Six Nations: Seven bold predictions for the 2023 Championship including Ireland’s utter dominance and prop praise

Colin Newboult

With the Six Nations approaching, we have put our head on the block to bring you seven bold predictions that could happen in the upcoming Championship.

The clue is in the title, so to speak, as while these calls are not nailed on they could well become reality by the time the tournament is out.

Some are more likely than others, and equally, it ranges from the serious to the not so serious – hello, Netflix – but it is just a bit of fun ahead of what should be another excellent competition.

Ireland to dominate and stroll to the Grand Slam

Andy Farrell’s men winning every game in this year’s tournament won’t exactly be a surprise but the ease with which they do it, will. Usually, the victors have a couple of tight and tense games before emerging triumphant. France, for example, were significantly tested by both Ireland and Wales last season, but eventually came through to take the title and a first Grand Slam in 12 years.

Rarely do you get a team that is so strong they easily swat aside all before them, but to be perfectly honest, we can’t see any opponent getting within seven points of the Irishmen over the next two months. It is not just the fact that they are the world’s number one ranked outfit – albeit it plays a rather large part – but that the schedule is in their favour and that their closest challenger, Fabien Galthie’s France, have had several injury disruptions leading into the Six Nations.

They open the tournament against Wales, a team that will be better under Warren Gatland but one that shouldn’t get close to Farrell’s charges, before they head back to Dublin for a game with the aforementioned French. Away matches with Scotland and Italy follow, two sides the Irish should dispatch with relative comfort, and they then finish against an England squad in transition at the Aviva Stadium. Who can stop them?

Cyril Baille to be player of the tournament as props finally get the recognition they deserve

The front-row does not get enough love, especially when it comes to awards. For starters, a prop has never been nominated for World Rugby Player of the Year, while they are constantly overlooked when it comes to assessing the most influential players in these big competitions. However, we very much hope that changes this year.

Toulouse powerhouse Baille has quickly become one of the best in the world in his position. His scrummaging is evident but he also contributes so much around the field and will be key in France’s title defence. The loosehead is a ubiquitous presence on the pitch and surely both pundits and fans alike will be raving about this outstanding prop during the Six Nations.

Even if Baille fails to claim the award other front-rowers might, with a plethora of multi-skilled and exciting props taking to the field. At loosehead, Ellis Genge, Danilo Fischetti and Pierre Schoeman are all players that set the pulses racing, while on the other side of the scrum there is the brilliant Tadhg Furlong, who can do pretty much everything. Justice for the props.

Wales to struggle despite Warren Gatland’s return

There is plenty of excitement within Wales over the appointment of Gatland, who enjoyed tremendous success during his last time in charge. In fact, his first season in the hotseat saw them claim the Grand Slam in 2008 and fans will hope that is repeated this year, but we just can’t see it happening.

For starters, there is no Shaun Edwards, who was a key part of the coaching staff between 2008 and 2019, while there is a lack of punch in the front five. Captain Ken Owens has been a great player for Wales but, at the age of 36, there are concerns over how long he can keep up his level of performance. Dewi Lake would have been a great back-up having shone for the Ospreys this season, but his injury has weakened the squad.

At prop, Wyn Jones is a reliable performer but has not played much over the past few months, while on the tighthead side Tomas Francis and Dillon Lewis are not in the same class as some of the other front-rowers in the tournament. Behind them is Alun Wyn Jones, who is in the same boat as Owens, and Adam Beard, a player that has his strengths but lacks a certain amount of ballast.

As a result, they just don’t quite have the athleticism or power to set a good enough platform for the rest of the team to thrive. If Gatland does get their front five into shape then they will be a threat as the remainder of the squad is very talented, but it is a big ask.

George Ford to be called up mid-tournament and become England’s first choice fly-half

The Sale Sharks playmaker missed out on the initial squad as he continues his recovery from injury, but it surely won’t be long before he is called upon by new head coach Steve Borthwick. Ford isn’t far from returning after suffering an Achilles issue in Leicester Tigers’ Premiership final victory over Saracens last June and should get some game time over the next couple of weeks.

Borthwick is obviously a big fan of Ford having worked with him at Leicester over the past two years and that will certainly count in the 29-year-old’s favour. Marcus Smith may well be the man in possession for the start of the Six Nations after starring for Harlequins in the Champions Cup recently, but he could be usurped by Owen Farrell and then Ford.

England’s new head coach may prefer the more structured approach of those two experienced campaigners, who won’t chance their arm quite as much as Smith. Ford, however, is better than Farrell at bringing the ball to the line and exploiting the space in an opposition defence. Should he hit the ground running after returning for Sale, don’t be surprised if the ex-Bath and Leicester man is their first choice pivot by the end of the Six Nations.

A player or coach to get frustrated and smash a Netflix camera

The TV cameras have already started following the respective teams around as rugby gets the Netflix treatment. At the moment it is no doubt all jovial and relaxed with the action on the pitch not yet starting, but the pressure will gradually increase over the next few weeks and the streaming service will be there to capture pretty much everything.

Hopefully all the countries have agreed to allow plenty of access for the producers and that the players and coaches won’t be too guarded. If so, it will make for great viewing in what is one of sport’s great annual tournaments. It will show the highs and lows, the intensity and the skill, and the joy and frustration, which will lead to some dramatic moments.

Away from the on-field action, rugby has been known to have fights between team-mates and walls being punched – basically someone or something for individuals to release their tension. Therefore, with cameras following their every move, you never know where and when it might just boil over. We’re not sure Netflix would be too happy but it would certainly make for great TV.

Ange Capuozzo to be top try-scorer

The full-back is quickly becoming a superstar in the sport after his performances for Italy in 2022. He first broke onto the scene in last year’s Six Nations, scoring twice against Scotland before setting up the winning try against Wales, and then built on those displays in the Autumn Nations Series.

In November, Capuozzo touched down on two occasions as the Azzurri recorded their first-ever victory over the Wallabies and we are excited to see what he can do in this year’s Six Nations. Italy will no doubt want to get the ball into his hands as much as possible, which will benefit the full-back as he seeks to put defences under pressure.

He has already shown his nose for the line in his brief Test career so far and will be a threat at the top of the charts this year. Italy are an improving outfit and seem far less try-shy than in previous seasons, with Capuozzo at the heart of their renaissance.

An off-field sideshow

After Scotland in 2020 and 2022, and France in 2018 and 2021, who will be this year’s team to have potential protocol issues? Three years ago, Finn Russell and Gregor Townsend famously had a bust-up, which led to the fly-half being axed ahead of the start of the tournament, before the playmaker was involved again in 2022 as him and five other players had a night out in Edinburgh.

There must be something in the air in the Scottish capital as in 2018 nine Les Bleus players were dropped due to “inappropriate behaviour”, which led to them being questioned by Police Scotland. Teddy Thomas and current first choice centre (when fit) Jonathan Danty were two of those to lose their places and, although no charges were brought, it was an embarrassing time for the French set-up.

A few years later, another controversy engulfed the team as they, in the midst of Covid, had a game cancelled, coincidently against Scotland, due to an outbreak of the virus. Galthie left the bubble to watch his son play while members of the squad went out for some waffles in Rome ahead of their 50-10 victory over Italy. The head coach and the players were cleared of any wrongdoing by an internal investigation, but it was certainly an unwanted sideshow for France as they failed to take the title.

Controversy is therefore never far away when the Six Nations is around so we think that there will be something which hits the headlines for all the wrong reasons over the next two months, but who and what will it be?

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