6 Nations 2022 captains; Credit: Getty Images

The 6 Nations rugby tournament starts this coming week-end, with Ireland hosting Wales on Saturday 5 February, followed by Scotland hosting England for the Calcutta Cup, and then France hosting Italy in Paris on the Sunday.

Each team then plays the other teams one each (no home-and-away matches in this tournament), with the tournament culminating in what is called "Super Saturday" on Saturday 19 March when there are three matches back-to-back, starting with Wales-Italy, then Ireland-Scotland and concluding with France hosting England in Paris.

So how is it all going to unfold? Let's examine a few of the parameters in play:

World Rugby rankings: While South Africa and New Zealand occupy the top two positions in the world rankings, England, Ireland and France are in 3rd, 4th and 5th places, with Scotland in 7th, Wales in 8th and Italy down in 14th.

Rugby World Cup 2019: this was played in Japan, with the hosts knocking Scotland out at the group stages. Europe's top team, England, lost the final to South Africa after beating New Zealand in the semi-finals and Australia in the quarter-finals. Wales pipped France in the quarter-finals but then lost their semi-final to South Africa. Ireland yet again failed to progress past the quarter-finals where they lost to New Zealand. Italy failed to get out of their group; admittedly this included New Zealand and South Africa.

last year's tournament: In a tournament that was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and where there were limited crowds at matches, Wales surprised everyone (including themselves) by winning four out of their five matches (20 points) from France (16 points), Ireland and Scotland (both on 15 points), England on 10 points (they just won two matches) and Italy without a point.

the Autumn internationals: November was the last time the international sides played matches; in a period where traditionally the powerhouse southern hemisphere sides come to Europe, those that came were on shortened tours, with some 2nd-tier nations getting more experience of playing against top sides as a result. England thrashed Tonga, beat Australia and pipped South Africa by one point; France beat Argentina, Georgia and New Zealand; Ireland thrashed Japan and Argentina and beat New Zealand; Wales were thrashed by New Zealand and also lost to South Africa but beat Fiji and pipped Australia by one point; Scotland thrashed Tonga and beat Australia and Japan but lost to South Africa; Italy lost to New Zealand and Argentina but beat Uruguay.

club form: in the domestic leagues as well as the Heineken Champions Cup, some matches have fallen fowl to COVID-19 restrictions and regulations, so these cannot be used accurately as a yardstick of current form of top players. Nevertheless, Bordeaux are trailblazing in France's Top 14, Leicester Tigers are doing the same in England's Premiership, and in the United Rugby Championship, both of Scotland's teams, Edinburgh and Glasgow, are topping the league, with Ireland's Leinster, Munster and Ulster taking the next three places. The Heineken Champions Cup has seen a new format this year with a round-of-16 with both home-and-away fixtures marked in to be played just after the 6Nations, but many matches have fallen by the wayside.

the road to the 2023 Rugby World Cup: this is the big competition that is on the horizon, with just the 6 Nations games this year and next, the June tours this year (Ireland travel to New Zealand, Wales travel to South Africa; England travel to Australia; Scotland travel to Argentina and France travel to Japan) and next, and the autumn internationals this year left for the sides to be match-prepared for the pinnacle of world rugby that takes place again in France. The main draw has taken place with France and Italy with New Zealand in Pool A; Ireland and Scotland together with South Africa in Pool B; Wales with Australia and Fiji in Pool C; and England drawn against Japan and Argentina in Pool D.

So, in what is traditionally a tournament where injuries to a couple of key players can derail a team's chances from the start, but where new talent can burst through if given the chance. Confidence is key, not of individuals but of teams. Let's have a look at how the teams are:

England: Under Eddie Jones, England have played very well and narrowly lost the 2019 Rugby World Cup final. However, they are currently rebuilding with an eye on the 2023 tournament closer to home (in France, not Japan). Having their leading club, Saracens, relegated to the 2nd tier and banned from European competition, arguably contributed to their finishing 5th in last year's 6Nations. But has Eddie Jones being at England's helm for too long? With England having three games on the road this year, and one of those in France, maybe this year's competition is a step too far for them...

France: Les Bleus have arguably the best half-back combination in the tournament, certainly the most exciting to watch, with Antoine Dupont at scrum-half (he is the 2021 World Rugby's Men's Player of the Year) and Romain Ntamack at out-half. France have three matches at home in this year's tournament, with just Wales and Scotland away: playing in Cardiff will be tricky. Head coach Fabien Galthie also has the excellent Shaun Edwards in his coaching team this year: will it be the third time lucky, not that Edwards needs luck on his side...

Wales: Traditionally, the principality's teams in the United Rugby Championship have not had much success, or much to cheer about (apart, possibly from Osprey's last-minute win over Leinster on Saturday evening); however, once they put on the red jersey, the Welsh players transform into something else, quite unrecognisable from their club form. Wayne Pivac is still finding his feet since replacing the phenomenally-successful Warren Gatland in November 2109. Looking at this year's fixture list, Wales start away to Ireland and are also away to England, so maybe they won't be able to repeat last year's surprise championship heroics.

Ireland: The Irish are still rebuilding after the departure of talismanic Joe Schmidt, with Andy Farrell putting his mark on the side which is much more high-tempo and offloading than the military precision of his predecessor. Ireland have won their last 14 games and complement the successful model at Leinster from where over half their side comes. Their side is balanced and they have developed strength-in-depth; but are they over-reliant in Jonny Sexton, with heir-apparent Joey Carbery just back from yet another serious injury? But they do have arguably the best front-row in the business with Andrew Porter, Ronan Kelleher and Tadgh Furlong with abundant riches at back-row too. Ireland's first game is at home to Wales but then they are away to France; they are also away to England. If they win their home games and one of their two away games, that may not be enough for the championship, though.

Scotland: Scotland did well in last year's championship when they beat a below-par England at Twickenham, they won in Paris and just lost a tight game at home to Wales which would otherwise have swung the championship in their favour. Their sides are going well in the URC so maybe they are building the right momentum for this year's championship and the 2023 Rugby World Cup? Gregor Townsend has been head coach of the national team since 2017; maybe now they are building momentum? Or will the opposition be more wary after the scares last year? With Stuart Hogg, Finn Russell and Duhan van der Merwe in their back-line, anything can happen.

Italy: There have been calls from some quarters for relegation from the 6Nations to let in emerging nations such as Georgia, with South Africa also mooted as a possibility, but Italy are still there without having won a 6Nations game for a number of years now. Their club infrastructure is improving and Benetton Treviso won the Pro14 Rainbow Cup (set up in place of the cancelled June internationals last year) in 2021. Now under the management of Kieran Crowley from New Zealand, with Italy spring a surprise in this year's 6Nations? Many people hope that they will, for the good of the game, as long as it's not against their team...

This year's competition is impossible to predict. We'll just have to sit back and watch the action unfold on the pitches and wait until mid-March to see who will be crowned 6 Nations Champions 2022.