Just four short months after the Rugby World Cup, the turnabout in form for some teams is nothing short of miraculous. With one round left in the competition Hamish McBrearty wonders who these men in white or red really are.
You'll have to forgive me if I seem a little confused, but at the end of October last year weren't England the second best team in the world, losing the World Cup final to South Africa? Now they struggle to beat Italy and lost to World Cup quarterfinalists Scotland? What happened here? Did Jonny Wilkinson retire? Was their brilliant coach Brian Ashton sacked?
And on the opposite end of the spectrum, when did Wales get good? The Red Dragons couldn't even make the quarterfinals of the World Cup after the lost to Fiji in pool play and now they are poised to claim a Grand Slam?
The addition of Kiwi head coach Warren Gatland has been a revalation for the Welsh, but their stunning turnaround in for has shocked even him. "For me it was about trying to get a start with Wales and set down a platform for the future," said Gatland, but also admitted he did not expect his side to win the Triple Crown.
The other team making great strides is Italy, although they are still in contention for the wooden spoon. Sitting on the bottom of the table with no points, they have pushed Ireland, England and France so far and, if Southern Hemisphere bonus points were used in the Six Nations, would have two points, level with Scotland.
The most worrying reversal in fortune would have to be England's and with largely the same squad as at the World Cup, the reason for their demise is something of a mystery. Perhaps their hearts just aren't in it after the emotional rollercoaster of World Cup successes and defeats, or perhaps their grinding style is no longer effective against teams employing similar tactics.
The knives are already coming out for the previously untouchable Wilkinson, the Guardian labeling the Scotland game, "The day Wilko went from hero to zero" and both the Sun and Independent calling for him to be dropped. But it would seem England problems run deeper than their record breaking fly half, considering their vaunted forward pack were unable to impose their will on the less fancied Scots and Italians.
Whatever the reason for the changes of fortunes for some of the Six Nations, it is heartening to see Wales, perhaps the only country other than New Zealand where rugby is king, back as a power in the international game. The Welsh have this year's Six Nations pretty much sewn up, only a loss to France by more than 19 points can deny them, and thatmakes their clash with the All Blacks toward the end of the year an exciting prospect for Southern Hemisphere fans.