Ahead of this year’s Six Nations, we have picked out five matches which we believe could play a crucial role in how the tournament plays out.
Round 1 – Wales v Ireland (Principality Stadium, February 4)
The homecoming of Wales head coach Warren Gatland will provide a decent amount of the fanfare to this game, which is the opening match of the 2023 Six Nations. And what a showdown it promises to be as Wales look to bounce back from what was a desperate 2022 that included defeats to Italy and Georgia.
Gatland is charged with injecting fresh life into this squad and the Kiwi coach will no doubt be happy to have the home comforts of a special Principality Stadium in their corner as they take on our pick for the Championship. The Cardiff venue is set to be jumping as the Welsh look to feed off that atmosphere.
Ireland will in turn hope to silence the passionate Welsh supporters as they kick off their quest for a possible Six Nations that could lead to a Grand Slam. Johnny Sexton and company look incredibly strong on paper and with their continued growth under Andy Farrell, Cardiff is the first test of a massive year.
Round 2 – Ireland v France (Aviva Stadium, February 11)
Ireland feature again here in Round Two as arguably the pick of the ties pre-tournament comes in Dublin on February 11 between the main title contenders.
We expect both these teams to go into the match with a win under their belt – over Wales and Italy respectively – and this fixture could make or break silverware ambitions. France are away to both the Irish and English this year but a win at the Aviva Stadium would bring renewed optimism of another Slam.
However, Ireland have both France and England on home soil in 2023 so a victory here would stand them in good stead as they look for that coveted sweep.
Round 4 – England v France (Twickenham, March 11)
Next we give Round Three a miss and select this Round Four clash – or should we say Le Crunch – between old enemies England and France at Twickenham.
The jury is out on whether Steve Borthwick will have given England that new coach bounce or if it will take time for his approach to produce results, but there’s a possibility the English could come into this match with a three triumphs out of three record after those openers against Scotland, Italy and Wales.
France could also be unbeaten – if they can get past Ireland – or at worst be very much still in the Six Nations title shake-up, which only adds to this Twickenham fixture. Incredibly Les Bleus have not defeated England on their home patch since 2007 so there’s also that drought they will be desperate to end.
Round 5 – Scotland v Italy (Murrayfield, March 18)
Our sincerest apologies go out to Scotland and Italy supporters but this final round clash at Murrayfield could possibly be the Wooden Spoon decider this year.
Italy will hope to have built on 2022’s famous result in Wales during this year’s Championship but it’s hard to see them claiming scalps with fly-half Paolo Garbisi ruled out for the opening three rounds. The Azzurri will be eager to prove their doubters wrong but we expect them to be 0 from 4 at this point.
Scotland meanwhile, being Scotland, have the potential to be further up the table if they can string together back-to-back performances, but away trips to England and France as well as a likely defeat to Ireland leads us to believe the pressure could very much be on against Italy in game one of the final day.
Round 5 – Ireland v England (Aviva Stadium, March 18)
If things go as expected, this could be Ireland’s final leg of a first possible Grand Slam since 2018, which would provide such a lift ahead of the World Cup. Granted, there is a lot of water to go under the bridge before Round Five but on paper and with the injuries to France right now, it feels like their year.
A six-day turnaround after a Round Four trip to Scotland is not ideal for Farrell’s men, but with the Aviva Stadium packed to the rafters and a possible silverware sweep just 80 minutes away, a landmark fixture in their journey as a team is on the cards, as England come to Dublin eager to spoil the party.
If the tournament maps out as we have predicted, it promises to be the perfect finale to rugby’s greatest championship in 2023 as we keenly await kick off.
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