Mallett's money on Ireland
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: England may be the bookmakers' favourites, but renowned coach and analyst Nick Mallett would wager a few bob on Ireland in the Six Nations.
Mallett, in an extensive interview with rugby365 about all things Six Nations, admitted that England (unbeaten in 13 consecutive Tests - 12 since Eddie Jones took over as coach) are favourites to win the Six Nations tournament - which starts on February 4.
In the opening weekend defending Grand Slam Six Nations champions England host France, while Scotland host Ireland on the same day.
Italy are at home to Wales a day later.
"They have the biggest strength in depth," Mallett said of England, adding: "They do have a few injuries, but it is hard to look past England.
"They could face Ireland in that last week [March 18] in Dublin to decide the competition."
Mallett said that if Ireland do get through their first four games unbeaten, they can beat England in that final round.
"That will be a very difficult game for England to win," he said of the Dublin encounter, adding: "It may be against my better judgement, but I am going for Ireland to win the Six Nations."
Mallett - with an extensive coaching career that includes an unprecedented 16 consecutive Test wins as Springbok coach - also see the historical rivalries and competitive nature as reasons why the Six Nations is a better competition that the Souther Hemisphere's Rugby Championship.
"Scotland, Wales and Ireland always had that 'friendly' antagonism towards England," Mallett told rugby365.
"Scotland and England had a 100-year war back in the days and there is certainly no love lost there.
"Those rivalries come out in a very rugby way. A Scotsman is never more Scottish than when he has his kilt on next to a rugby field.
"You have those historical cultural differences.
"The other aspect that makes the competition great is that there is no definite winner.
"If you take the Rugby Championship, you can't make a strong argument for anybody other than New Zealand to win it at the moment. South Africa, Australia and Argentina are probably 15 to 20 percent behind New Zealand.
"You can make an argument that the game between Ireland and England, in the last week of the tournament, will be a championship decider.
"However, France and Scotland are improving, while Italy is not the embarrassment what they use to be. That is why it is a great competition."
Another significant aspect of the 2017 Six Nations is that they have finally decided to introduce bonus points to the competition structure - after years of the old system of two points for a win, one point each for a draw and nothing else.
"After the  World Cup, where four Southern Hemisphere teams finished in the semifinals, there was a lot of introspection," Mallett said.
"The Northern Hemisphere realised that driving mauls and collapsed scrums, playing off No.9 is not necessary the way to go.
"The weather changes in January and February and the first three weekends in the last [Six Nations] championship - combined with the coaches and coaching, as well as the refereeing - computed to a slow and turgid opening three weeks in the tournament.
"That followed a World Cup [in 2015] that was exhilarating. World Rugby was disappointed to see Northern Hemisphere rugby go backwards.
"These [bonus points] have been introduced to make it spectator friendly, with teams trying to score more tries and fight for that losing bonus point.
"They wanted to avoid games where in the last 20 minutes you know the result and the attacking side plays out time.
"Now it is all to play for still.
"It will add something extra to the tournament."
By Jan de Koning
* Nick Mallett is part of the Accenture Analysis Team during the RBS 6 Nations, providing fans with insight and analysis to #Seebeyond standard match data. Follow @AccentureRugby or visit accenture-rugby.com