The 2023 Six Nations Championship kicks off this weekend and the action starts in Cardiff on Saturday as Wales host Ireland in the opening fixture.
The Calcutta Cup is then on the line at Twickenham as England host Scotland later in the day before Italy and France wrap up Round One in Rome on Sunday. It may be said every year but this really does look like one of the tightest tournaments to call in recent memory. Wales have brought former head coach Warren Gatland back to steer them through this year’s competition and into the 2023 Rugby World Cup while England also made a surprising change by getting rid of Eddie Jones and bringing in Steve Borthwick. It will certainly be interesting to see how the two countries with the most title wins in competition history shape up under their new leadership.
Meanwhile, there is finally a positive atmosphere around Italy after a win in Cardiff last year and victory over Australia in the Autumn International Tests. The Azzurri are still the massive underdogs in the Six Nations but look to be a far more dangerous prospect than they have been in recent tournaments. Then there’s Scotland, a side of incredibly talented players who will be looking to finally live up to expectations and mount a serious challenge for the title for the first time in a long time. As for France and Ireland, they will be the two favourites for the trophy this year and will need to demonstrate their strength to each other and the rest of the world with the World Cup just over six months away. Here are our predictions for the three Round One matches in the 2023 Six Nations Championship:
Wales vs Ireland
This same match kicked off the 2022 tournament in Dublin and it was a convincing victory for Andy Farrell’s side over a severely depleted Welsh team. However, things look set to be very different this time around with the Welsh having home advantage, several key players back from injury and the returning Warren Gatland in the coaching box.
There couldn’t be a better fixture to kick off the competition and the title aspirations of both nations will likely hang in the balance of this fixture. Wales will of course fancy their chances, as they do when any side visits Cardiff regardless of their quality, but this tournament needs to be more about improvement for them with the World Cup around the corner.
Ireland meanwhile need to avoid the dreaded tag of ‘peaking too early’ in a World Cup cycle that seems to dog them. A commanding performance in the tournament will set them up nicely for the big one later this year and they can start that with a superb away victory providing they play with their usual aggression and quality.
Our prediction: Ireland to win by seven points or less. We’re expecting a tight contest in Cardiff and don’t foresee a high scoring game with Ireland likely to just about edge it. A losing bonus point for Wales seems probable and we don’t fancy either team to run in four or more tries for the other bonus.
England vs Scotland
What a difference a year makes, especially in English rugby. Last year’s win for Scotland at Murrayfield in the Calcutta Cup clash pretty much proved to be the beginning of the end for Eddie Jones who was eventually relieved of his duties after a poor Six Nations and lackluster Autumn International series.
Steve Borthwick is the man charged with breathing new life into England and he has already made some bold selection calls but will be coming up against a settled Scotland squad who have been operating under the same coach with the same core of players for several tournaments now. With Gregor Twonsend and Finn Russell seemingly mending their relationship the mercurial playmaker will likely be the key for the Scots once again and if England find him on form then they can expect a torrid afternoon.
Our prediction: Scotland to win by five points or less. This is probably the most difficult match to call from the opening weekend as there is not really any reference point to judge England on ahead of Steve Borthwick’s match. Scotland have a reputation for making matches harder for themselves then they need to be but if they are able to finish the chances they create with more accuracy then another famous win at Twickenham could be on the cards.
Italy vs France
There are no end of superlatives to describe this current group of French players. They won the Grand Slam last year and many will expect them to do it again but trips to Dublin and Twickenham will prove serious tests if they are to achieve that almost unprecedented feat. No team has ever won back-to-back Grand Slams in Six Nations history (England were last to win a Five Nations Grand Slam two years in a row in 1991 and 1992).
So, what sort of fight will this Italy side be able to put up against the tournament favourites who are looking to display dominance ahead of the World Cup on their home soil this year? The Azzurri always look up for the contest with their continental rivals but to get a win will require no shortage of brilliance and a good amount of luck. The positive atmosphere around the squad will help with that and an on-form Ange Capuozzo will be a player that France need to pay special attention to.
Our prediction: France to win by 14 points or more. In recent years you would expect the French to win this one by a comfortable score line but we expect them to face a sterner test this time around. We expect Les Bleus to be top of the table with a bonus point win by the end of the weekend but also expect Italy to run in a few scores of their own.