Scotland: Scotland should go into Round One full of confidence after impressing in the autumn internationals with an encouraging win over Argentina, victory over Georgia, and a narrow one-point defeat to Australia. They have developed a new attacking flair in recent years under Cotter and will look to continue that brand of rugby on Saturday. A fourth place finish in 2016, with victories away to Italy and at home to France, was an improvement on 2015’s wooden spoon, and a top-half finish would represent real progress for Scotland this year.
Ireland: Fresh from their historic 40-29 victory over New Zealand at Soldier Field in Chicago last November – the first ever time Ireland have beaten the All Blacks - Joe Schmidt’s men continued their eye-catching form with wins over Canada and Australia in the autumn internationals. Despite losing to New Zealand in the return fixture at the Aviva Stadium in November, Ireland will look to improve on last season’s third place Six Nations finish after they drew against Wales and beat Italy and Scotland.
Bonus points have been introduced into the Six Nations for the first time, awarded for scoring four tries or more, and for losing but coming within seven points of the winning side. It’ll be interesting to see if these changes affect the way teams approach matches.
As it is also a British and Irish Lions year, with the Class of 2017 heading to New Zealand for a three-Test series this June, the Six Nations gives players a final chance on the Test stage before touring with the Lions in the summer. Lions head coach Warren Gatland will no doubt be watching closely to see which players put their hands up from Scotland and Ireland, as well as Wales and England.
The loss of influential tighthead prop WP Nel through injury is a blow to Scotland’s Six Nations chances, but Glasgow Warriors have caught the eye in both the Guinness Pro 12 and Champions Cup under soon-to-be Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend. Expect the likes of full-back and 2015 Player of the Tournament Stuart Hogg – 16/1 to be first try scorer this Saturday - lock Jonny Gray, fly-half Finn Russell and winger Tommy Seymour to impress over the coming weeks.
But it is no surprise Ireland start as favourites with the bookmakers - they have a settled spine to their side, comprising hooker and captain Rory Best, flanker CJ Stander and scrum-half Conor Murray - three key men in their ranks. The loss of fly-half Johnny Sexton through injury is a blow, but Ulster's Paddy Jackson - expected to now come into the XV - is a more than able deputy.
Although winning on the road in front of a passionate, partisan Scottish crowd is no easy feat, expect Ireland to get their campaign off to a winning start in Edinburgh. They are certainly one of the form sides going into Round One, and their mouth-watering clash with England in Dublin on 18th March could very well be a Grand Slam decider.
Best, touted as a possible 2017 Lions captain, will be key for Ireland at set-pieces on Saturday and if his line-out is functioning accurately, the Ulsterman could force his way over from short range for the game’s first try.
- Sports.net’s top tip: First Tryscorer – Rory Best 18/1
Please note that odds can fluctuate before kick-off.