Six Nations Preview - A Mouth Watering Prospect
The Six Nations is a tournament steeped in history. Contested since 1883, has there ever been a championship quite as open as this one? Infinity Sports Travel’s Digital Content Lead and self-professed resident rugby nause, Jack Rossiter, takes a look at 2023’s offering…
The current rugby landscape, especially from a Six Nations point of view, is fascinating. With less than 9 months until Rugby World Cup France 2023, this is the last chance these six teams will get under tournament, test match, conditions before heading to France in September. Usually at the start of the tournament, there is one nation that is a clear favourite to win and talk generally turns to who poses the biggest threat to their Grand Slam chances - rather than competition for the crown. This year, however, is different, with several teams having a genuine chance to claim the title.
Ireland, Bookies odds: 5/4, JR’s predicted finish: 2nd
Current world number one ranked side. Unbeaten during the Autumn Nations Series. Won an away series vs The All Blacks 2-1 over the summer. Beaten only by Grand Slam winning France in the 2022 edition of the tournament.
The bookies favourite to win the 2023 Six Nations, Ireland have arguably the toughest opening two weekends, an away trip to Cardiff and a home match up with France. Their record in Cardiff is not great and, even with Wales’s current short fallings, a visit to The Principality is no easy prospect. To add a further worry to Irish heads, their talismanic captain Johnny Sexton recently underwent facial surgery in early January and has not played since.
Home games: France & England
Away games: Wales, Italy & Scotland
Key Players: Johnny Sexton, Garry Ringrose, Josh van der Flier
France, Bookies odds: 15/8, JR’s predicted finish: 1st
Recorded an unbeaten year in 2022. Current world number two ranked side. Unbeaten during the Autumn Nations Series. Reining Grand Slam Champions.
The unstoppable steam roller. Les Bleus have been in fine form, toppling all before them over the past 14 months. The change in form coincides with the FRF’s acquisition of Shaun Edwards as defence coach and they have already been touted as favourites to win their home World Cup later in the year. Can they stand up to the weight of expectation of a French public who have been known to turn on their own team at the drop of a hat? Not only this, but the French have their toughest two games away from home in Dublin & at Twickenham. Can they maintain their flair or at some point, will they do a “classic France” and capitulate?
Home games: Scotland & Wales
Away games: Italy, Ireland & England
Key Players: Antonie Dupont, Romain Ntamack, Charles Ollivon, (Shaun Edwards)
England, Bookies odds: 4/1, JR’s predicted finish: 3rd
A poor 50% win rate in 2022. Dropped from a world ranking of 2nd in January 2021 to 5th in January 2022. Scraped to an unconvincing third place in last year’s tournament. A new coach at the helm.
Let’s be blunt, England were terrible in 2022. Let’s be even more honest; the last time England put on a good display of rugby for a full 80 minutes was the semi-final win vs The All Blacks in 2019. If Steve Borthwick is to turn the ship around, he needs to be brave enough to make some big changes in both selection and tactics. He has named an exciting squad with several Jones era stalwarts (rightly) culled and I am looking forward to seeing his first team selection. Scotland at home will not be an easy test. Winning the Calcutta Cup back from Scotland will be a step in the right direction.
Home games: Scotland, Italy & France
Away games: Wales & Ireland
Key Players: Very hard to pick; Manu Tuilagi, Marcus Smith, Ellis Genge, Alex Dombrant
Wales, Bookies odds: 12/1, JR’s predicted finish: 5th
Do Wales really want to look back over the past 12 months? An abysmal record. Fifth in the 2022 tournament. A loss to Georgia at home in the Autumn Nations Series. A total of only three wins in 2022.
If England’s year has been bad, that’s nothing compared to Wales’. The one hope is the reappointment of Warren Gatlin - however, unlike last time, there is no Shaun Edwards or Rob Howley to help him coach. Gatlin has stuck with the old favourites in his selection for the 2023 Six Nations and one cannot help but think that Wales recent shortcomings have been due to their inability to give young talent a decent shot. Many other teams have gone through rebuilds in recent years and are reaping the benefits - look at Ireland and France. Can the stalwarts defy the odds or do Wales need to face reality?
Home games: Ireland & England
Away games: Scotland, Italy & France
Key Players: Jac Morgan, Louis Rees-Zammit, Dan Biggar
Scotland, Bookies odds: 20/1, JR’s predicted finish: 4th
Form has been up and down. Pushed New Zealand in the Autumn. Smashed Argentina in a fiery encounter in their last outing. Have beaten England at the last two times of asking.
The Scots should be coming into this year’s tournament full of hope and confidence. Gregor Townsend’s side have been developing well over the past year with some strong performances. The key for Scotland to perform is undoubtedly ensuring there is a working relationship between Gregor Townsend and his maverick, magical, playmaker, Finn Russell. When Russell is on form, Scotland are a different team and can beat anyone in world rugby. The question is, can they find some consistency, and can Gregor and Finn stay friends long enough to pull off a win?
Home games: Scotland, Italy & France
Away games: Wales & Ireland
Key Players: Finn Russell, Jamie Ritchie, Stuart Hogg
Italy, Bookies odds: 500/1, JR’s predicted finish: 6th
The best form they have been in for years. Recorded a brilliant win over Australia in the Autumn. Bested Wales in the 2022 tournament.
Everyone’s second favourite team after their own nation. It’s impossible to watch Italy play and not want them to do well (if it’s not against your team!). They have been playing some exciting rugby and could be dark horses for the season. I am most excited about the prospect of seeing Ange Capuozzo back in action. The young full back has been devastating for the past few seasons and is a bright spark for the Azzurri
Home games: France, Ireland & Wales
Away games: England & Scotland
Key Players: Ange Capuozzo, Sebastian Negri, Edoardo Padovani