Six Nations 2023: why the 2023 World Cup is Ireland’s to lose as England and Wales face turbulent transitions

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Ireland’s Grand Slam is bad news for World Cup hosts France

It feels odd suggesting that an Englishman might be Ireland’s most popular figurehead today following Super Saturday and St Patrick’s Day but Andy Farrell has just led the Irish team to their first Grand Slam Six Nations win since 2018 and the country’s fourth overall.

It came as little surprise that Ireland picked up the trophy but the domineering manner in which they were able to sweep the Grand Slam too has been stupefying.

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The day was almost written for Johnny Sexton who enjoyed what will be his last-ever Six Nations match by becoming the leading points scorer in the competition’s history as well as lifting the coveted trophy.

For others, however, the eight weeks have become something that may be best forgotten.

Ireland prove their number one spot

Expectations were high for Sexton and his men as they travelled to Cardiff six weeks ago. They entered the tournament as number one in the world with all eyes on whether their captain could potentially be getting too old for the number ten shirt.

But a 34-10 win against Wales quickly put all Irish fears to bed and they were on a roll. Ireland could not be in a better spot to start their World Cup campaign in France later this year. They are now unbeaten in their past 10 Test matches and not only achieved a Six Nations Grand Slam, but recently recorded a historic series win over New Zealand.

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Farrell has evidently created an environment in which his players can truly express themselves and thrive - it seems fair to suggest that in just over five months time, Ireland will be strong contenders to be lifting the greatest prize of all.

Even when rocky, France still deliver

Italy gave France a nasty shock in Rome back in week one. The 2022 champions were pushed right until the last whistle and managed just a five-point win over the sixth place finishers.

They then lost to Ireland (despite a freakish display of defence from Antoine Dupont) and only just managed to hold off against a rampant Scotland in the French capital. However, then came the most destructive win ever witnessed by an opposition team at Twickenham.

France’s Antoine Dupont kicks during win over WalesFrance’s Antoine Dupont kicks during win over Wales
France’s Antoine Dupont kicks during win over Wales | Getty Images

Their weaknesses had been exposed early on in the tournament but France were never going to let them linger and when crunch-time came, Dupont and his men knew where to punish their opposition.

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If anyone is going to challenge the Irish this October, it will most certainly be France looking for World Cup glory on home soil but there can be no risk of letting those weaknesses slip out once again.

Scotland still have their biggest battles to overcome

The tournament could not have started better for Gregor Townsend’s side and the fact his position as coach could be in jeopardy post World Cup seemed bizarre. Scotland are improving every year and their depth in players is getting stronger and stronger.

However, they could still could not quite compete with the Irish or French. Beating England is now becoming quite common for the Scots and while France probably found their fixture against Scotland much closer than they would have liked, Scotland still have work to do if they are to get out of their group stage in October - with Ireland and South Africa both in the same pool.

Ritchie and his squad put on stunning displays against England and Wales but when hosting Ireland, the flaws they had seemingly overcome in the two opening matches were exacerbated.

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In October they will take on both South Africa and Ireland in the group stages with only the top two going through - we’ve seen Scotland take down strong opposition but they must sharpen the basics and lose the sloppiness if they are to reach the World Cup knockout stage.

Can England ‘rebuild’ in time?

Much has been made of this idea of ‘rebuilding’ and new coach Steve Borthwick has been quick to place the blame on Eddie Jones for England’s current state of disarray. However, this Six Nations has been a poor showing from the Twickenham based squad and it remains to be seen whether they can regroup in time for France this October.

Questions had been raised over Owen Farrell’s role in the side but the embarrassment of the France defeat showed just how crucial he is to the play. Freddie Steward was England’s standout performer throughout the six weeks but the team cannot purely rely on their number 15 if they are to have a hope of a long run in the World Cup.

England put in a better display against Ireland than what had been seen previously but it’s no secret that they are a bruised side. It just remains to be seen how damaged they are.

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Wales must fight demons off the pitch before seeing success

England and Wales’s Six Nations fixture was at risk of being cancelled due to a potential strike from the Welsh Rugby players. There is no doubt that the calamities happening within the WRU were affecting the outcome on the pitch. Wales won just one of their five matches with their biggest loss coming against Scotland in week two.

Warren Gatland’s reappointment was intended to be the start of a reawakening for the side, and a decision that brought great hope. However, the fruits of his reappointment are yet to be seen and there are some serious questions that must be answered off the pitch before Wales can achieve anything nearing World Cup success on the pitch.

Italy edging closer to match-winning opportunities

Bizarrely, Italy’s biggest defeat came against England. They were alarmingly close to potential wins against Wales and Scotland and if they had been able maintain discipline they could have produced too ginormous Six Nations upsets.

Italy also pushed Ireland and France much closer to the edge than anyone might have predicted. They may have ended up with the wooden spoon once again but for Italy this has been a successful campaign.

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Italy will find themselves up against New Zealand and France in their group stages this October but if they are able to seize the opportunities we’ve seen them be able to create, they could be in with a shot of upsetting at least one of these two sides.

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