Returning Big Guns Can Fire Us to the Title ; Ireland Are My Favourites to Win the RBS 6 Nations, but England Can Come out on Top If They Get off to a Good Start with Their Best Players Back from Injury RBS 6 NATIONS EXCLUSIVE
Leonard, Jason, The Evening Standard (London, England)
IF I WAS Martin Johnson, I'd have a really good feeling about this Championship. Ireland are my favourites but I think England can win it. They have almost all their players back from injury and the confidence has returned. I think they can go all the way this year.
What's mostly been missing in the England team of late is leadership and direction in their game plan and style. But it will be chalk and cheese in the RBS Six Nations compared to the autumn campaign.
Martin no longer has his hands tied behind his back in terms of injuries and apart from Andrew Sheridan and Phil Vickery, I think he has the strongest squad available to him.
Captain Steve Borthwick had a tough time in the autumn with an understrength side but with our big names back such as Nick Easter, Riki Flutey and Delon Armitage, there will be more leadership across the team.
And although the XV might look more attacking on paper, Martin has just gone with the players who are tried and tested and performed well last season. Johnno has come in for some criticism as team manager but he still commands a lot of respect.
What he says and what his opinions are tend to be on the mark. There'll always be pressure on him but if there's one guy in world rugby who can handle that pressure, it's Martin.
He'll know, however, that the opener against Wales on Saturday at Twickenham is massive. England have to hit the ground running.
Last year, they started poorly and got better as the tournament progressed and come the end, they were one of the best teams. It's essential they hit a rich vein of form early -- and then retain it.
I fancy our chances against Wales but we have to make Twickenham an awkward place to come to. Opposition teams can't start to like coming here and relish playing us. The fear factor is something we have lost over the last couple of years.
I know France are some bookies' favourites but I don't agree. In my opinion, it's very hard to dismiss Ireland at the moment. They remind me very much of England pre-2003 with the experience they have throughout their team.
People were calling us "Dad's Army" prior to us winning the World Cup in 2003 and you can see that same thing happening with Ireland.
The tough thing they're going to have, which we had too, is keeping that side together for the next World Cup in 2011. They have to come to Twickenham and that will not be easy but, for me, on paper at least, I still think they are the favourites.
France again have that little bit of the unknown about them. They can be brilliant or rubbish, as we saw at Twickenham last year. They were dire that day. I think that's a typical French trait -- they can haul themselves up for the big games but they struggle in matches they should win at a canter. But they are always ones to watch out for.
As for the rest, Wales are the fourth team who can win this tournament and it would be great to see them carrying on their tradition of playing attractive and attacking rugby. …