The Guinness Six Nations 2023 kicks off this weekend with Wales facing Ireland at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday.
Reigning champions France will be looking to retain their title as they head into a home World Cup while Andy Farrell’s Ireland look set to provide their sternest opposition.
How will each nation fare over the next six weeks of gruelling Test rugby? Find our predictions below.
Winners: France (no Grand Slam)
The defending champions remain keen favourites, next to Ireland, for this year’s title. Les Bleus have a tight breakdown and are ruthlessly clinical when sending the ball wide.
Toulouse’s Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack are an unbeatable link-up when in full stride and the squad is not short on talent elsewhere.
Sitting second in the world rankings, we predict France will breeze past four nations. World number ones Ireland will be the only team that stand between them and the Grand Slam when they face off on Irish soil.
It’s safe to say the world number ones have blossomed under the eye of Andy Farrell and will be hunting for silverware.
Ireland enter this tournament off the back of a triumphant 2022, having won their summer Test series against New Zealand and sweeping their autumn fixtures.
Johnny Sexton is often held on a pedestal for this side but their strength in depth is evident with the likes of Bundee Aki and 2022 World Player of the Year Josh van der Flier.
The top-of-the-world clash against France will be a defining moment for their campaign and we predict the Shamrocks will repeat last year’s second-place finish.
Third place: England
England will be looking to rebound from a disappointing Six Nations and Autumn Internationals last year with Scott Borthwick – Leicester Tigers’ Premiership-winning head coach – replacing the ousted Eddie Jones.
Borthwick will have to marry the fan’s yearning for a more expansive brand of rugby with the expectation of immediate results just eight months before the World Cup.
However, with little time on the grass and the ongoing Owen Farrell-Marcus Smith axis dilemma, it may be too soon to expect a transformational turnaround from last year’s third-place side.
Fourth place: Wales
Wales join those nations in the midst of turbulence.
The WRU has torn itself apart in the past few weeks after a former employee alleged sexual harassment and a toxic environment.
Head Coach Wayne Pivac joined Eddie Jones as the New Zealander was also ousted after some dire autumn showings.
The side finished fifth last year and have experienced abysmal losses against Italy and Tier 2 Georgia.
With the re-introduction of Warren Gatland, Wales will seek to turn back the clock and raise their performance from the grave but we predict the outfit will not achieve their desired comeback.
Fifth place: Scotland
Gregor Townsend’s side failed to capitalise last year on their first-round Calcutta Cup victory, picking up just one win in their next four games.
The talismanic Finn Russell – the lynchpin in his sides’ attacking potency – will once again be the key man in helping his nation attempt to upset the favourites.
Edinburgh’s emerging flanker Luke Crosbie will be one-to-watch but the quality of the sides above them make this tournament another challenging prospect for Townsend and his men.
Sixth place: Italy
Italy once again brought up the rear in last year’s edition but a last-gasp triumph over Wales in March and a famous victory over Australia in the Autumn Internationals offer a glimpse into the potential of this swashbuckling young side.
New head coach Kieran Crowley will be looking to build on the foundations set by Franco Smith who has nurtured the talent of all-action backs Paolo Garbisi and Ange Capuozzo alongside the emergence of captain Michele Lamaro.
The task will be to turn sentiment and potential into convincing wins but while they remain heavy underdogs against the rest of Europe’s elite, progress for the Azzurri will be no easy feat.
Opening round fixtures:
Wales v Ireland – Saturday 4th February, 14:15pm (BBC 1)
England v Scotland – Saturday 4th February, 16:45pm (ITV 1)
Italy v France – Sunday 5th February, 15:00 (ITV 1)
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