Six Nations 2017: It's England or Ireland
OPINION: rugby365 reporter Warren Fortune believes It will be a two-horse race between England and Ireland for the 2017 Six Nations title.
The two sides are clearly the best in north at the moment. They also take up two places in the top four in World Rugby's rankings (England second and Ireland fourth).
England are a team transformed under Australian coach Eddie Jones and will be favourites to defend the Six Nations title they won in 2016 when they went unbeaten.
In fact, Jones' side went through the entire year unbeaten, which also included an historic 3-0 series victory over Australia in Australia and a first win over the Springboks in 10 years. Although it must be said that the current Springbok team is probably the worst in years, while Australia were also not at their best in 2016.`
It will be interesting to see how England build on their 2016 success in 2017 and whether they can extend their winning run, which currently stands at 14 matches.
England's toughest opposition in the north will be Ireland and many believe that Joe Schmidt's side can wrestle the title away from the Red Roses.
After a disappointing 2016 Six Nations, Ireland put in some stirring performances in South Africa against the Springboks in June, winning their first-ever match on South African soil.
Fast forward a few months later they then shocked the rugby world when they beat the mighty All Blacks 40-29 in Chicago in November and by doing so they ended New Zealand's record run of wins in a row.
Although they lost their next game against the All Blacks in Dublin, Ireland again showed enough plenty of heart, intensity and skill and made life difficult for the New Zealanders.
After ending November with a narrow win against Australia, Ireland became the first team to beat all three Southern Hemisphere powerhouses in a calendar year since England in 2003.
Ireland and England will meet in the final game of the upcoming Six Nations tournament in Dublin in March and it will probably be the tournament decider.
France showed some promise in defeats to the All Blacks and Australia in November and are the dark horses. However, they might need another season under Guy Noves to fully reach their potential.
Wales are without regular coach Warren Gatland and after their recent performances, one would suggest that they will struggle a bit, despite the talent at their disposal.
Scotland promised a lot in the past two seasons with Vern Cotter at the helm and they have put in some good performances. However, the Scots have failed to step up a gear when they needed to.
Scotland will be a tough team to beat, but you need to be brave if you are going to put money on them challenging Ireland and England for the title.
And finally, we have Italy. They are a team in transition under Conor O'Shea.
Yes, they did beat the Springboks in November, but then again they also lost to Tonga as well.
Expect Italy to feature once again at the bottom of the standings.
By Warren Fortune