Quite apart from it being England - the side that everyone lovesto beat in any sport - it gives the other teams the chance to measure themselvesagainst the world's best outfit even if they have lost Martin Johnson toretirement and talismanic kicker Jonny Wilkinson to injury.
While Ireland coach Eddie O'Sullivan holds out hope England willbe complacent and under-par without the latter pair, his Englandcounterpart Clive Woodward denies they will be taking anything for granted evenagainst rank outsiders Italy on February 15th.
"This is a tournament we want to win. I'll be picking a teamto beat Italy, as simple as that," said the newly-appointed British and IrishLions handler. "I don't see that playing Italy is any more difficult thanplaying Australia, especially away from home. They are the most physical teamwe will play in the Six Nations," added Woodward, who insists againstthe evidence that even without Johnson and Wilkinson England would still have wonthe World Cup.
However while England's rivals hope they enter the tournament in over-confident mood, other sides have their own World Cuppsychological scars to heal. Among those are last year's Six Nations runners-up Ireland and2002 Grand Slam champions France.
Ireland are still reeling from their 43-21thrashing by the French in the quarter-finals while France have their own revengeto take after being outplayed and outfoxed by England in the semi-finals.
Both sides will have to do without the services of some of theirmost celebrated players with Keith Wood having hung up his boots.
On theFrench side the inspirational Fabien Galthie and hooker Raphael Ibanez havealso called it a day.
"There is losing and losing badly and we left that match witha sick feeling at the bad fashion in which we had lost," saidO'Sullivan, who will have to contend with a growing injury list which could includecaptain Brian O'Driscoll who is fighting to recover from a right hamstring injury.
France coach Bernard Laporte has been rearmed with a new four-yearcontract but realises that a poor tournament could see him lose several of hisbackroom staff, who have been placed on probation.
However Laporte, while admitting beating England in the last matchwould be the icing on the cake, acknowledges until the players take someresponsibility themselves for their fitness then they will be chasing a lost cause. "There are three teams in the World better than us but wewill close the gap eventually.
"However we can do that only if the players take the Englandsquad example by being more aware of their fitness regime.
"We should change the way we think but it is not the club whocan do that, it is the player - they have to be more professional," the39-year-old said.
Of the Six Nations skippers only Colin Charvis of Wales survivesfrom the World Cup and it is the Welsh, based on their successful campaign -running England to their stiffest examination before the final - who couldwell pose the biggest danger to England.
A successful tournament would give coach Steve Hansen the perfectsend-off as he returns to his native New Zealand for a likely post asassistant to All Blacks coach Graham Henry, who was his predecessor in the Welsh job.
Certainly Hansen is bristling with confidence ahead of theiropening showdown with the Scots but insists the gutsy defeats to England and
"I hope we can build on that and it's important that we don'ttake any backward steps in the next few weeks," added Hansen, who admitshe doesn't tire of talking about the 28-17 defeat by England at the World Cup.
Scotland can hardly go into a tournament with lower expectationsbut having shed several of their fading stars - Bryan Repdath, Gregor Townsendand Kenny Logan all having retired - and with a new coach in Aussie MattWilliams in place there is fresh hope of a new Scots side.
Italy could win the Grand Slam every year if it was based onenthusiasm and the inner belief of their charismatic coach John Kirwan, but he willsettle for two wins this time round - which would be a first since they wereadmitted to the Six Nations in 2000.
Kirwan wants his Italy squad to treatthe Six Nations matches as if it were their first love affair. He also is demanding an Italian rugby team goes where none hasgone before in the Six Nations and win an away match.
"What I tell the players, as Italians understand this sort ofthing, is to treat the match as like the first time you ever fell in love.
"Obviously don't go kiss the opposing players but think of theemotion and commitment that was involved in the love affair and put that into thegame."
The 39-year-old former All Black great believes the growingconfidence within the squad makes it feasible they will also win two matches forthe first time since they were admitted to the tournament in 2000.
"We should win the Grand Slam," quipped Kirwan, who tookover from compatriot Brad Johnstone in May 2002.
"Obviously we have to think that way but realistically I amlooking for a home and an away victory - against England and France ofcourse!" he added with a hearty laugh.
Kirwan believes that such a target is attainable, though he admitsthere is still a way to go before his side is the finished article. "We are retaining the ball for longer periods and dominatingvery good teams for longer ... but we have to put that effort up to 80 minutesand kill them off," said Kirwan, who was an integral member of the AllBlacks side that captured the inaugural World Cup in 1987.
"We have improved a lot and I see our level at 40 percent atthe moment but we have the potential to improve even more and that is what I want tosee at the Six Nations."
Key to this is a continued improvement in their disciplinaryrecord which was dire during Johnstone's regime and again Kirwan sees light on thehorizon. "I won't sanction cheating in any form nor yellowcards," he said. "But we are improving and that was illustrated with ouraverage penalty count against us going down from 24 a match to eight at the World Cup.
"We are a tough team physically but I want that constrainedto the right measures such as tackling, not underhand tactics."
Kirwan, though, is encouraged in the morale of the squad which hesays has come on in leaps and bounds since he took over - Johnstone's tenurewas marked by rumours of dressing room discord against the genial but tough Kiwi- and it is this that can keep them going through the tough times.
"The aura of self-belief is running through the squad and ifwe can maintain our confidence through the bad times in the Six Nations, andthere will be some of those, then we will come out of it well," hesaid.