With it being a World Cup year, the Six Nations will be a massive staging ground for Europe’s elite, particularly England and Wales with both sides under new management. Darry Worthington previews the tournament.
To Win Outright
2022 Finish: Champions
The reigning champions come into this one as one of the two hot favourites to lift the Six Nations title with Ireland slightly shorter than them.
Les Bleus had an absolute cracker of a campaign last term as they took the Grand Slam on their way to ending a near decade-long Championship drought. It was a long time in the making, however, as the French had shown a lot of promise in the 2021 campaign where they finished as runners-up.
Fabien Galthié and his men could well go back-to-back. They have a vastly talented squad that boasts insane depth in every single position. This was evident last season when the French made a number of injury-enforced changes during the year and were still able to pick up wins against some of the best sides in the world.
2022 Finish: Runners-Up
The Irish saw their stock rise to never seen before highs last season with a first-ever series victory in New Zealand, a solid Six Nations campaign. They also enjoyed an unbeaten end-of-the-year incoming tour sealing their spot as the world’s number 1 ranked side.
However, It’s up for debate whether they are actually as good as the IRB rankings would have people believe. I’m not trying to take anything away from their 2022 achievements but that series win in New Zealand came against one an All Blacks outfit at one of their lowest ebbs in the professional era. They were also on the ropes against South Africa when the two sides met in November at the Aviva. They’re a damn good side, but not the best in the business for my money at least.
If the Irish are to go one better than they did in last year’s Championship and lift the cup, they are going to need incumbent fly-half Johnny Sexton to turn out in all their matches. The veteran has struggled with injury for the best part of half a decade and the Irish are nowhere near as threatening a proposition when he isn’t on the field.
2022 Finish: Third
It’s a new era for English rugby but it’s got a bit of an old feel to it with Eddie Jones’ former assistant Steve Borthwick taking over the reins from his Australian mentor. Jones was sacked after a poor 2022 that saw England finish third in the Six Nations and lose at Twickenham to South Africa and Argentina.
The new man through the door has an immense amount of pressure on his shoulders with this England side left heavily unbalanced after Jones’ constant tinkering.
If the English are going to mount a serious title charge Borthwick is going to have to make some big decisions, with the biggest likely to be what to do with Owen Farell. Borthwick has named the Saracens star as his captain for the Six Nations but he may well opt to field Farell in the fly-half role as opposed to inside centre as Farell’s partnership with talented young gun Marcus Smith has failed to blossom despite the duo playing a decent amount of rugby next to each other.
2022 Finish: Fourth
The great entertaining underachievers will be looking for more consistency in the Six Nations this term.
The Scots once again gave a decent account of themselves in last year’s Championship, beating the English and Italians, while giving Wales a real run for their money. They were soundly beaten by the two form sides in 2022 though, going down 26-5 to Ireland and 17-36 to France.
Gregor Townend’s men are likely to frustrate again this year. While they’re a vastly talented group, they really do struggle to string a series of results together. I expect them to cause England all sorts of problems on the opening weekend, however, and they could well have a major role in deciding which side claims this year’s title.
2022 Finish: Fifth
Wales will be looking to atone for a dreadful 2022 Six Nations campaign that saw them finish fifth and suffer an extremely embarrassing 21-22 home defeat to Italy when they begin life under Warren Gatland for a second time. The veteran Kiwi coach returns north having struggled to make a real impact during his time with the Chiefs in New Zealand.
Gatland will likely be able to get more out of this Welsh side than his predecessor, Wayne Pivac, but he won’t turn them into World beaters overnight. Going in his favour, however, is the return of some big guns including George North who looks like he will be available for the opening weekend clash with Ireland.
A decent showing at this year’s championship could go some way in dispelling memories of last year which included a dire Championship run and a home defeat by Georgia. Gatland has a proper job on his hands.
2022 Finish: Last
They may have finished last but the 2022 Six Nations campaign was a brilliant one for the Azzurri who registered a famous win over Wales at the Millenium Stadium. They also gave Scotland a good run going down by just a solitary point to Gregor Townsend’s lads.
Fair play to the IItalains, last season’s Championship campaign was just reward for the amount of effort that has gone into their youth program with youngsters like Paolo Garbisi and Ange Capuozzo really coming to the fore. These two youngsters will be key to the Italians if they are to better their 2022 showing this year.
While they won’t challenge the likes of France and Ireland, I reckon this Italian side have the ability to beat Wales and Scotland. They could also give England a big scare in the second round of matches.
Ireland have the easiest of draws of all the sides playing three games at home with two of those against England and France. I do get the feeling they may well slip up against Wales in the first round which would leave the door open for France to defend their title.
Les Bleus would have to beat either Ireland or England away from home in order to achieve a title defence. In the past, I would have said they don’t have the backbone to do this but this French team is different to previous vintages. I’m on them taking the title again and securing back-to-back Grand Slams