Six Nations 2011: Wide open nature of Six Nations is welcome says Davies

For passion, rivalry, intensity and colour there is little in sport to match a Six Nations tournament.

It is a view extolled by many a travelling fan over the coming weeks, who will depart their homes for the thriving capital cities of Cardiff, Dublin, Rome, Paris, Edinburgh and London with expectation and excitement coursing through their veins.

One man who shares that sentiment, champions it even, is Jonathan Davies, the graceful former Welsh fly-half whose finger remains planted firmly on the pulse of international rugby in Europe through his role as a BBC pundit.

Davies contested four Five Nations tournaments in a career that was punctuated by a lengthy stint in rugby league, though one that was book-ended by pivotal union Tests against England in 1985 and 1997.

And as he prepares to take his seat in the studio for another vital Wales versus England match that kicks-off this year's tournament, the fire is burning as brightly as ever for 48-year-old Davies.

"It's a great competition every year. The intensity of it, the rivalry of it, the travelling fans, the media interest and the expectation," said the 28-times capped Welshman.

"It's fantastic every year. You have such intense rivalries that creates a grudge match every weekend, then there's the shocks on top of that.

"It's highly competitive from start to finish.

"For those involved you don't have that long a turnaround between games, so injuries play a key part."

The competitive nature of six battling countries with bragging rights and national pride at stake makes for an intriguing tournament ahead, and one that Davies is finding difficult to predict.

"It's very open this year," continued the former Widnes and Warrington rugby league full-back.

"This first weekend is going to have a big bearing on the whole tournament.

"If England win tonight then they've got three consecutive home games and people will be backing their chances.

"On the other hand a Wales win opens it up for them to have a crack at the grand slam.

"With England, if they go into that first game tonight and play like they did against Australia, on the front foot, taking the game to their opponents, then they are favourites.

"If they play like they did against South Africa, on the back foot, then every team they play has a chance.

"Victory in Wales tonight would be a massive statement from England.

"With regards the other nations, Ireland have been very quiet in the build-up and have a lot of injuries but can never be discounted.

"I feel that Scotland are a very solid squad at the moment and have a lot to offer. If they can be strong they'll pose a threat.

"France have issues with their selection, the omission of Yannick Jauzion was a surprise to me, but that just goes to show the strength in depth they have.

"They'll be focussing on the World Cup because it's so important to them but if they take their eye off the ball in the Six Nations that is very dangerous.

"The first weekend is so important because you get that first win and the confidence flows through players.

"We'll know more after that first weekend but for me there's a lot of teams in the melting pot."

By its own right the Six Nations is a tournament that carries a lot of stock, yet the added spice in 2011 is that it comes at the start of a World Cup year.

Looking too far ahead, cautions Davies, could be dangerous for any team, though the prospect of a challenge in New Zealand this autumn looms large on the horizon.

Davies continued: "All the teams will have the World Cup at the back of their minds, but it's very dangerous to put all your focus on that.

"As a player you want to play in a World Cup and you certainly don't want to miss out on it.

"Also for the coaching staffs and management teams, they don't want to be tinkering too much with formations, styles, or players at this stage."

Building momentum going into a World Cup is vital if the European teams are to upset the southern hemisphere applecart.

The Kiwis, South Africa and Australia lost just two matches between them on their latest venture north of the equator last November, and remain the teams to beat later in New Zealand.

That latest sequence of results is enough to send shudders down the spine of any fan up here but Davies believes the gap is closing.

He said: "On the big stage, I don't see why the European teams can't match the southern hemisphere teams.

"France are capable of beating anyone, England are capable of beating anyone. It's about maintaining discipline on the day and it has a lot to do with confidence.

"If England, France, Wales and Ireland go into the World Cup full of confidence then they have a chance.

"Because New Zealand will have a lot of pressure on their shoulders, nothing much is expected of Australia so they can relax a little and South Africa is all about brute force.

"I still think that trio go in as No 1, 2, 3 in the world and for the northern hemisphere teams it's a question now of getting wins under their belts.

"They need to go into that World Cup with a side they know, with confidence in the players and their patters, so that the players have confidence in the people around them.

"The big difference for me is that the southern hemisphere teams are a lot more clinical. When there's an overlap or an opportunity to run into space the southern hemisphere teams take it. The northern hemisphere teams are not as clinical."

'Six Nations rugby live from 4 February on BBC TV, HD, Radio 5 live, Sport website, Red Button, iPlayer and Mobile'.