The Six Nations Championship returns to illuminate the spring sporting schedule in a year which could be the most competitive in decades. Not for a generation have each of the six competing nations looked as equally matched as they do this year, an added competitiveness which sits against the backdrop of the looming British and Irish Lions series against New Zealand in the summer.
England will be bidding to win their second title in a row after storming to the grand slam at the start of Eddie Jones' tenure in charge. The Reds Rose have won 13 games in a row under the Australian coach but face the greatest test of their credentials as challengers to the All Blacks in two years time at the 2019 World Cup.
Ireland, Wales and Scotland each possess enough guile and steel to make them contenders for England's crown. Joe Schmidt's Irish side beat New Zealand last November; Wales are led by Alun Wyn Jones and can call upon a fit again George North; and the Scots have their most talented group of players since they won the last Five Nations title in 1999. France have a young team desperate to live up to their nation's expectations while the Conor O'Shea-coached Italy defeated South Africa last autumn and are no longer assured of picking up the wooden spoon.
What is likely to be the most unpredictable championship in decades is supplemented by two key rule changes which could yet have a dynamic effect in the coming months. IBTimes UK has provided all the information you need to ensure you don't miss a kick, tackle or try of the 2017 Six Nations.
Six Nations 2017 fixtures, results and TV coverage
Saturday 4th February 2017
Scotland 27-22 Ireland
England 19-16 France
Sunday 5th February 2017
Italy 7-33 Wales
Saturday 11th February 2017
Italy 10-63 Ireland
Wales 16-21 England
Sunday 12th February 2017
France 22-16 Scotland
Saturday 25th February 2017
Scotland 29-13 Wales
Ireland 19-9 France
Sunday 26th February 2017
England 36-15 Italy
Friday 10th March 2017
Wales 22-9 Ireland
Saturday 11th March 2017
Italy 18-40 France
England 61-21 Scotland
Saturday 18th March 2017
Scotland v Italy at BT Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh 12:30pm - BBC
France v Wales at Stade de France, Paris 2:45pm (GMT) - ITV
Ireland v England at Aviva Stadium, Dublin 5pm - ITV
Six Nations 2017 points table
|Position||Team||Played||Won||Drawn||Lost||Points For||Points Against||Points Difference||Try bonus points||Losing bonus points||Points|
Six Nations 2017 rule changes
This year's championship will be altered by two significant changes to the regulations which could yet play a major part in the destination of both the title and the grand slam.
The Six Nations will be the first international showpiece to be affected by the stricter stance on high tackles. Now, any accidental contact with the head will be automatically punishable with a penalty, with yellow and red cards introduced for "reckless" technique. England coach Jones believes the new rules, officially introduced at the turn of the year with the aim of reducing head injuries, will be accompanied by a wave of punishments before the players properly adapt.
"Now, like anything in life, you put speed cameras in and what happens? You get hundreds and thousands of people getting fined," he said. "Speed camera goes in — 12 months later those fines have decreased. It is the same with the tackle situation at the moment. Over the next three months, or how many months it is going to be, there is going to be a proliferation of yellow and red cards until players learn to drive safely."
Meanwhile, this year's championship will be the first including a new points system. Nations will now attain four points for a victory, rather than two, while a bonus points rule to assist attacking play has also been added to the competition. A team scoring four tries will earn one addition point, while a team who loses games by fewer than seven will also be rewarded with an extra point.
Though the system is unlikely to affect the outcome of the tournament, it may ramp up the excitement of matches for the full 80 minutes as teams either look for extra tries or attempt to claim a consolation point amid a damaging defeat. The policy has been used successfully in events such as the Rugby Championship, the World Cup and the Aviva Premiership, among others.