Six Nations: Round 1 Tips
The first Six Nations after a World Cup can often be unpredictable, with the competing sides more likely to experiment as they begin a new four-year cycle building towards the next global showpiece.
Australia 2027 feels a long way off but plans will already be afoot for the tournament and this year's Championship provides the opportunity to set the tone.
The competition begins with a potential blockbuster between France and Ireland on Friday 2, before England head to Italy and Wales host Scotland the following day.
Tip 1 - France to beat Ireland by 1-12 points @ 27/20
France and Ireland won the Grand Slam in 2022 and 2023, respectively, but those successes counted for nothing as they crashed out in the quarter-finals of the World Cup.
In fairness, they were both incredibly unlucky: Les Bleus lost by a point to South Africa, while Ireland were almost perfect in their defeat to New Zealand and will each aim to exorcise some of those demons when they meet in Marseille.
The Paris Olympics has rendered the Stade de France out-of-order as it undergoes a makeover, so Fabien Galthie's side will tour the country for their home games. However, the Velodrome is magnificent under the lights and will be rocking for the visit of Ireland, who begin life after the retirement of the iconic Johnny Sexton.
France will be without Antoine Dupont following his decision to take time out as he attempts to earn a place in his country's Sevens squad for the Olympics.
Maxime Lucu looks set to replace him at scrum-half and the hosts should still have enough to claim an opening win, with a home victory by 1-12 points a solid price.
Tip 2 - England to beat Italy by 21-30 points @ 3/1
England may have finished third at the World Cup but after a haphazard 2023, Steve Borthwick's reign starts in earnest and Red Rose fans will be looking for the coach to supplement the limited gameplan he favoured in France with more attacking elements.
An opening trip to Rome represents the chance to experiment but at the same time, that could lead to some early frustration as the new combinations gel.
The tournament sees the Azzurri begin their own new chapter under Gonzalo Quesada, who was confirmed as Kieran Crowley's replacement ahead of last year's World Cup. That decision seemed to unsettle the squad, and they were toothless as they fell to a pool stage exit.
Quesada has a decent coaching CV and an enthusiastic young squad but there is genuine excitement about Borthwick's selection.
History is also on England's side, with their last five wins at the Olimpico coming by an average of 33 points. The squad's freshness means they may not go that far but an away victory by 21-30 points is an option to be considered.
Tip 3 - Scotland to beat Wales by 1-12 points @ 6/4
Warren Gatland piloted Wales to post-World Cup Grand Slams in both 2008 and 2012 but a third such success looks unlikely, with injuries and other issues decimating his already limited player pool.
That opens the door for Scotland, who are arguably the most settled camp in the competition. Their failure to make the knockout rounds at the World Cup was caveated by being drawn in the 'Pool of Death' alongside Ireland and South Africa and the confidence around the camp has seen them tipped as reasonable outsiders to win the tournament.
A first victory in Cardiff since 2002 would be the perfect way to begin their campaign and the 7/10 for them to win looks handy, while punters may look to the 6/4 for them to triumph by 1-12 points.
The Scots beat Wales 35-7 at Murrayfield in 2023, but the four meetings prior to that had been decided by seven or fewer points, and Gatland's young Wales side can use their enthusiasm to unsettle their visitors to the Principality.