Rugby’s Greatest Championship returned last weekend with three excellent matches as Ireland dominated Wales in Cardiff, Scotland retained the Calcutta Cup at Twickenham and France survived a scare in Rome to open with a win.
It meant defeats for Warren Gatland in his return to Wales and for Steve Borthwick who was taking charge of his first match as England head coach but they will have the chance to bounce back this weekend. Both coaches will be defending impressive records with Gatland having never lost to Scotland as Wales head coach while Italy have never won a test match against England in 29 attempts dating back to 1991.
All that action comes after an incredible opening fixture in Dublin, in what could prove to be the crucial tie in deciding the eventual winners of the tournament, as world number one ranked Ireland host last year’s Grand Slam champions France. Here are our predictions for round two of the 2023 Six Nations Championship:
Ireland vs France
The fixture fell in Round Two last year as well and a 34-24 win in Paris proved to be France’s biggest test en route to their Grand Slam success. This year it’s Ireland who have home advantage and many expect that to make a huge difference and seems to be the key factor in tipping the title favouritism the way of Andy Farrell’s side. The results from Round One will have bolstered Ireland’s odds further after they dominated Wales and France very nearly fell to a shock defeat in Rome.
However, that result could just as easily galvanise the visitors and work to refocus them ahead of the crucial match at the Aviva Stadium. Last year the Irish played the match on France’s terms and paid the price, this year they will be keen to dictate the pace and tempo of the game as much as possible and exploit any weakness they may have identified after last weekend. A strong start from the home side puts them in the driver’s seat and any nation, even this incredible France side, will struggle to come back if the men from the Emerald Isle can do that.
Our prediction: Ireland to win by 15 points or fewer. We’re going for an Irish win and potentially a reasonably convincing one at that. This match could be decided in the first half and, if Ireland get off to a flying start like they did in Cardiff, France could be forced into taking more risks as the clock ticks down which the hosts will look to exploit. If France can get the first try it’s a different game but we’re expecting another vintage performance from Ireland.
Scotland vs Wales
The 2022 Championship, just like this year, started with a Calcutta Cup win for Scotland and dreams of further glory but that came crashing down in Cardiff with a hugely disappointing performance. Scotland have progressed under Gregor Townsend from where they were before he took over but that’s to be expected with the quality individuals and strength in depth they now possess. His legacy as Scotland coach hangs in the balance over this tournament and the World Cup later this year.
Then there’s Warren Gatland, who never lost to Scotland as Wales coach in his hugely successful first spell but round one this year showed there is a lot of work to be done. That impeccable record aside, all other signs point towards a Scotland win but they will be wary of the similarities to last year’s situation. The key difference should be the Murrayfield atmosphere, if Wales can frustrate the Scots like they did in 2022 then they will have a sold out home crowd to support their effort this time around as opposed to a vocal Cardiff choir.
Our prediction: Scotland to win by 10 points or fewer. After round one it seems clear that this one should come down to the mentality of the home players. Barring an incredible upturn in performance from the Welsh this tie is Scotland’s to throw away. They need to be wary of not getting drawn into a scrap and do what they’re best at - let Finn Russell run the show and the points will come.
England vs Italy
Despite both suffering defeats by almost identical scores in the opening weekend, the aftermath of round one couldn’t have been more different for England and Italy. Steve Borthwick’s first game in charge ended with defeats and the questions over the Smith/Farrell at 10/12 partnership are back - it just doesn’t seem to be clicking. Meanwhile, Italy were praised for a valiant performance against France as they pushed the reigning champions all the way in Rome.
Last week’s results weren’t a disaster for Borthwick but losing to Italy for the first time in history would be, even with the obvious improvements the Azzurri are making. Back-to-back home defeats against Scotland and Italy was unthinkable only a few years ago but is a possibility this weekend. However, there is no escaping that England quite simply have the ability, test match experience and home advantage in this game; those three things will surely be enough to secure victory. The Italians should seek to make it as uncomfortable an afternoon as possible for their opponents and see where that leaves them in the latter stages of the match.
Our prediction: England to win by 15 points or fewer. We’re struggling a bit with this one to be honest. History points towards a comfortable win for England but the opening weekend suggests this match could be anything but. It would not come as a surprise to see Italy keep this one competitive for the entire 80 minutes but we’re still going with England to run out winners by a reasonable, but not massive score difference.