Women's Six Nations 2018: England favourites to retain their crown

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Six Nations more competitive than ever - Hunter
Follow the 2018 women's Six Nations live on the BBC
Dates: 2 February-18 March
Coverage: Watch Scotland, Ireland and Wales (bar Wales' games against Ireland and France) online; watch highlights of all home nations on BBC TV, Red Button and online on Sunday nights. Listen on 5 live sports extra, BBC Sport website and app. Live text coverage of selected matches on BBC Sport website and app.

As reigning Grand Slam champions and World Cup runners up, England are the team to beat in the 2018 Women's Six Nations.

France are expected to be their biggest challengers, while Ireland are rebuilding after a disappointing home World Cup campaign last summer.

Wales, Italy and Scotland are all improving - and anyone could cause an upset.

The destination of the Six Nations trophy could be decided in week four when France host England at Stade des Alpes in Grenoble. Expect a large crowd and big TV audience - especially in France - to tune in.

The BBC will be streaming online all games involving Scotland, Ireland and Wales (bar Wales' games against Ireland and France), while Sky TV will show England's matches.

England - reigning champions

The Red Roses are rebuilding after the 2017 World Cup, with many top players unavailable as they are back on sevens contracts.

Ranked second in the world behind New Zealand, they are favourites after their run to the World Cup final, in which they lost to the Black Ferns.

However, without the likes of Emily Scarratt or Natasha Hunt, expect new faces like Abigail Dow and Shaunagh Brown to start making the headlines.

Shaunagh Brown throws the hammer in Glasgow at the 2014 Commonwealth Games
Shaunagh Brown moved to rugby after finishing 11th in the women's hammer at the 2014 Commonwealth Games

Ireland

Don't mention their home World Cup to Ireland. On the pitch it didn't go to plan and they've dropped to ninth in the world rankings, so the Six Nations is the perfect opportunity to move on.

New part-time coach Adam Griggs has named a squad with nine new caps, and has appointed Munster flanker Ciara Griffin, 24, as the new Ireland captain.

A warm-up before the tournament saw them beat Wales 27-19, and their first fixture is against the same side, away at Colwyn Bay.

Scotland

The moment of the 2017 Women's Six Nations was undoubtedly Scotland securing their first win in seven years in the tournament as they beat Wales 15-14.

The Scots didn't qualify for the World Cup but under coach Shade Munro, the former Scotland lock, the team have renewed vigour and belief, even if the fixture list in 2018 hasn't been kind.

Expect big things from the Scots' four professional players, Sarah Law, Jade Konkel, Chloe Rollie and Lisa Thompson.

Chloe Rollie
Chloe Rollie won her first Scotland cap in the 2015 Six Nations opener against France

Wales

Wales have had many false dawns in the Six Nations and with former Wales flanker Rowland Phillips picking a squad with 10 uncapped players, it does appear they are still in the building phase.

The Welsh were drawn in a tough pool at the World Cup but learnt from losses to New Zealand and Canada about where the bar has to be set.

Of the new faces, 18-year-old Carmarthen flanker Beth Lewis starred on the sevens circuit and excitement is growing to see if she can do the same in XVs.

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Women's Six Nations 2018: New faces can inspire Wales - Phillips

France

Ranked third in the world, Les Bleus delighted the rugby public with some stunning rugby at the World Cup, but failed to show up in their semi-final against England.

There aren't too many new faces in the French squad and all eyes will be on 21-year-old Lille flanker Romane Menager, a colossus for them at Ireland 2017 before her tournament was ended by injury.

A loss will be the absent wing Shannon Izar - the 24-year-old Lille team-mate of Menager is sidelined with a knee injury.

Italy

Life as a women's rugby player in Italy is starting to evolve. Back in November the Italian federation organised an autumn international at home against France - previously Tests outside the Six Nations were as rare as hens' teeth for the Azzurri.

Ranked eighth in the world, they finished their World Cup campaign with an extra-time victory over fierce rivals Spain that will have given confidence to Andrea Di Giandomenico's side.

There are eight new caps in the squad, including Gloucester-Hartpury flanker Bianca Maria Coltellini.

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Bianca Maria Coltellini - Italy's Gloucestershire-based architect

Sara's prediction for how the tournament will finish:

1 England

2 France

3 Ireland

4 Wales

5 Scotland

6 Italy

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