The players will now make their bids for places on next summer's British and Irish Lions tour to Australia after the final composition of Warren Gatland's coaching team was confirmed.
Conjecture over the make-up of the touring party can begin in earnest after Gatland confirmed his assistants as Rob Howley, Graham Rowntree and Andy Farrell. The quartet selected a hypothetical squad on Tuesday, based on the players currently available, and Howley anticipates the Lions tour will mean there is an added dimension to the 2013 RBS 6 Nations.
"There's nothing like a Six Nations before a Lions tour," Howley said. "When it was a Lions tour there was an X on the calendar, the date of the first Test, and you knew you had four, five games to perform in your national jersey, to put your hand up."
He added: "Every four years it happened and it's a special time. None of the home unions will lack motivation in terms of the prize at stake of wearing the Lions jersey.
"The one thing we have to get right over the next three, four months is selection. In 2009 we lost the series and we got selection wrong.
"That's key to the starting foundations of the tour."
Gatland aims to select from each of the home unions, believing representation from all four nations is important to the tradition of the Lions.
Rowntree is confident in the player pool available, but there is already slight disagreement as tour manager Andy Irvine, a Scot, believes the composition of the group will change dramatically between now and June.
Rowntree said: "We've got an exceptional player base, some great players we can choose from and to try to narrow them down to a workable group is going to be a challenge for us. But we've got to get it right.
"I'd like to think even at this early stage, there's a core group there that will remain post Six Nations, with a few guys coming back from injury hopefully forcing their way back in."
- Sports & Recreation
- Warren Gatland
- Graham Rowntree
- Rob Howley