Six Nations: Our players to watch in the 2023 Championship

Adam Kyriacou
Six Nations players to watch

With the 2023 Six Nations week upon us, Planet Rugby has picked out our six players to watch ahead of what should be a thrilling Championship.

There is a healthy mix of three forwards and backs in our pre-tournament selection so without further ado, here’s our individuals to keep an eye out for.

Six players to watch in the 2023 Six Nations

Dan Cole (England)

Axed following the 2019 Rugby World Cup, where he was manhandled by the Springbok props in the final, the tighthead returns after re-finding his form at Leicester Tigers. Some have even suggested that Cole played career-best rugby in helping the Midlanders to the Premiership final last season and Red Rose fans will hope that translates into the Test arena.

Due to England’s set-piece issues over the final two years of Eddie Jones’ tenure, the 35-year-old has been called up to give the pack stability and, hopefully for Steve Borthwick, dominance in the scrum. Borthwick knows him from his time as Red Rose forwards coach and he also worked closely with him as the Tigers head honcho, so he certainly has trust in the 98-times capped prop.

Cole remains England’s best scrummaging tighthead which is all Borthwick will care about. Even if the Leicester man’s skills in the loose don’t match with some of his front-row contemporaries, the Red Rose have enough carriers and ball players in the pack to account for his deficiencies. Providing the prop hits his rucks, makes his tackles and, crucially, scrummages well, the experienced campaigner could be the team’s most important player in the Six Nations.

Gregory Alldritt (France)

Forms a brilliant partnership with playmaker Antoine Dupont at the base of the scrum and will once again play a key role as France attempt to retain their title. Alongside Ardie Savea, they set the standard for number eight play in world rugby.

Savea is better in the wider channels but Alldritt’s effectiveness at close quarters sets him apart from others in the position. The La Rochelle man has an ability to get through contact and free his arms to off-load for supporting runners, something which has been a hallmark of France’s play under Fabien Galthie.

The 25-year-old is an absolute workhorse, both with and without the ball, and arguably the key player in this French outfit, despite the presence of Dupont. He offers consistent go-forward in the carry, dominates defensively and also turns over opposition ball at the breakdown.

Alldritt provides balance in the back-row and allows Galthie to fit the pieces around him. With the similarly excellent Charles Ollivon set to return after missing last year’s tournament, the head coach can pretty much play anyone in the other slot and know that they will do an effective job.

James Lowe (Ireland)

Lowe missed the opening two rounds of last year’s Six Nations, which included the pivotal France clash, due to injury before he returned to the fold and scored three tries in the remaining games. That meant he finished joint top of the try-scoring chart which is some effort after only playing 60% of the matches.

Raring to go this year after the disappointment of being ruled out for the Autumn Nations Series, Lowe is set to hit the ground running and could be crucial to Ireland‘s cause in 2023. His enthusiasm is infectious and while not being the quickest of wings, he’s no slouch and always threatens whether it’s through power or popping up in support after a break. Throw in his booming left boot that takes so much pressure off Johnny Sexton and he’s a prized asset to this Irish side.

If, as we’ve predicted, Ireland are going to be pushing for the Grand Slam, a strong all-round campaign from Lowe will be vital and because he’s such an honest player in terms of work-rate, the chances of him shining for Andy Farrell’s men will be high. Expect a few tries and a bucket load of effort and drive from him.

Ange Capuozzo (Italy)

One of the brightest stars of the 2022 Six Nations, due in no small part to his outstanding performance in that memorable victory over Wales at the Principality Stadium, Capuozzo has gone from a relative unknown to a household name almost overnight. Many a front room will be looking out for him this year because of what he did 11 months ago and we’re keen to see how he develops and whether teams have better done their homework on the box office Azzurri full-back.

Since last year’s tournament, Capuozzo has moved clubs to Toulouse which is an ideal place for him to grow week by week on the foundations he has already laid. If he can develop a deadly relationship with the returning Matteo Minozzi then Italy will threaten both in possession and via kick returns, so rivals must be wary.

Capuozzo is no doubt one to watch in the Azzurri blue and if he can become a leader and talisman for Kieran Crowley’s men, they can build on that Wales success.

Finn Russell (Scotland)

A feature in the Daily Mail on Sunday showed Russell juggling fire torches and that is a befitting image of the mercurial number 10, who is anything but normal.

While he may not have seen eye to eye with Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend over recent years, there is no denying the talent Russell possesses and, if used correctly, any team he plays for is better off with him than without him. Scotland fans will hope they enjoy maximum Finn during the 2023 Six Nations, as if the talented fly-half hits top gear week after week, their hopes of putting together an elusive run of wins, instead of hot and cold outings, could finally happen.

Russell’s ability to take the ball to the line and deploy varied passes or kicks under pressure makes him a unique and targeted player, but one which opposition defences often struggle to contain. Bringing out those box of tricks to back up his juggling skills would be fantastic news for Townsend and Scotland supporters.

Jac Morgan (Wales)

There are two certainties in the Welsh back-row; Justin Tipuric and Taulupe Faletau. If fit, that duo will certainly start every game in the Six Nations, with the other position up for grabs, but on form, the youngster simply has to feature. Tipuric’s lineout work allows for a shorter flanker to play alongside him and Morgan fits the bill perfectly.

Tommy Reffell continues to impress at Leicester Tigers but the Ospreys man offers a much bigger ball-carrying threat and his bowling ball style will help give Wales front foot ball in the Six Nations. The 23-year-old was excellent in the Autumn Nations Series, despite the team’s turgid month, and under Warren Gatland his influence could be even greater.

Morgan, who has been a shining light for his region this season, could well be one of the stars of the tournament. His shorter stature – he stands at 5ft 11in – means that he is adept at the breakdown, but at 16st, the back-row is also powerful, and in truth it is probably the secret to his strong carrying game.

With that stocky build and low centre of gravity, Morgan can go the direct route by powering through contact, but he also has the footwork to evade defenders and spin out of tackles. In a pack which is generally lacking go-forward at close quarters, he will be a crucial cog for Wales in this tournament.

READ MORE: Six Nations preview: Ireland’s year as Grand Slam awaits for Andy Farrell’s side