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The return of points difference and your ridiculously early men's Six Nations predictions

A three-way tie at the top? It’s far from impossible. Here are three things we think you’re likely to see in this year’s Six Nations.

Image: Lorraine O'Sullivan

1. Scotland will derail England’s Grand Slam plans

AS SOON AS Jamie Heaslip greeted a lowly Scotland being drawn with Ireland in the 2019 World Cup pool stage with a fist pump, it was inevitable that a near-inexplicable Scottish rugby revolution would precede the tournament by at least a year.

It has already begun in earnest under Gregor Townsend, of course, and while trips to Cardiff and Dublin might mean Scotland – in spite of the well-justified hype – are still a year out from a legitimate championship tilt, a mere top-three finish might be more palatable should it include a scalp of the old enemy in Edinburgh.

Though there’s often no correlation between November Tests and how a nation fares in the spring (see: Ireland’s 2017 Six Nations; see also: Wales – pretty much forever), the Scots’ performances possessed the type of belligerence and that would suggest this is no false dawn.

United Kingdom: England v Scotland - RBS Six Nations Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

Few can evoke such visceral hostility from Scotland as well as their neighbours to the south, and after last year’s 61-21 hiding, they’ll be out for blood.

We won’t get the Paddy’s Day Grand Slam decider we were hoping for last year as Ireland visit Twickenham, because Townsend’s men will send their English counterparts homewards tae think again for the first time in nine years.

England will edge Ireland in Twickenham on Paddy’s Day

In five competitive games between the countries since February 2013, England are a grand total of six points better off than Ireland on aggregate.

In the past decade, England have broken serve twice in Dublin, in 2011 and 2013, while Ireland have won in Twickenham just the once, in 2010.

Ireland v England - RBS 6 Nations - Aviva Stadium Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan

Ireland have held England tryless in their last three fixtures at the Aviva, but while Schmidt’s men have dotted down once in each of their last three visits to Twickenham, England outscored them by a pair of tries to Ireland’s one in two of them, while eking out a 13-10 (one try apiece) win in 2014.

When it comes down to it, you’d have to back England to best Joe Schmidt’s men on home soil once more, if only because the sole difference between the two sides for the past four years has been location, and neither has stolen a significant march on the other since last year.

England, Ireland and Scotland will all finish on four wins, 18 points, and in that exact order in the table

Forget bonus points: This year’s championship will be decided the old-fashioned way, on points difference.

In a merry-go-round of top-half scalps, the home sides shall prevail: Scotland will beat England, Ireland will beat Scotland and, finally, England will beat Ireland to ruin Saint Patrick’s Day for everyone except themselves.

Each will pick up four-try bonus points versus Italy and nobody else, and each of their defeats will be by a margin of seven points or less.

While Ireland’s fixture list includes Italy at home – a game perceived to be conducive to boosting points difference – the corresponding fixture in Rome last year in which Ireland racked up +53, as well as England’s freak home game against Conor O’Shea’s men (+19), proves such advantages fickle.

The order of England’s schedule – Italy (A), Wales (H), Scotland (A), by-then beleaguered France (A) and Ireland (H) – gives them the slightest of edges this year, with their opener in Rome even affording the crucial Maro Itoje an extra week to recover from a broken jaw.

It’ll be winner-takes-all on the last day as Ireland arrive in London chasing the Slam, but after two painstaking points-difference defeats in 2014 and 2015, it will be Eddie Jones’ men who spoil the Irish party on English soil come Paddy’s Day.

Happy new year!

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Poll: Who will win the 2018 Six Nations?

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