The Six Nations Rugby Union championships are about to kick off – so here’s a run-down of the contenders.
The Six Nations benefits from a tight European geographical location that bars those perennial world cup winning southern nations of South Africa, New Zealand and Australia from taking part.
So the European teams battle out for the cup in their own little bubble.
The farthest to travel is Dublin to Rome, so fans and teams only have a few hours to fly at the most.
Ireland are looking to grind the opposition into the ground and win three titles in a row.
Talking a good game
But their chances look grim as they have lost key players to retirement and injury.
If they can get their rhythm back after their game strategy was taken apart by Argentina in the last World Cup, they will still come out as the strong favourites for the bookies.
Of course, England and Wales are good at talking up their games. Relying on former glories and outstanding players, the fans often over estimate their proficiency in much the same way as soccer fans believe England can win the World Cup again a generation after the 1966 success.
As for Scotland, they are often a nation of losers in sports that do not involve sticks or racquets.
The Murray brothers may have played well in Sydney and notched some notable victories in other tournaments, but still lost – and the Scots rugby fans also talk a good game but the team does not often deliver the goods.
Scotland have lost five times in their last Six Nations outings.
Aging and lacklustre
The French seem to go from bad to even worse.
They finished fourth three times and bottom once in recent years. The new coach Guy Noves is hardly a winner. His former team Toulouse- a name the is surely an omen – after some initial success they accomplished nothing in three years.
And Italy? What’s to say, really. Aging and lacklustre the best thing about playing them away is a trip to Rome.
Overall, without the southern hemisphere champions, the Six Nations is a world rugby sideshow lacking real stars and quality.
Nevertheless, it is free on the telly, so sit back, put your feet up and enjoy a couple of beers but don’t get too disappointed if the games are not too gripping.