With the Six Nations Championship closing in, SA Rugby brings you our preview of this year's battle for northern hemisphere supremacy.
The defending champions face a fight to retain their crown following a run of seven successive Tests defeats since they won the Grand Slam. A run of injuries and the absence of head coach Warren Gatland - who is now working with the British and Irish Lions - will not help their cause.
Coach: Former Wales scrum-half Rob Howley is under enormous pressure to bring the aforementioned losses to an end, whilst a long injury list to cope with doesn't help matters either.
Captain: Last year's Grand Slam-winning skipper Sam Warburton has been entrusted once again with the captaincy duties, though the Cardiff Blues player has been lacking his best form thus far this season. Be that as it may, he remains a talismanic figure for Wales.
Stadium: The Millennium Stadium in Cardiff is brilliantly designed and situated in the heart of the city. It's a spectacular centre-piece for Welsh rugby that can take noise levels to a new dimension. When Wales are firing, it becomes an inspiring venue.
Stuart Lancaster's troops will fancy their chances of winning a first Grand Slam in 10 years. They finished runners-up last year, and with three home games, they will look to take full advantage. Confidence will also be high in the camp following their last Test outing - a stunning victory over the mighty All Blacks.
Coach: Having secured the job on a permanent basis following last season's tournament, Lancaster lost the June Test series in South Africa 2-0 and was beginning to come under pressure after defeats to Australia and the Springboks during November. That all changed after beating the World Champions... but also brings a high level of expectation.
Captain: Chris Robshaw has proved to be an excellent appointment by Lancaster, despite the Harlequins flanker copping some merciless criticism of his leadership in November. England benefit immeasurably from his pilfering work at the breakdown, and he is a certainty to be a Lions tourist barring injury.
Stadium: Twickenham in London, boasting a capacity of 82,000, is the world's largest rugby-dedicated venue and the nation's second-largest stadium behind Wembley. When England are winning there are few more rousing places to be, but long spells of quiet can often dampen the occasion when the home side are on the wrong end of the scoreboard.
Les Bleus will be confident of putting their Six Nations horrors from 2012 behind them. The French responded to their fourth-placed finish by recording wins over Argentina (twice), Samoa and Australia. France possess so much talent they must always start among the favourites.
Coach: Philippe Saint-Andre, who is starting to forge a powerful unit following the chaos of Marc Lievremont's reign, will want to carry his side's form from the November Tests into this season's competition.
Captain: Stade Francais lock Pascal Pape had big boots to fill in the absence of regular leader Thierry Dusautoir. But after leading his team to three consecutive November Test wins, it's no surprise Pape keeps the captain's armband in what will be his first Six Nations campaign as skipper.
Stadium: The 81,338 seater Stade de France was built for the 1998 football World Cup and remains an impressive sight within the unwelcoming district of Saint-Denis. Seasoned Les Bleus supporters still yearn for the more gladiatorial Parc des Princes, the previous home of French rugby, not least because of some poor results at the Stade de France.
The Irish provinces have dominated club rugby over the past seven years, winning five European crowns, but the international arena has been a far less productive hunting ground. Ireland have the raw materials to challenge any side on their day. The problem has been that those days have been few and far between of late...
Coach: The knives are out for Declan Kidney, who is once again under mounting pressure to produce victories on a regular basis. For a side containing talents such as Brian O'Driscoll, Rob Kearney, Jonathan Sexton, Sean O'Brien and Jamie Heaslip, he must do better.
Captain: Number eight Jamie Heaslip, who surprisingly replaced Brian O'Driscoll as captain, impressed when handed the role of skipper during the November Test series and is seen by Kidney as Ireland's long-term leader.
Stadium: Ireland have spoken of the need to turn Aviva Stadium (formerly known as Lansdowne Road) into a fortress, but it has proved an uncomfortable exercise so far after losing seven of their 13 games there. A superb, modern venue, the 51,700 ground is among the finest rugby stadia in the world. The atmosphere can be eerily silent, however, and contrast markedly with the noise generated at Irish provincial games.
Scotland followed up a disastrous 2012 Six Nations campaign, which saw them finish with the wooden spoon, by ending their three-match tour of Australasia undefeated. However, they were brought back down to earth with a bang - losing all their November internationals, while defeat to Tonga saw Andy Robinson step down.
Coach: Scotland's supporters will be hoping interim coach Scott Johnson (who has previously held roles with Australia, Wales and the United States) can inspire the side to recreate the same form that saw them beat the Wallabies in June. The Australian-born mentor has few expectations to deal with, given Robinson won just two of his 15 Six Nations matches.
Captain: Saracens flank Kelly Brown - capped 52 times - will continue to lead the side after taking over from hooker Ross Ford during the November Tests. Brown, who missed last year's Six Nations through injury, is enjoying a fine run of form and will need some inspirational performances to lift his team.
Stadium: Murrayfield in Edinburgh is capable of generating some rousing atmospheres - if only those attending the superb 67,130-seater stadium were given something to celebrate on a regular basis. The declining fortunes of Scottish rugby are evident at this ground, where a dwindling number of spectators turn out to watch a team that has suffered like no other amid the transition to professionalism.
The Azzurri toppled Scotland, should have beaten England and then asked plenty of questions of both New Zealand and Australia. With three home games in the championship they have a chance of causing a few upsets.
Coach: Italy continue to improve under Jacques Brunel, who acquitted himself well after succeeding Nick Mallett. But the former Perpignan coach will hope recent improvements can lead to a campaign including more than a solitary win.
Captain: Sergio Parisse is not only Italy's captain, but their star player too... and by some distance. Rugby followers can only wonder at the sort of impact he would make if he played for one of the international game's big guns.
Stadium: Italian rugby has a new home while work continues on the Stadio Flaminio, with the 82,000 capacity Stadio Olimpico proving a superb addition to the list of Six Nations stadia. More traditionally known as the home of Lazio and Roma football clubs, it is one of Italy's most cherished sporting venues and was home to the 1960 Rome Olympics.