Six Nations 2019 Championship in focus: Team-by-team previews
By Sky Sports Rugby Union
Last Updated: 31/01/19 9:53am
The Six Nations returns on Friday as France host Wales, before Saturday sees Scotland welcome Italy and England travel to Ireland.
England will seek to bounce back, Ireland to make history, Scotland a first title since 1999, Wales a title challenge, France to start a new era, and Italy a scalp or two.
And all will compete in the shadow of the upcoming Rugby World Cup in Japan in September, which is looming large.
Who will head to that tournament as the reigning champions of Europe...?
England endured a year to forget in last season's Six Nations and the pressure will be on Eddie Jones' side to reclaim the title with the World Cup on the horizon.
Jones could do no wrong after winning the championship in his first two years in charge, but England suffered a harsh dose of reality last season after losing three matches to finish fifth in the tournament.
Some encouraging performances during the autumn internationals offer optimism heading into this season, but it does not get much tougher than an opening match in Dublin against champions Ireland.
As defending Six Nations champions and recent victors over the All Blacks, can Joe Schmidt's Ireland potentially claim back-to-back Grand Slams for the first time in their history?
Under Schmidt, who announced last month that he will depart his role following the World Cup, Ireland have picked up three titles in five years: lifting silverware in 2014 and 2015, before clinching that elusive Grand Slam in the snow at Twickenham last year.
Wales are the dark horses for this year's Six Nations title, but with home fixtures against Ireland and England, a number of people will be tipping them to upset the odds and lift the trophy in Cardiff on the final weekend in March.
The 2019 competition will be Warren Gatland's last as Wales head coach; Scarlets supremo Wayne Pivac is taking over the top job after the World Cup later this year.
The Principality Stadium is Gatland's manor, and success in this year's showpiece will be the perfect tonic for the Kiwi-born boss prior to the main event in Japan
Scotland produced flashes of inspiration during last season's competition and Gregor Townsend's side will be aiming for more consistency in the Six Nations this year.
It has been a challenge for Scotland to translate their excellent home form into success on the road and this will be an area of focus this season.Townsend will be looking for his team to add consistency to their game, with this year's World Cup in Japan getting closer.
France enter this year's Six Nations in ninth place in the World Rugby rankings following a tough year that culminated with a first-ever defeat to Fiji back in November.
That shock loss followed another significant body blow in the autumn internationals when Jacques Brunel's side conspired to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory against South Africa, having looked in control as they entered the final minute of the contest.
A run of eight defeats in 11 Tests leaves them under increasing pressure to remind everyone of their status as a major rugby power but it will not be easy, with away trips to highly-fancied Ireland and England awaiting them.
Italy enter this year's Six Nations looking to end a run of 17 straight defeats and once again defending their place in 'Rugby's Greatest Championship'.
They have not tasted victory in the competition since a last-gasp success against Scotland at Murrayfield in 2015 - a win that ensured they avoided the dreaded wooden spoon that year, although it has been a constant companion ever since.
Head coach Conor O'Shea repeatedly insists they are making progress, but they have slumped to 15th in the World Rugby rankings, and his 'Tier 1' side currently sit behind the likes of Fiji, Japan, United States, Georgia, and Tonga.