Super Rugby starts this weekend but, much further north, rugby remains a winter sport. There, in the depths of darkness, the post-World Cup era kicks off with the Six Nations, and the first test matches of the year. Here's what we can expect.
1. Who will win?
Yeah, cheers, begin with an easy one. The short answer is England, following their World Cup final loss to South Africa, are short-priced favourites. And probably for good reason.
Other than Billy Vunipola, who broke his arm for a fourth time, Eddie Jones retains the bulk of his squad that crushed the All Blacks in the semifinal. In a nod to the future, 10 new faces are included, with Saracens flanker Ben Earl tipped to make an immediate impression, though the absence of a specialist No 8 is curious.
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If England get over France in their opening match in Paris — far from a given, of course — they should go on to claim the title. With Ireland and Wales at Twickenham the draw certainly favours England. Ireland will sniff a chance, though. Their senior core remains and, now led by Johnny Sexton, they are highly motivated after again failing to progress beyond the World Cup quarter-finals.
Wales, too, cannot be completely discounted. They are champions, after all. Lions No8 Taulupe Faletau is preparing for his first test in two years, but losing loose forward Josh Navidi to a hamstring injury is a blow. Italy at home should be a relatively easy start but Ireland and England away offer the first serious tests of the Wayne Pivac era.
2. What impact will the widespread coaching changes have?
A changing of the guard theme runs through Ireland, Wales, France and Italy, all of whom have new head coaches. Andy Farrell steps in for Joe Schmidt. Pivac has the daunting task of assuming Warren Gatland's mantle. Fabien Galthie succeeds Jacques Brunel with France, and former Springbok Franco Smith moves from the Cheetahs to Italy where he replaces Irishman Conor O'Shea in an interim role.
Changes don't stop there. In many respects, the new assistants may be more influential.
Top of that list is Shaun Edwards. Will his hard-nosed approach work wonders on the French defence, or could an eventual clash of cultures lie in wait? The Welshman is used to getting his way under Gatland, but his confrontational personality may jar with the more flamboyant French.
What will Mike Catt bring to Ireland's attack? Support for another Englishman in the Irish coaching ranks hasn't been overwhelming.
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How will England fare with the introduction of former sevens specialist Simon Amor as attack coach, and South African Matt Proudfoot coming on board as forwards mentor which pushes Steve Borthwick to skills coach, before he joins Leicester Tigers.
Can former Ospreys head coach and Waratahs assistant Steve Tandy improve Scotland's defence, or will Matt Taylor's departure to join Dave Rennie's Wallabies coaching team prove another blow?
How these deck chairs bed in will have a major bearing on the tournament.
3. Who is the dark horse?
France, it's always France. As cliché as it gets if anyone can upset the apple-cart it's Le Bleus.
This tournament may be too early for what's a youthful 42-man squad featuring 19 uncapped players, an average age of 24, and a long-term focus on chasing success at their home World Cup in 2023. Excluding experienced campaigners Camille Lopez, Maxime Médard and Wenceslas Lauret surprised many, as did the non-selection of Fijian-born Clermont superstar Alivereti Raka.
France claimed the last two under-20s World Cups, and Galthie is clearly keen to embrace that depth of talent. For evidence look no further than Antoine Dupont, already one of the world's best halfbacks, and playmaker Romain Ntamack. Clermont's Damian Penaud, equally capable at wing or midfield, is another sure to continue his rise while New Zealand-born centre Virimi Vakatawa possesses magic skill.
Galthie had the benefit of attending the World Cup in Japan where France underperformed throughout the pool stages and then blew their quarter-final against Wales after lock Sebastien Vahaamahina lashed out with an elbow to the head that saw him sent off.
Early in that match against Wales, though, France produced sublime attacking movements. If Galthie, the former French captain who guided three different clubs to Top 14 finals, can mould this squad, anything is possible.
4. Will the Saracens salary cap drama prove a major distraction for England?
To a certain degree this probably depends on how England starts. Win in Paris and momentum should keep negative thoughts at bay but it's funny how one defeat can swiftly alter perspective.
There's no doubt that until the saga of where Saracens players will feature next season is confirmed, the ongoing uncertainty shrouds England's campaign. Some individuals are better than others at compartmental-ising their respective challenges, but mapping out future club careers is no small matter to completely ignore.
Established England test players — Owen Farrell, Jamie George, Maro Itoje, Mako and Billy Vunipola — are likely to stay and help the embattled club rise from the Championship next season, following their automatic relegation for breaching the cap over the last four successive seasons.
That's understandable, but what does an emerging rookie such as Ben Earl do? Plying his trade in the second-division next season will not aid test selection hopes.
At some point throughout this tournament, those decisions are certain to weigh on minds and distract from the task at hand.
5. Speaking of distractions ... has Finn Russell derailed Scotland's campaign before it begins?
Yes, yes he has. Russell is yet to state his side of the story but the gifted playmaker was disciplined last week for breaching team protocol in what's thought to be a case of his refusal to stop drinking when asked by players and management. Six pints of Guinness has been bandied around as the crime Russell committed, and that was enough to see him stood down from Scotland's opening match in Dublin.
Scotland coach Gregor Townsend desperately needs a positive campaign after failing to guide his team out of their pool at the World Cup. Losing Russell, who it's said opted to leave camp and return to his Paris-based Racing 92 club after the incident, is a body blow to hopes of staging an opening-round upset.
Russell is a maverick in all respects but his deteriorating relationship with Townsend should be a concern for all involved in the Scottish game.
During the last Six Nations, Russell inspired Scotland to a remarkable second-half Calcutta Cup comeback at Twickenham in which they scored 38 unanswered points, only for the match to finish in a draw. At halftime, Russell argued with Townsend about the approach Scotland should take and, in the end, did it his way.
Russell is Scotland's leading light — since 2016 he's collected four man of the match awards in this tournament, more than any other player — but this latest incident clearly left Townsend in a difficult position that forced him to weigh performance against team culture and standards.
Townsend is confident Glasgow playmaker Adam Hastings, the 23-year-old son of Gavin who is yet to start a Six Nations match, will fill Russell's void but after their World Cup disappointment, Scotland again starts on the back foot.
6. Which Kiwis should you look out for?
Aside from Pivac in the coaching box former Crusaders wing Johnny McNicholl is poised to make his test debut this weekend alongside now regular second five-eighth Hadleigh Parkes. Sean Maitland and Christchurch-born tighthead prop Simon Berghan will turn out for Scotland but former Hurricanes loose forward Blade Thomson was a surprise omission after featuring at the World Cup.
Bundee Aki starts his first test for Ireland since the World Cup red card. Dean Budd and Jayden Hayward are again included in the Italian squad, while former Counties Manukau prop Uini Atonio returns to the French squad after neck surgery. John Mitchell also remains alongside Eddie Jones in England's camp.