Firstly, if you haven’t joined our Predictor league on Superbru, please do so here. There are over 1,000 people in it already which is great to see, and it’ll be a good test of knowledge!
I’m looking to win it this year and here are my picks for Round 1.
France v Wales
This is a really tough one to call. Wales have had a great run of results, sneaking up to third in the world rankings and slipping under the radar whilst Ireland took all the plaudits in 2018. They have developed some depth in key positions, and don’t seem to be too weakened by the loss of Taulupe Faletau.
The French selection is interesting though, with an absolutely monstrous pack averaging nearly 19 stone per man, but then outside they have some ball-players. Mathieu Bastareaud is out, with Romain Ntamack and Wesley Fofana in the centres, with plenty of speed in the back three too.
I’m leaning towards Wales, with form on their side, a more mobile back row, and firepower of their own in the backline.
My Superbru prediction: Wales by 2
Bookie handicap: Evens
Scotland v Italy
This can only go one way I think, as the Italians just don’t seem to be kicking on, and Scotland have a decent team. Finn Russell has been in outstanding form playing in France, and whilst they have a few notable injuries, they’ll have enough to get past the Azzurri.
My Superbru prediction: Scotland by 18
Bookie handicap: Scotland -24
Ireland v England
England welcome back some big players (literally) in the shape of Manu Tuilagi, Billy and Mako Vunipola, world-class ball-carriers that will provide what England have missed without them. The pack looks pretty much first-choice, with a good balance in the back row, strong lineout operators and capable scrummagers.
There are a few question marks over form in the backline, and whether Elliot Daly is the right choice at full-back, but it’s a strong team that will be looking to build on their better-than-expected Autumn results, buoyed by their returning stalwarts.
Ireland’s side is pretty settled, albeit with Robbie Henshaw out of position at full-back and one or two forwards missing from the squad. They also come into the tournament on the back of an incredible year last year, including a Grand Slam, series victory in Australia, and a first win over the All Blacks in Dublin. That winning habit will be difficult to break for England.
You know what you are going to get from Ireland. Relentless line-speed, brutal defence, well-oiled set-piece, aerial bombardment and ferocious kick-chase. Knowing what to expect doesn’t make it easier to counter, since they do everything with an unusual combination of precision and gaelic passion.
That said, I am cautiously optimistic as an England fan. Despite a patchy 2018, their performances in November will have restored confidence, the team selection is looking slightly more settled, and Eddie Jones will have instilled the belief they can win. On paper, a home win is the sensible pick, but I just have a sneaking suspicion.
My Superbru prediction: England by 2
Bookie handicap: Ireland -9
Follow Hutch on Twitter: @Hutch_James