With the Six Nations kicking off on Saturday 4th February with Wales V Ireland followed by England V Scotland, we thought it would be a prime opportunity to catch up with our resident rugby nause Charlie PM to share his predictions for how the championship will turn out.
After a scintillating year of international rugby that saw Ireland win their first tour of New
Zealand, Italy secure their first Six Nations victory in seven years, and France become only
the third professional men’s team in history to maintain a 100% winning record in a
calendar year, the expectations for 2023 could not be higher.
The ever-elusive Webb Ellis Trophy beckons for one victor this Autumn, with the
competition being more open than it has most likely ever been; five teams will feel they
have a genuine chance to retain, regain or attain the Men’s Rugby World Cup… and that is
discounting two time winners Australia and consistent contenders Wales. It should be a
spectacle of ferocity and competition we may never see run this close again.
But first, there is a far older trophy which the best teams of Europe will be eyeing as a
catalyst to springboard their World Cup Campaigns later this year and etch their names into
its illustrious history.
Ready to embarrass myself again after finishing last year’s tournament with a measly 2 out
of 6 correct guesses on final standings, here are my 2023 Guinness Six Nations Tournament
6th Place: Italy
For the first time in many years, the wooden spoon battle is a challenge to call. There are
three teams who could realistically finish in this spot (more on that shortly), and after two
gargantuan victories over international heavyweights Australia and Wales, my heart was
firmly in Italy’s favour to begin climbing the ranks after years propping up the foot of the
table. Michel Lamaro, Sebastian Negri and Stephen Varney are flourishing as clear
international-calibre operators, while mercurial fly half Paulo Garbisi and breakout star
Antonne Capuozzo look poised to join Sergio Parisse in the conversation of Italy’s greatest
players in the years to come.
Italy have a starting XV capable of going toe-to-toe with most international outfits, and I
expect them to pick up at least one victory in this year’s tournament. However, what lies
beyond their starting team is what concerns me; the lack of depth makes maintaining elite
level performances almost impossible on a weekly basis. The Autumn Nations Series gave a
perfect example of this: fresh off a mesmerizing performance against Australia, they
stormed out of the gates to put South Africa 10 points down in as many minutes in Florence.
However, The Springboks were able to bring on the likes of Etzebeth, Weisse and Kolisi at
halftime to blow them away, with Italy’s bench simply not competing. They’ll face a similar
challenge this tournament, and it’s not one I see their squad rising to.
A valiant effort, most likely a win but an overall similar story for the Azzuri.
Player to watch: Antonne Capuozzo (Obviously)
5th Place: Scotland
The talent and recent performances of this Scottish side should see them nailed on to be
competing much higher up the table than this prediction suggests. And the reason I don’t
believe they will is simple: Gregor Townsend has lost the dressing room.
In Stuart Hogg and Finn Russell, Townsend has Scotland’s two finest players since Gavin
Hastings (possibly of all time), and his handling of the latter in recent months has been poor.
Russell is a notorious Maverick, and there is little indication this will change.
By dropping him before the Autumn Internationals due to ‘lack of form’, Townsend clearly believed he
was making a statement that no man is bigger than the team, and this could at least have
been viewed as admirable. Recalling him a week later to start against New Zealand following
injury told us two things: dropping him was making a point, and he didn’t have the bottle to
see that point through. These kinds of tactics will have done little to secure the faith of the
rest of his squad, and his tumultuous relationship with the team’s key playmaker cannot be
conducive to building a team that will challenge at a world level.
However, the quality of their players should prove sufficient for at least one or two games.
Zander Fagerson, Jonny Gray and Rory Sutherland bolster a menacing tight five, with Jamie
Ritchie and Hamish Watson providing a flank partnership to rival any across globe. Couple
this with the aforementioned quality out back, and this team should have more ambition
than their recent seasons have shown.
Player to watch: Chris Harris (If you want to understand defensive rugby, watch Chris Harris)
4th Place: Wales
He’s back. After a torrid 2022 that saw the 12-time Grand Slam Champions slump to meagre
defeats against the likes of Italy and Georgia, it was out with the new and in with old as
Warren Gatland replaced his former successor, Wayne Pivac. Whilst Gatland has enjoyed
mixed fortunes since exiting the role in 2019 (including a spell at the Chiefs he’ll be keen to
forget), his international record speaks for itself and he has consistently proven his ability to
get the best out of Welsh sides over a number of years. A literal step backwards, but an
undoubtedly smart decision by the WRU.
That being said, I believe his return will provide modest results in the immediate future. This
is a decent Welsh side, but simply not brimming with the world class talent Gatland was
accustomed to in the earlier parts of his first tenure. Alun Wyn Jones, Justin Tipuric and Ken
Owens remain battle-hardened veterans providing experience and leadership in the side,
but also represent an ageing core of forwards who could be chasing one tournament too
many before long. Lewis Rees-Zammit, Tommy Reffell and Nick Tompkins are worth
mentioning as the next generation of talent rising through, but there is a noticeable deficit
of world class individuals operating in the primes of their career, and this is not conducive to
a serious title challenge.
Not this year, but watch out for the impact Gats could have before the World Cup.
Player to watch: Talupe Faletau (Remains incredible after many years at the top)
3rd Place: England
Easily the hardest team to place this tournament, as they are somewhat of an unknown.
While the inconsistent performances under Eddie Jones since the 2020 Six Nations may
have warranted his removal, I find the timing of it strange and huge gamble. It gives his
successor, Steve Borthwick, this tournament alone to prepare his side for the World Cup
with no previous experience as an international head coach. A tough ask, and I believe it
could go either way.
England could benefit from the so-called ‘new manager bounce’, spring-boarding off the
foundations built by the previous manager with a few small tweaks – not unlike the early
success Jones experienced with almost the same dismal team fielded by Stuart Lancaster
months earlier. Borthwick rejuvenated a near-relegated Leicester side into Premiership
champions in a similar time-frame and this experience will be invaluable moving forward.
Alternatively, the new tactics might not come together in time and the team will struggle
against the strong, settled sides further up this list. The forwards and half backs will be
fundamental to their performance; Leicester’s success was built off a purring set piece and
precise kicking game which I don’t see changing with England. If Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes
and Ellis Genge can get the power game rolling, and Nick Evans get the performances out of
Marcus Smith he has facilitated in a Harlequins shirt, this could be a good year to be an
It’s 50:50, hence their position halfway up the table.
Player to watch: Jack Willis (With Tom Curry injured, this could be his moment to shine)
2nd Place France
After predicting France to win three years in a row, it finally happened in 2021. Their Grand
Slam was followed by an undefeated year where they simply forgot how to lose, pipping
Australia and South Africa in close games to maintain this illustrious record. They are my
narrow favourites to lift the Webb Ellis trophy this November. So why aren’t I predicting
their success in this year’s Championship?
The primary reason for this is a fairly boring administrative factor: they play Ireland in Dublin
rather than Paris.
These two teams are frontrunners by a country mile, and I expect each of them to move through the competition with relative ease outside of this colossal fixture.
With the deafening chorus of “Allez Les Bleus” echoing around the Stade de France, I’m not
sure there’s a team in the world to overcome this French side. But in a game of finest
margins, I believe the Aviva faithful will provide enough to tip their side over the line.
Furthermore, teams in this run of form always plateau and I imagine that Fabien Galthie
would prefer that happens this February rather than when the World Cup rolls around. They
have clung on to victories in recent times, coming out on top through an impressive amount
of will and an equally large amount of fortune – fortune that is due to run out at some point.
Dupont, Aldritt, Ntamack and the rest will remain as formidable as ever and they are still the
team to beat for the tournament.
They could easily do it, but my heart says not this time.
Player to watch: Thomas Ramos (The missing piece of the puzzle in the French backline)
1st Place: Ireland
I believe this is Ireland’s year, and I’m backing them to do it with a Grand Slam. They enter
the competition looking down at their rivals as the Number 1 ranked team in the world, and
I expect them to play with the confidence and precision such a title presents.
Similarly to the high-flying side previously coached by Joe Schmidt, this team have become
tactically masterful under Andy Farrell. They have taken a scalpel to their individual game-
plans time after time to produce flawless performances over the world’s very best; typified
by their 2-1 series triumph against New Zealand last summer.
However, unlike other
meticulous tacticians (Eddie Jones springs to mind), Farrell has empowered his players as
leaders and individuals who can operate outside the brief when plan A is ineffective. Josh
Van Der Flier, Tadgh Beirne, Andrew Porter and co complete a world class pack capable of
bullying international counterparts on every level, while Johnny Sexton continues denying
Father Time to keep the back-line fluid and menacing.
As mentioned, their home advantage against fierce rivals France should see them over the
line; if they manage that feat then there should be nothing standing between them and this
year’s Six Nations Trophy. It should help soften the blow of their inevitable World Cup
Quarter Final exit this October.
Player to watch: Tadgh Beirne (a world class rugby player that looks like your mate’s dad)
We’d like to thank Charlie PM for taking the time to share his predictions for this year’s Six Nations.