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Six Nations rugby 2023: Storylines, players and predictions

BY Chris Jaworski

1st Feb 2023 Sport

Six Nations rugby 2023: Storylines, players and predictions

The Six Nations, rugby’s oldest international tournament, is always a colossal affair. This year’s tournament, however, will be even more tense as it begins the build-up to the 2023 Rugby World Cup

While the Six Nations is a proud, storied tournament whose origins date back more than a century, there’s always an added tension when it takes place during a World Cup year. It has now been 20 years since the Six Nations champions won the World Cup, but there’s always an air of expectation that follows the winners as we march on to rugby’s showpiece event. Will this year’s champions have what it takes?

Ambitious Azzurri to finish last

Italy broke a 36-match losing streak for their first Six Nations win in seven years and beat Australia for the first time ever in 2022. They were also embarrassed by South Africa’s ten-try win and suffered a first loss to Georgia. Despite the highs and lows, Italy will rightly take confidence from their performances and bring some attacking flair to 2023’s Six Nations.

"Italy will rightly take confidence from their performances and bring some attacking flair, but this year won't see them move"

Player to Watch: The glue that holds this squad together is Michele Lamaro. If the Italians are to succeed this year, it’ll be from one of Lamaro’s turnovers. 

Prediction: For all the progress that Italy has made, this year won’t see them move. Sixth place.

Peace between Gregor and Finn?

Scotland’s story is unfortunate. Individually brilliant players like Finn Russell, Stuart Hogg and Duhan van der Merwe can produce absolute magic when the time is right, but the past few years have seen Scotland struggle, as ever, with consistency—something apparent in their losses to the All Blacks and Wallabies last year. 

Player to Watch: Scotland’s success rests in the golden hands of Finn Russell. Since the feud between head coach Gregor Townsend and Russell feud has cooled, much of their game plan should be built around getting the most out of their mercurial fly-half. 

Prediction: While they may cause an upset or two, inconsistency will ensure Fifth Place.

First-time jitters for Borthwick’s England

Rugby Six Nations predictions - Alex Dombrandt and other England rugby playersEngland's Alex Dombrandt (centre) is a player to watch in the Six Nations 2023. Photo credit: Six Nations Rugby

One can’t help but wonder what the RFU were thinking when they sacked Eddie Jones. Regarded as one of the most capable coaches in rugby, this may well be a gamble that backfires on England. All eyes will now be on new head coach Steve Borthwick as he attempts to recreate his Leicester Tigers success with the English. But international rugby, as Wayne Pivac could tell you, is an entirely different kettle of fish.

"All eyes will now be on new head coach Steve Borthwick as he attempts to recreate his Leicester Tigers success with the English"

Player to Watch: While Sam Simmonds and Alex Dombrandt have both had time at test level, look to one of them to finally pin down the England eight shirt. 

Prediction: Injury setbacks and a new game plan will make for a wobbly start. Fourth Place. 

Wales wants Warren to wow

Welsh rugby has been all over the news, but for all the wrong reasons. Their CEO resigning in disgrace and their new/old head coach Warren Gatland ham-fistedly discussing the WRU’s sexism problems make for a particularly unflattering picture. On the pitch, however, the Welsh clubs are punching above their weight. The question remains as to whether their renewed energy translates to international success when shifting back to Warrenball. 

Player to Watch: Joe Hawkins looked right at home in the 12 shirt last year. 

Prediction: Gatland’s style of play will give Wales more opportunities than they had under Pivac. Third Place.

France’s eyes on the World Cup

France's rugby team celebrate winning the Six Nations with a Grand Slam in 2022
France beat all the teams at last year's Six Nations to win the tournament with a Grand Slam. Photo credit: Six Nations Rugby

2022 saw France finally triumph—after a decade of underperforming, Fabien Galthié’s men won the Six Nations. France heads into this year’s competition as likely favourites to win it, after thrilling wins over Australia and South Africa in 2022, but their minds will surely be looking beyond the Six Nations, coveting a World Cup victory at home. 

"France are favourites to win it, but their minds will surely be looking beyond the Six Nations, coveting a World Cup victory at home"

Player to Watch: While it’ll be tough to take eyes off Dupont, Cyril Baille is the cornerstone of France’s fearsome forwards.

Prediction: Runners up. France will sacrifice a win or two to experiment ahead of the World Cup. 

Ireland to peak (again) before World Cup

In 2022, Ireland looked strong—winning an away series against New Zealand, smashing through northern hemisphere opposition in the Six Nations, and pipping the World Champion Springboks in the autumn. The question with Ireland is whether they can keep this momentum up with their cursed quarter-final looming later this year against either New Zealand or France. This Six Nations presents a perfect opportunity for the Irish to gain momentum to get them to their first-ever World Cup semi-final. 

Player to Watch: Like Scotland, Ireland’s success hinges on their starting fly-half, Jonathan Sexton. Beirne, van der Flier and Furlong are all integral to maintaining possession, but it is up to Sexton to convert that possession into points. 

Prediction: While France may hold back, Ireland will not. Champions.

While the 2023 Six Nations may be overshadowed somewhat by the World Cup later this year, 2023’s tournament promises to be full of drama and will build up momentum for the eventual champions, as they attempt to claim rugby’s biggest prize later this autumn.

Banner photo credit: ITV

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