THERE was the annual opportunity for me to catch up with some old faces at the preview dinner for the Six Nations Championship earlier this week.

It’s always nice to meet up with some of the guys who you haven’t seen for a while, including a few former Bath teammates.

It was also a reminder that the Championship is nearly upon us – it seems to have crept up very fast this year.

In many ways, this year’s tournament cannot come around soon enough.

With all the internal squabbling surrounding the future of rugby in Europe in particular, it feels like some edge has been taken off things a bit this year.

Professional rugby has – and is – making great strides, but there are a lot of question marks still over its future and the sort of infighting we have seen in the last few months doesn’t help players and won’t attract sponsors.

As for the tournament itself, from an England point of view, they seem to be in a reasonably good place.

To me, this is the chance for some experimentation because we need to know the type of players we have got.

There should be opportunities for players to put their hands up to say that they should be in the squad for next year’s World Cup and, hopefully, they can get a squad together with players they can trust.

England seem to be in a good position, with a few new players who don’t carry any sort of baggage from previous years.

You could perhaps compare that to Ireland, many of whose players have been around for a while and probably do have that baggage.

As for the champions, Wales, they have maybe suffered from having so many players on duty with the British & Irish Lions last summer.

You also get the feeling that, with the fighting between the Welsh Rugby Union and the regions, all is not well in the sport there.