Six Nations Preview

Rugby fans around Europe and indeed across the world look forward to February as this month heralds the start of the annual Six Nations tournament. Starting in the first week of February and ending in mid March, this competition is made up of five rounds of fixtures and the top six nations in Europe take part. 

This will be the first taste of International rugby since the WC in October. This tournament, therefore, signals the start of another four-year cycle with most teams undergoing significant changes to coaching and playing staff after the last tournament, in preparation for the next one four years down the line. However, the Six Nations itself is a very prestigious tournament and no team will be using it simply to test new ideas out, every team wants to win every match. 

The equivalent for the southern hemisphere is the Rugby Championship, involving the likes of New Zealand and current World Champions South Africa. It is also worth noting that in the middle of each World Cup cycle lies a British & Irish Lions Tour, another spectacle for rugby fans. This time around the Lions will travel to Australia with current Ireland coach Andy Farrell having recently been confirmed as the man in charge. 

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The six European nations taking part in the Six Nations tournament didn’t, overall, quite live up to expectations at the recent World Cup, which took place in France. The home team were one of the favourites to win the tournament, they have a very impressive squad which was built up over a four-year cycle. 

They also have arguably the world’s best player, scrum half Antoine Dupont and things were going very well for them as they won all their group matches including beating New Zealand in the opening match. However, they were narrowly beaten by South Africa in the quarter-finals, losing out by a single point in what was an epic clash. 

There was similar heartbreak for Ireland, who came into this tournament as the world number one ranked team but they lost to New Zealand in another epic clash in the quarter-finals, a result that means their incredible record of not winning a knockout match in the World Cup continues. Scotland’s form over recent years has certainly improved but they didn’t have enough to make it out of a group that also contained South Africa and Ireland and Italy faced a similar fate as they were unable to make much of an impact on either France or New Zealand. Wales and England both topped their groups despite being the least fancied European teams going into the tournament. Wales were also beaten in the quarter-finals by Argentina in a tough match so it turned out to be England that were the only team that made it to the semi-finals. Not many gave them any hope against South Africa but they were within touching distance of beating the reigning champions after putting in an extraordinary effort. 

In the end, it was not to be and they had to contend with a 3rd place playoff, where they comfortably beat Argentina. Therefore, overall the World Cup was a disappointment for Six Nations teams, with the least fancied England once again being the best performing European nation in the big tournaments. 

If we cast our minds back one year ago to the last Six Nations tournament it was Ireland that won with five wins from five matches, a very impressive display. They completed the Grand Slam with a 29-16 win over England on St Patrick’s Weekend in Dublin to round off what was an excellent few weeks’ work. 

France were second, their highlight being a 53-10 demolition of England at Twickenham in week 4 and Scotland performed well to finish third, with their highlight also being a win over England at Twickenham. England finished third, followed by Wales and Italy. 

Top Six Nations matches

This year’s tournament starts on the first weekend of February as usual and ends on Saturday 16th March. Things start with a bang with an exciting match on Friday evening on weekend 1 as France take on Ireland in Marseille. This is a clash between the two favourites for the crown this year, although France will be without their biggest star Antoine Dupont and Ireland will be getting used to life without Johnny Sexton. England start their tournament with an away trip to Rome and Wales take on Scotland. 

The highlight of round two is England versus Wales at Twickenham, two teams that love to do battle against each other. Both teams are much changed going into this tournament with a number of players calling time on their international careers so this match will give us a glimpse into the future for both these teams. France will expect to win at Murrayfield and Ireland are all but guaranteed to take the points at home to Italy. 

Ireland host Wales in the first match of round three and will be favourites to pick up the win in what is likely to be a physical encounter in Dublin. England travel up to Scotland for the late match in what is likely to be a tricky match. Revenge will be on the mind of the English team as Scotland beat them last year but a trip to Murrayfield will be a good test of some of the newer players’ character. The final match should be a convincing win for France or Italy on Sunday. 

Round four probably gives Italy the biggest chance of winning a match this year as they are home to Scotland. If, as predicted, they start with three defeats against England, France and Ireland they might not have the motivation to go all out here, but this remains their best chance of a win. 

England take on Ireland in what could be a pivotal clash for both teams. England ended with the two toughest matches but with this being a home tie, they know they need to win against a tough Ireland side not only to get some form of revenge for last year but also to keep alive any hopes they might have of winning this year’s tournament. 

The same can be said of Ireland, by this stage they would have already clashed with France and this away match is likely to be the next toughest task for them. On Sunday, Wales host France at the Principality Stadium on what should be an excellent occasion with a great atmosphere. 

The final round all takes place on the same day, so it’s a bumper day for rugby fans. The action starts off in Cardiff where Wales host Italy before Ireland welcome Scotland to the Aviva Stadium and the final match of the day should be another epic clash between France and England. The hope is that both these two teams will still be fighting it out for the championship coming into this match, making for a grand finale!

Analysis of each team

We take a look at each of the six contenders with squads having been announced this week as the first round of the tournament approaches.


The favourites to win this year’s tournament will have to do without their captain and star player, Antoine Dupont, who is taking a break in order to play for his country in the Sevens tournament in Paris later this year. Gregory Alldritt takes over as captain as France look to go one better than last year, when they finished second in the tournament. There are five uncapped players in the squad which still largely resembles the set of players that were at the World Cup. 


Last year’s winners are second favourites this year but their task will be tougher as they will also be without their talismanic captain Johnny Sexton, who retired after the World Cup. Peter O’Mahoney takes over and will need to lift the squad who were so disappointed to suffer yet another quarter-final exit at the World Cup. This is an experienced squad with no uncapped players so we can expect much of the same from Andy Farrell and his team. 


Last year was one to forget for England in the Six Nations, a poor performance saw them finish fourth. They redeemed themselves with a solid World Cup and manager Steve Borthwick will be hoping to build on that as he didn’t have much time to prepare for last year’s tournament. England are yet another team who will be without their captain, as Owen Farrell takes a year out, something which leaves his long term future in doubt. Reliable Hooker Jamie George takes over as captain but the squad will also be missing retired vice captain Courtney Lawes and fellow retiree Mako Vunipola, with his brother Billy and Kyle Sinkler amongst other high profile players to miss out. There are seven uncapped players in the squad as England look to refresh things. 


Scotland have yet to name their captain as they are waiting on the fitness of Jamie Ritchie and in a somewhat surprising move Hamish Watson has been left out altogether. Former England prop Alec Hepburn has been included in the squad and, as always, Finn Russell is likely to be key to any success Scotland have. 


Wales have been rocked by the news that one of their star players, Louis Rees Zammit has decided to quit rugby altogether and try his luck in the NFL. This announcement came just moments before coach Warren Gatland named his squad and will undoubtedly be a massive blow. Daffyd Jenkins will captain the side and will be the second-youngest player to ever do so. There are five uncapped players in the squad as Wales look to build a new look following the retirements of star players such as Rhys Webb, Justin Tipuric, Josh Navidi, Alun Wyn Jones, Leigh Halfpenny and Dan Biggar, whilst Liam Williams is unavailable as he is playing in Japan. 


Italy will be hoping that this year’s six nations will be a positive step for them and not another false dawn. They were impressive in a number of matches in 2023 but let themselves down somewhat in the World Cup. They have a new coach, the only one of the six nations, and have called up five uncapped players. They have persuaded South Africa born Ross Vincent to represent Italy but they will miss the experienced Harlequins lock Dino Lamb, who is injured. 


Following the success of the World Cup a few months ago, this year’s Six Nations tournament is likely to attract more interest than usual. An eagerly awaited Netflix documentary series is set to launch a few days before round one so that is likely to help too. We expect a number of top class matches over the upcoming weeks and it is probably safe to say that France are justified favourites to win. 

The opening match of the tournament between France and Ireland is likely to be key as the loser will face an uphill battle to win and France have home advantage. It would be a surprise should England or Wales win as both are going through significant changes. England in particular will be looking for a better result than last time out and will be looking for revenge over Scotland and Ireland in particular. 

Scotland could be an interesting option this year as they were in great form going into the World Cup and have the advantage of playing both England and France on their home turf. The final round of matches are likely to be key with Ireland hosting Scotland and France facing off against England and we hope that all is left to play for as we kick off the final round on March 16th.