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Six Nations: Tough to be a perfect 10 and a captain

A mystery of sport is that the best player doesn't always make the best leader, and rugby union has a history of number 10s who have failed.

This weekend sees Dan Biggar become the latest man to take on the tri-roles of playmaker, goalkicker and team captain. His head-to-head with another man who is a year into the same three-sided role, Jonathan Sexton, could define the Six Nations opener as 11/4 tournament hopefuls Ireland host Wales.

Clash of the Type A personalities in Dublin

Like Biggar, Sexton has always been known for his abrasive character and is still learning how to speak to referees without the protection of a senior colleague to deflect any overenthusiasm. In fact, the pair's dealings with South African referee Jaco Peyper could be worth the entrance fee alone at the Aviva.

However, the way the Irishman's form improved during last year's Six Nations suggested he had found a nice balance and, therefore, it was a huge surprise to see him left out of the British & Irish Lions squad for the tour of South Africa.

Biggar took on his mantle of first-choice fly-half and played well, but the series defeat left a lingering feeling that the Irishman's influence could have added an extra dimension.

Now 36, the Leinster talisman looks destined to make it through to World Cup 2023, a tournament Ireland are 10/1 to win, and Saturday's game provides a chance to lay down a marker with just over 18 months to go until the global showpiece.

The Irish are 10/11 with a -14.5 handicap but will be facing the reigning champions, who, despite being injury-ravaged, still have a back-line that contains Lions stars such as Liam Williams, Josh Adams and Louis Rees-Zammit and are 12/1 to defend their crown.

Biggar will also be desperate to justify his new leadership status, but could that come at a cost?

There's little argument against Owen Farrell being a great leader. However, his best international rugby has often come in the centre, rather than in the number 10 shirt.

Jonny Wilkinson also looked uncomfortable when picked to captain teams, while, although injury affected his chances, Dan Carter was often kept out of the captaincy talk.

Wales are 11/2 to open their campaign with a victory and Biggar's ability to delegate responsibility to others around him could define their chances.

Jones makes a statement selection

England coach Eddie Jones has often joked that he'd like to do away with numbers and positions and instead select his best XV players.

Having seen England endure their worst Six Nations campaign since the 1970s in 2021, Jones showed signs of doing just that during a successful autumn and his selection for Saturday's clash in Scotland feels like his 'Arsene Wenger moment'.

After losing last year's Calcutta Cup match, the Red Rose head to Edinburgh aiming to regain the trophy at Murrayfield for the first time since 1984 and are 8/11 to do so.

A look at England's line-up suggests Jones has, injuries aside, selected a team ready to play fast thinking and flexible rugby in a game that could be affected by the weather.

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Ben Youngs and Marcus Smith will be the half-backs but expect plenty of fluidity outside them. Henry Slade has been paired with Elliot Daly in the centre, but there is every chance left wing Joe Marchant will defend in the 13 channel. Marchant will also regularly take on the first receiver duties when required to break the gain line.

Meanwhile, right-wing Max Malins has spent most of his career at either 10 or 15, and full-back Freddie Steward may have worn 15 but often moved to the wing in the autumn, with Slade dropping back.

Jones has packed his side with footballers and Smith, Slade, Daly, Malins and Steward will look to pin Scotland back with the boot, as will Ben Youngs from the base.

Meanwhile, in the pack, the back-row of Lewis Ludlam, new captain Tom Curry and number eight Sam Simmonds is built for speed. Scotland's weaknesses are in the air and at the breakdown and while Jones would likely have picked this team whoever they were faced with, this suits England's selection.

England should also have real punch off the bench with Joe Marler, Jamie George and Alex Dombrandt all in reserve, while the cool head of George Ford could also play a huge part.

England haven't lost in Edinburgh since 2008 and their coach is clearly banking on them being able to move their opposition around in a bid to avoid a repeat of last year's opening defeat.

Can Scotland, finally, live up to the hype?

After having won three games in 2020, that result at Twickenham prompted talk of a Scotland Grand Slam. However, as has so often been the case, they fell short the following week, losing 25-24 at home to Wales.

With England and France both heading to Edinburgh in the Six Nations, Gregor Townsend will see an opportunity for his side to at least take three wins from their five games for the third straight year.

Townsend has picked a team to try and blast through the relatively lightweight England back-line, with centres Sam Johnson and Chris Harris always happy to try and smash over the top of whatever is placed in front of them.

Despite being 11/10, Scotland have been touted as the favourites and have quality throughout, with fly-half Finn Russell and captain Stuart Hogg consistently excellent.

However, if the rain and wind do come, the wing duo of Darcy Graham and Duhan van der Merwe will need to prove they can compete in the air.

There is also the question of whether Scotland will handle the pressure their recent performances have generated.

So often talented Scots teams have fallen short when expected to win. With a passionate crowd behind them, it feels time for Toonie's men to step up.

France to lay down Slam marker

There is understandably plenty of excitement around the current France team. Their squad is littered with talent and the new generation have pace, skill and power in equal measure.

The half-back duo of Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack are both fit for their Six Nations opener against Italy and having torn New Zealand apart in the autumn, they will again expect to run riot against the Azzurri.

Italy won 50-10 last year in Rome, with Mathieu Jalibert filling the 10 shirt and will be looking to produce a similar opening round performance as they eye a first Grand Slam since 2010.

With both Ireland and England set to head to Paris, the fixture list works for them and Les Bleus are 7/2 to do the clean sweep and 7/5 for the Championship.

Fabien Galthie's men are 1/1 on Sunday when afforded a -36.6 handicap and with the Azzurri still finding their way under Kieran Crowley, there could be more Paris pain for the Italians.

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