This year's Six Nations sees a host of questions looming over the heads of Europe's biggest rugby bastions, with the 2014 edition of the tournament promising to be the most open competition yet.
Will Wales be able to clinch a third, historic title in a row? Will England's experimental line-up be enough to upset the applecart? Can Italy and Scotland maintain their rise from notorious also-rans witnessed in 2013?
Those enigmas and so much more await over the next six weeks, and it all begins with this weekend's batch of opening encounters.
With so much up for grabs, one wouldn't want to miss a minute of the action as it gets off its mark. Read on for a preview of the first matches on the fixture list, as well as where one can expect to find them.
|2014 Six Nations Round 1 Fixtures|
|Wales vs. Italy||Saturday, Feb. 1||2:30 p.m. GMT/9:30 a.m. ET||BBC One||BBC Sport website|
|France vs. England||Saturday, Feb. 1||5 p.m. GMT/12 p.m. ET||BBC One||BBC Sport website|
|Ireland vs. Scotland||Sunday, Feb. 2||3 p.m. GMT/10 a.m. ET||BBC One||BBC Sport website|
Wales vs. Italy
Warren Gatland's first test in defending his two-year run of Six Nations success couldn't come under much simpler circumstances, a home fixture against Italy being about as easy as it gets in this competition.
Sam Warburton's recovery from injury sees the newly tied-down flanker start this weekend's meeting on the bench, leaving Alun-Wyn Jones as the choice for captain.
Like Warburton, Jones has also just penned a new deal to remain in Wales at the club level, his new deal with Ospreys courting praise from Simon Thomas of the Western Mail:
Jacques Brunel's Italian side have the same hopes as usual to get an underdog's result this year, their fourth-place finish in the 2013 standings having gotten off on the right foot with a beating of France at the Stadio Olimpico.
In a way, it suits the Azzurri to get such a difficult matchup as a baptism through fire, all the pressure being placed on the Welsh to perform in front of a Cardiff crowd.
That being said, Wales will hope that a distinct difference in on-pitch talent running in their favour will have the desired result, Rhys Priestland bearing a brunt of responsibility after being named as the starting fly-half.
France vs. England
Even with France finishing bottom of the Six Nations table in 2013, a trip to Paris in the opening match of this year's tournament is far from an enviable task but one that's befallen Stuart Lancaster's England all the same.
Philippe Saint-Andre drew some criticism for his approach to squad selection over the last year or so, but Les Bleus' tactician will feel more at ease with his selections now as he strives to continue forming his new-look French team.
Jules Plisson strikes as a particularly intriguing pick for the French coach at fly-half, the Telegraph announcing on Thursday (Jan. 29) that the Stade Francais playmaker would make his international debut as part of the starting XV.
England aren't nearly as debatable when it comes to the No. 10 jersey, Owen Farrell having moved up and up in the international hierarchy, performing admirably for most of the November internationals.
However, the same can't be said for the rest of the back line, with question marks hovering over the wing and centre positions, especially now that Chris Ashton's been left out of the matchday squad.
Ireland vs. Scotland
A Celtic battle to behold awaits at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday, where Ireland are seeking revenge over Scotland for the 12-8 defeat dished out at Murrayfield 12 months ago.
However, with Joe Schmidt now at their helm, the Irish will be praying that the New Zealander can lead them on to bigger and better things with a wealth of fresh blood now getting their chances.
Meanwhile, Scotland coach Scott Johnson will strive to ensure his underdogs have a few more tricks up their sleeve before he hands his position over to Vern Cotter later this year.
Like Wales, Ireland boast a deeper squad with more talent than their opposition, making it likely that the Scots won't try to play too expansively too early.
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