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RBS 6 Nations: Last year's events serve as a reminder that writing off rivals is a dangerous practice

By Niall Crozier

Ireland, Wales and France off to winning starts, England, Scotland and Italy playing catch-up. That, in a nutshell, is the state of play after the first of five weekends of RBS 6 Nations action.

Given the brevity of the programme, there is little margin for error. But don't go writing anyone off or hailing champions in-waiting just yet; things can change very quickly and dramatically.

Certainly, last season saw the Welsh prove that opening day results and performances can be very misleading.

Against Ireland at the Millennium Stadium, they trailed Ireland by a 23-3 margin at the interval. They had conceded two first-half tries and no sooner had the second period got under way than they shipped a third which the guests converted to open up a 27-point chasm.

Thereafter, the Welsh rallied with 19 unanswered points which saw them finish on the wrong side of a 30-22 full-time scoreline.

On the basis of the first 45 of the 80 minutes that afternoon in Cardiff, most would have written Wales off and installed the Irish as genuine title contenders.

But fast forward to the end of the series and what do you find? The Welsh crowned champions for the second year in a row and Ireland second-bottom. Taxi for Declan Kidney...

Having conceded three tries on the opening day, Wales kept their line intact for the remainder of the series. And after scoring those three tries, Ireland managed only two more in their four remaining matches – one against both Scotland and France, with touch-down blanks against England and Italy.

Now, there is a lot of rugby to be played between now and the coronation and condemnations must wait until it all ends on March 15. That said, even at this stage I think we can safely discount the Scots and the Italians as posing title threats.

England? Following their autumn international against the All Blacks, Ulster's Kiwi coach Mark Anscombe told me that while the English have a forward pack as good as any in the world, they are handicapped by back-line inhibitions. He was spot-on. At this stage, England's emphasis is on raw strength rather than adventure or flair.

Nevertheless I expect them to beat Scotland in Edinburgh, following which they have Ireland and then Wales at Twickenham. They cannot be dismissed, therefore, despite having somehow conspired to lose at the death in Paris after managing to claw their way back from a 16-3 deficit.

The stand-out fixtures are Ireland v Wales (February 8), Wales v France (February 21), England v Ireland (February 22), England v Wales (March 9) and France v Ireland (March 15).

Things will become a lot clearer after this weekend's Aviva Stadium battle. If Ireland emerge victorious from that, dare to believe.

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