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.

England rugby team
England stormed to the Six Nations title last spring. Getty Images

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

Rory Best
Ireland will hope to build on their victory over New Zealand last autumn. Getty Images

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

George North
Wales will hope George North can put his concussion problems behind him. Getty Images

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

Conor O'Shea
O'Shea takes his Six Nations bow as a coach aiming to build on Italy's improvement. Getty Images

Six Nations 2017 points table

PositionTeamPlayedWonDrawnLostPoints ForPoints AgainstPoints DifferenceTry bonus pointsLosing bonus pointsPoints
Greig Laidlaw
Can Laidlaw inspire the talented Scots to a shock title? Getty Images

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.