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Rugby Union: Ireland head chasing pack keen on ripping Six Nations crown from England’s grasp

PUBLISHED: 08:00 18 January 2018 | UPDATED: 12:14 18 January 2018

Rob Kearney of Ireland (pic: Niall Carson/PA)

Rob Kearney of Ireland (pic: Niall Carson/PA)

PA Wire/PA Images

In an article from our ‘Year in Sport’ pullout, the other teams in the Six Nations have their chances previewed

Finn Russell of Scotland (pic: Andrew Milligan/PA) Finn Russell of Scotland (pic: Andrew Milligan/PA)

Ireland head the chasing pack in the Six Nations as Europe’s other tier one nations look to stop England from collecting a third straight title under head coach Eddie Jones.

Ahead of this year’s tournament, the bookmakers have Joe Schmidt’s Irishmen as the second favourites.

However, the team currently ranked third in the world will have to launch their assault on the title without promising centre Garry Ringrose.

The Leinster playmaker injured his ankle earlier this month and is set to miss the opening two rounds on the weekends of February 3-4 and 10-11.

Justin Tipuric of Wales (pic: Joe Giddens/PA) Justin Tipuric of Wales (pic: Joe Giddens/PA)

Ireland will want to build on a solid campaign in last year’s Autumn Internationals, which included an impressive 38-3 mauling of South Africa.

Scrum half Conor Murray is set to be a key figure again as Schmidt’s side bid for a first title since 2015.

Perhaps surprisingly, the bookies have Scotland as third favourites, ahead of Wales, for the Six Nations.

Under new head coach Gregor Townsend, though, the Scots have been exciting, with plenty of mavericks in the ranks.

New France head coach Jacques Brunel (pic: Niall Carson/PA) New France head coach Jacques Brunel (pic: Niall Carson/PA)

Fly half Finn Russell is someone not afraid to take risks, while in Stuart Hogg, they have one of the best counter-attacking fullbacks in the world.

Like Ringrose for Ireland, Hogg may have to sit out the opening games of this year’s tournament as he continues his recovery from a hip injury.

There is positive injury news for Wales, meanwhile, with Saracens’ Liam Williams having recently returned to action following an injury sustained in November.

The pacy back is someone who can certainly get Warren Gatland’s men on the front foot as they look to rebound following an indifferent autumn campaign.

Italy captain Sergio Parisse (left) and head coach Conor O'Shea (pic: Andrew Matthews/PA) Italy captain Sergio Parisse (left) and head coach Conor O'Shea (pic: Andrew Matthews/PA)

If the Welsh are to trouble the top of the table, they will be looking for the ever-impressive Justin Tipuric to hit top form again.

As for the French, no one is ever really too sure what to expect — perhaps even more so this year with a new man at the helm.

Former Italy boss Jacques Brunel has replaced Guy Noves as head coach after an autumn of discontent for the French.

Italy, meanwhile, will be looking for a first victory in the SIx Nations since 2015.

Any hopes of a victory for Conor O’Shea’s side will likely rely on the talismanic Sergio Parisse, who skippers the team.

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