Six Nations Preview: Who'll be Europe's Great Hope at the Rugby World Cup

This year's Six Nations Tournament takes on extra significance with the World Cup on the horizon. Which team will take the best form into Rugby's main event in September?

There’s no doubt all six countries contesting the Six Nations would love to lift the trophy come the 23rd of March, but if you offered them an even greater piece of silverware in 2015…. Say the Webb Ellis Cup for instance…. Surely they’d take that instead. Some sides will harbour thoughts of a famous double this year while others may believe building for the World Cup in September should take priority. No matter what; there’s sure to be some fascinating face offs between the six sides once the tournament gets underway this weekend. But there’ll also be battles in house as well, as players push their case for selection for rugby’s showpiece event.

Injured England Still Among the Favourites

England has up to 11 players unavailable through injury for the opening match and despite the fact ex rugby league star Sam Burgess has been called into the squad; Coach Stuart Lancaster had made it clear it’s to train with the team only. The Yorkshireman made his representative debut for the England Saxons side at the weekend after just 8 union games for Bath. Burgess who’s bidding to grasp the game well enough to sneak a spot in the World Cup squad is unlikely to play in the Six Nations but if England find itself in a position where winning or losing won’t have consequences then who knows.

Welsh Wizards could be the difference

If British Lions blockbusting back George North rediscovers his best form Wales could well lift the trophy for a third time in 4 years. Lee Halfpenny poses plenty of questions from Fullback while Alex Cuthbert on the other wing makes up a deadly back line trio. The Welsh host England in Cardiff on Friday night in the opening game of the tournament and more than just competition points are on the line. The victor will hold a physiological advantage heading into the World Cup where the two will tussle once more. The pair have been drawn together along with Australia in the group of death.

Ireland Keen to Keep the Trophy

Ireland won 9 of the 10 tests they played in 2014 with a 3 point loss to England at Twickenham their only blemish. The defeat though didn’t stop Ireland winning the Six Nations for the first time since 2009 and the men in green will once again be extremely difficult to beat. But can Ireland win the World Cup? Wins over Australia and South Africa in November suggest they may be the dark horse. First thing’s first, retaining the Six Nations trophy. Head Coach Joe Schmidt has named a 38 man squad for his side’s opening 2 rounds. The holders begin against Italy before hosting France. Both matches will be World Cup previews with all 3 sides are in the same Pool.

Will France Fire or Flop?

It’s very likely France could be all over the shop during the Six Nations then come out and be wonderful at the World Cup… or vice versa! Le Bleus are often inconsistent but irresistible when they get it right. Coach Philippe Saint-Andre head’s on the chopping block and he’ll be out to prove he’s the man to lead France at the World Cup. However if the French fail to impress in the early stages he could become the first coaching casualty of 2015.

Scotland Set to Challenge

Scotland appear to have closed the gap on the top 4 and could capitalise against France in their opening match if the boys in blue are below their best in Paris. The Scots have had a boost ahead of the opener, recalling Glasgow prop Ryan Grant to the squad after he was acquitted of assault. Scotland is the only team that won’t play another 6 Nations side during the World Cup group stage.

Italy Hopeful Home Form Helps

Since their inception into the Six Nations in 2000 the Italians have collected 10 Wooden Spoons and Italy is once again favourite to finish last. While the Azzuri have a tough task hosting the defending champs in round one they did beat Ireland at home in 2013. That same year they also triumphed over the French in Italy. France will once again travel to the Stadio Olimpico in round 4 and will be wary of their opponents.

Whoever wins the Six Nations will likely be seen as Europe’s best chance to win the World Cup. England’s 2003 triumph in Australia came on the back of a Grand Slam and the World Cup hosts will be hoping lightning strikes twice.