Since the Six Nations began in 2000, four different countries have lifted the trophy – all claiming at least one Grand Slam along the way – while another four have collected the wooden spoon after finishing bottom of the table.

How, then, can you possibly predict this year’s final standings once the final round of fixtures is completed in March?

As Ireland coach Joe Schmidt said last week: “If you tried to rank one to six in two months’ time, a lot of people would struggle to get it right.”

So, it’s a good job that we can call upon the Betway Machine instead.

Having already convincingly defeated World Cup and Grand Slam winner Mike Tindall in prediction competitions for last year’s Six Nations and the 2015 Rugby World Cup, we decided to really put the Machine to the test.

Using its unique formula of combining historical head-to-head records with patterns in performance data – explained in further detail in weekly tipping previews – we are not only going to predict the results of individual matches, but attempt to calculate the outcome of the entire tournament itself.

Of course, form, injuries and pressure mean that there will always be a human side to rugby that can never be quantified.

But, even taking those into account, we still think that the Machine’s tried and trusted methods look like they could be spot on yet again…

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Ireland to prevail in Grand Slam decider

On the back of 14 consecutive wins stretching back to October 2015, England are the favourites for the title and to claim another Grand Slam.

No team, however, has ever won back-to-back Slams and, having been hit hard by injury in the lead-up to the tournament, Eddie Jones’ side will do well to change that statistic this year.

The Machine does still predict England to negotiate their first four games, which would mean drawing level with New Zealand’s record of 18 victories in a row by the time they arrive in Dublin for a Grand Slam decider against Ireland on the final weekend.

It was the Irish who ended the All Blacks’ winning streak in the autumn and, having already denied England at the final hurdle in both 2001 and 2011, the Machine is tipping them to do the same again this year by the narrowest of margins.

That would mean just a second ever Slam for Ireland, drawing level with England’s tally and moving just one behind the joint-record of Wales and France.

And if, like us, you think the Machine's calculations all add up, then you can now back Ireland to win the Grand Slam at a specially boosted price of compared to their original .   

A dual forecast for England and Ireland – who have shared the last three titles between them – to finish in the top two spots is available at , while a straight forecast of Ireland to finish top and England second is .

French renaissance and Welsh woe

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Occupying the mid-table spots – but still some way behind the front two – we have France and Wales.

After finishing second-bottom last year, the French did show some signs of life during the Autumn Internationals, losing narrowly to both New Zealand and Australia in games the stats suggested they ought to have won.

Guy Noves’ attempts to implement a more fluid style do appear to be coming to fruition, though, so although a third-place finish is not exactly spectacular, we do have them to be the tournament’s second-highest try scorers.

Wales, meanwhile, endured a far less convincing end to 2016 – in performances, if not results – under interim coach Rob Howley, while Warren Gatland prepares for this summer’s British and Irish Lions Tour.

They have also seen their captaincy change hands from Sam Warburton to Alun Wyn Jones just a fortnight before the tournament.

Fourth place would represent Wales’ worst finish since 2011, although, if it’s any consolation, their collection of losing bonus points would at least bring them respectably close to Les Bleus.

Same old stragglers

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Unsurprisingly, we’re predicting Scotland and Italy to finish in the bottom two for the 11th time in the tournament’s history.

Scotland have made sizeable strides under Vern Cotter and will take heart from beating Argentina – and making Australia sweat – in November, but, ahead of the Kiwi coach’s final Six Nations, they remain some way off bridging the gap.

Italy, on the other hand, have a new face in charge in Conor O’Shea.

But after losing all five of their matches last season, the Machine is predicting them to do the same again, with another wooden spoon for the Azzurri priced at a depressingly probable .

At least their Irish coach ought to be able to take some comfort in his compatriots triumphing in another thrilling climax to the competition.