SIX NATIONS

AUTHOR: Star Sports Content

STAR RUGBY PREVIEW: Six Nations 2023

The first weekend of February is a special one for Rugby fans, with the Six Nations making its annual return.

Rugby’s greatest championship has an added significance this year, with a European World Cup hosted by France on the horizon and three of the Six Nations shorter than 10/1 for glory on the world stage.

Last year’s top two dominate the betting but nothing can be taken for granted as England and Wales have new coaches, Scotland are a much improved side in recent years and Italy made forward progress last year with their win against Wales providing them with a first success in 26 games.

Six Nations Championship 2023
Saturday 4th February – Saturday 18th March
Live on BBC & ITV in UK, S4C in Wales, RTE in Ireland, and France Sport TV in France

Past Six Nations Winners
2022: France
2021: Wales
2020: England
2019: Wales (Grand Slam winners)
2018: Ireland (Grand Slam winners)
2017: England
2016: England (Grand Slam winners)
2015: Ireland
2014: Ireland
2013: Wales
2012: Wales (Grand Slam winners)
2011: England
2010: France (Grand Slam winners)

Team Profiles:
🇮🇪 Ireland – currently at ? with starsports.bet

The Irish, now the top ranked side in the world and deservedly so, did everything but win the title last year and even then, one could argue thy were slightly unlucky. The top try scorers with 24 – a total not seen for 20 years – they also had the best defence, a blistering start from France was all that cost them glory and they’ve not looked back since, beating the All Blacks in New Zealand and clean sweeping their Autumn International fixtures.

Andy Farrell’s side arrive in flying form, with the Leinster side that provides 10 of the first XV that goes out against Wales in the first game (and 3 of the replacements) top of the URC and unbeaten in the Champions Cup with four straight pool stage wins, whilst the likes of Mack Hansen, Tadhg Beirne, and Peter O’Mahony are all top quality.

The fixture list is also in their favour. There’s danger in a tricky first-time out trip to Wales with Warren Gatland back at the helm but if they can navigate that encounter then they face France and England at the Aviva Stadium.

Fans will worry about the fitness of Johnny Sexton but Ross Byrne has been in excellent form and has a close understanding with a backline made up of mostly Leinster players. Robbie Henshaw’s

and Ireland boast a world class pack and stacked bench with experience in almost every position, making them worthy favourites.

🇫🇷 France – currently at ? with starsports.bet

The old cliches are gone – we know which France will turn up now. Last year’s Grand Slam winners, Les Bleus ended 2022 as the only men’s Tier 1 nation to record a 100% win rate, winning each of their 10 fixtures, and they’ve now won their last 13 on the bounce.

With a standard of rugby that’s proven impossible to match over the last year and a half,- France rank in the top four for both defenders beaten and line breaks, whilst won the most turnovers of any nation in 2022, missed the fewest tackles, and recorded the third-best tackle success rate – France have pushed themselves to the top of the betting or this year’s World Cup (5/2 to win it with starsports.bet).

Led by the incredible Antoine Dupont, France have the best half-back pairing in the shape of him and fly-half Romain Ntamack and a team sprinkled with top talents such as backs Thomas Ramos, Damian Penaud, and Gaël Fickou, whilst Cyril Baille, Julien Marchand, Paul Willemse, Anthony Jelonch, Charles Ollivon and Grégory Alldritt give them a phenomenal pack.

Toulouse and La Rochelle made it through the Champions Cup pools in style, underlining the form of key individuals, and

What’s not to like? Well visits to Ireland and England will provide France with a massive test, and despite their strength in depth, injuries to Johnathan Danty, Cameron Woki and Gabin Villiere have also hit whilst Peato Mauvaka, Jean-Baptiste Gros and Maxime Lucu (Antoine Dupont’s usual back-up) are also missing. And whilst

That said, few teams in world rugby can match the French and they will probably go very close to retaining their title.

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 England – currently at ? with starsports.bet

A new chapter begins for the Red Rose. Eddie Jones had hit some notable hights with England, but under his management they’d won just two matches in each of the last two Six Nations campaigns and after a disappointing Autumn campaign, it was finally time for a change.

In the shape of Steve Borthwick, they’ve managed to pick the best possible replacement as head coach, although he doesn’t have an easy task.

England have a wide pool selection to pick from and plenty of talent, but Courtney Lawes, Elliot Daly, and George McGuigan will be big misses against Scotland with Daly gone for the tournament in a major blow.

Cohesion could be a potential issue – Borthwick has wasted no time in putting his stamp on the team but half the starting XV has been changed in a short space of time and bar Wales, no side has changed coaching staff.

There are positives though. This is an incredibly dynamic England team with Jack van Poortvliet and Marcus Smith providing livewire half-back options whilst the back three of Ollie Hassell-Collins, Max Malins and Freddie Steward has pace to burn; Alex Dombrandt can cause havoc from the base of the scrum and Maro Itoje remains one of the world’s best players.

Major improvement is possible from England, even in a short space of time – and one can’t forget the job that Borthwick did with Leicester – but there’s also plenty of uncertainty surrounding England.

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿 Wales – currently at ? with starsports.bet

Here we go again. Warren Gatland and Wales is a story as told as time, and the only story which has been more well told is the Welsh comeback. Gatland has a massive rebuilding job on his hands but he’s done it before – he led them to a Grand Slam after a pool stage World Cup exit in 2007, and they won the title in 2021 after winning just three of ten tests last year.

This rebuilding job will need to be just as good – Wales hit some desperate lows in the Autumn – but there are genuine positives for the Welsh to take.

Gatland shouldn’t have too many issues with cohesion – he’s worked with many of these players before (including at the 2019 World Cup), and the presence of 12 Ospreys players in his matchday squad is a bonus.

The form of the Ospreys, who have won five of their last six, including one away against Leicester and a double over Montpellier in the Champions Cup, is a benefit that gives them some momentum ahead of their opener against Ireland – who have not won in Cardiff in the Six Nations since 2013.

There’s also genuine star quality – Josh Adams at wing, Dan Biggar at 10, and a backrow of Jac Morgan, Justin Tipuric, and Taulupe Faletau to name just a few – with the huge potential of Rio Dyer and Christ Tshiunza too. Let’s not forget home fixtures against Ireland and England for motivation, either. Wales may be down on the form figures, but don’t count them out.

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 Scotland – currently at ? with starsports.bet

Scotland have made great strides over the past few years, but their 2022 campaign was a disappointing one and they weren’t able to build on their first-round win against England last year when a campaign that began with promise ended with many upset fans.

However they ended the year in a stronger place – wins over Samoa and Argentina were paired with narrow defeats to Australia and New Zealand,

Their livewire talents are well known by now. Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg may have the biggest name recognition, but Duhan van der Merwe has become an elite winger over the last 2-3 years and opposing defences must watch the number 11.

The centre pairing of Sione Tuipulotu and Huw Jones shouldn’t be underestimated, Luke Crosbie has the potential to be one of the tournament’s surprise packages, Grant Gilchrist and Richie Gray make for an excellent lock pairing and the experience of WP Nel and George Turner upfront should allow them to be competitive against bigger packs.

The downsides? A disrupted build-up with rumours over the future of Gregor Townsend’s future (and the departure of key backroom coach AB Zondagh a month ago) and three key absentees in the shape of Darcy Graham, Zander Fagerson and Hamish Watson, whilst trips to England and France aren’t great for their overall prospects.

There’s also the worry about what Finn Russell we see – Townsend has been throwing praise on him, but that relationship has been rocky in the past

🇮🇹 Italy – currently at ? with starsports.bet

Italy’s sensational win at Wales – their first in 36 games – was a deserved success for the Azzzuri, who improved from their opening three weekends to score three tries against Scotland before their epic win and had a good Autumn by their standards, with a first win over Australia and a big win over Samoa.

The downside of the Autumn campaign was a heavy beating at the hands of South Africa and a first defeat to Georgia, but the Azzuri appear to be on the up and they have more big game than ever before.

The absence of Paolo Garbisi for the first two rounds is a blow but Ange Capuozzo was outstanding last year, deservedly taking the 2022 World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year award, whilst Michele Lamaro and Sebastian Negri provide quality in the backrow. Tommaso Allan can fill in for Garbisi – he was at the helm when Italy beat Australia in the Autumn, the experienced Juan Brex is an excellent distributor, and out wide they have the threats to take on any defence.

Under Kieran Crowley’s reign, they have made significant progress – can they continue to do so in the Six Nations?

Verdict

Nothing can be taken for granted in this championship, but France and Ireland appear to be the standout teams and the balance of fixtures gives Ireland – who did enough to win many editions of this tournament last year – the advantage here. Whilst their opener against Wales will be hugely challenging, Andy Farrell’s side, powered by a Leinster team sweeping all before them this season, are good enough to win and if they can start successfully then the sky’s the limit ahead of the World Cup. France are respected hugely but their winning streak has largely been built upon home soil and the performances of Australia and South Africa showed other sides the template to get at Les Bleus, although they should still play a big part in the destiny of the Championship.

England and Wales can improve for new coaches, but both might have too much ground to make up in such a short space of time, even allowing for the skill of Steve Borthwick and Warren Gatland, whilst Scotland’s interrupted preparation could hamper them. Italy are improving and need more respect but will do well to win two games on the evidence of recent years, although they should not be dismissed on the handicaps.

WILLIAM KEDJANYI


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