experienced team and a lot of young lads coming in.

The loss of Tommy Bowe and Geordan Murphy in the backs, plus Stephen Ferris and Jamie Heaslip in the back row is massive, but that opens the door for the younger guys to get experience of playing international rugby in a World Cup year.

There's a couple of lads from Leinster who have been given their chance and will relish the opportunity, with Fergus McFadden on the wing and Sean O'Brien at No 8, both of whom have done well for us in the Heineken Cup this season.

The Heineken Cup is a great stepping stone for international rugby.

Ourselves, Ulster and Munster have a great pedigree in the competition and that can affect confidence.

Irish rugby is in a good place at the moment.

The autumn internationals weren't a great success with the two wins we expected and the two defeats against the southern hemisphere teams, but that was probably good in a way because it does keep everybody on their mettle.

The World Cup is at the back of the Irish management's minds but the Six Nations is such a big deal that it's important not to get too far ahead of yourself.

The next couple of months is a big test for Ireland, especially with three away games, but with no team for me capable of walking away with it, Ireland can challenge, provided they get a bit of luck with injuries and the bounce of the ball, which is always important.

DAN SCARBROUGH

Former Leeds Tyke Dan Scarbrough now plys his trade with Racing Metro and gives his views on France.

The current Six Nations holders and as always are going to be interesting to watch. The last year was a turbulent one for them from the high of winning the 2010 Six Nations to the low and sobering defeat by the Aussies in November (59-16).

There has been a bit of tinkering with the team over the past year and Marc Lievremond has stuck with a few new faces.

Having once again chosen to keep the Toulousain players to a minimum in comparison to previous years and slotting Damien Traille in at 15 suggests an unusually negative proposed style of play.

The French set-piece should be solid, especially in the lineout, with the likes of my team-mate Lionel Nallet, Clermont's Julien Pierre and Biarittz's Imanol Harinordoquy. However, Lievremond's backline selection has left some players under the spotlight after the the Australia game with players like Bayonne's Yoann Huget still to transfer his Top 14 form to the higher level.

French badboy Matheau Bastareaud misses out through a failure to show progress after his fitness and commitment were questioned in November. Above all though is the omission of one of the stalwart's of French rugby, Yannick Jauzion. It has created what is seen by the general rugby public as something the French call 'Un Scandale'!

I feel 'Les Bleus' will show a slightly different style of rugby than we have become accustomed to, with tactics leaning more towards field position than out and out French flair as they experiment and try to find form.

TOMMY McGEE

Wharfedale's head coach played on three Churchill Cup tours for Scotland 'A' and played for Leeds Carnegie until 2010.

Speaking to a couple of guys north of the border, Andy Robinson has made a huge difference since taking over as head coach.

He went to Edinburgh and turned them around and he has been able to affect a significant mental shift in the Scotland set-up.

He's a straightforward talker and a positive guy in terms of how he wants to play the game and I think Scotland will do very well this year.

Away in France first game up is a huge test, but Scotland do have a pack that can match the French pack.

If they can disrupt the French set-piece and retain the ball at their own set-piece as well as achieve some kind of parity there then they have a good chance of getting a positive result.

The big question about Scotland is and always remains their back division.

We have definitely got the forward pack, and I do feel there is an exciting back line there in that Scottish team. There is pace and footwork.

Dan Parks has the ability to control a game with his boot and Hugo Southwell has done well playing in France.

That's good when you've got players like Southwell coming in from different environments, who all add to the team.

Scotland need a plan B as well as a plan A if they are to succeed in the Six Nations.

For me England will do well, because they've turned a corner recently.

For Scotland, if they can get a couple of wins on the board then mid-table is achievable and has to be the minimum aim.

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