The biggest annual event in the Rugby Union calendar is almost upon us and the stage looks set for yet another riveting few weeks of bruising battle on the field. Last year, Wales emerged victorious despite the best efforts of a newly rebuilt England team, masterminded by Stuart Lancaster.

Six Nations rugby 2013

Pic: AFP/Getty
This year, Lancaster and his men are out for revenge and England are favourites to take the Six Nations title, following a record-breaking 38-21 victory over world number ones the All Blacks during the autumn internationals.



But regaining the crown won't be easy for England. France look likely to start second favourites and with good reason.

The French have experience on their side and, having won the tournament more often than any other, will no doubt prove a threat and arrive in good form having beaten Australia during the autumn internationals. However, the French face two notoriously tough away games, playing both Ireland and England on their home turf.

Of course, it could prove foolish to write off last year's winners and grand slam heroes Wales. Unfortunately, the team have been in something of a slump since last year's victory, having not won a game since, and it will be down to caretaker coach Rob Howley to orchestrate the turnaround.

Ireland have also been struggling for form, largely due to injuries to key players like Brian O'Driscoll, but they will have the home advantage when playing favourites England and France.

At the bottom end of the betting are Scotland and Italy and, though neither are expected to emerge victorious, there is always the chance of the odd upset.

As always, the opening games will provide important pointers, and the tournament kicks off on Saturday 2 February at the Millennium Stadium, where Wales will take on Ireland. The opening day will also see Italy play France at the Stadio Olimpico, while Twickenham will play host to the Calcutta Cup between England and Scotland.

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The match between England and France on Saturday 23 February could potentially prove a key moment, while England's final game against Wales in Cardiff on Saturday 16 March could also be a tough fixture.

Can Stuart Lancaster steer England to victory? Will the strength in depth of an in-form France see them take the title, and can Wales overcome injury woes to claim back-to-back victories without coach Warren Gatland?

What's your prediction for this year's Six Nations? Leave your comments below...