The 2023 Six Nations Championship kicks off on Saturday with Wales hosting Ireland at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff, before England host Scotland at Twickenham for the Calcutta Cup.
There are a lot of questions as we approach kick off. Can France become the first side to secure back-to-back Grand Slams in over 20 years? Can Ireland back up their tags as favourites? And is 2023 Italy’s year to finally show they’re a force in rugby union?
While we don’t have answers to all of those questions yet, we do have some bold Six Nations predictions on some things we think might or might not happen in this year’s edition.
1. A Hooker to Be Top Try Scorer
Generally, wingers get all the glory for scoring the tries in rugby. Wandering over the try line after a long sequence of play involving lots of hard yards from other players which no one remembers and never make the highlights.
Recent years have seen hookers wading in on the limelight though. The wide men still account for the majority of tries in Test rugby (26%), but in 2022 only the #11 shirt was more prolific than #2 (including tries by substitutes). Usually more famed for their prowess at the lineout or scrum, hookers accounted for 13% of tries in 2022.
2. Ireland to Dominate Red Zone Lineouts
In 2022 Ireland scored a try from 28% (16/58) of the lineouts they had inside the opposition 22, the best rate of any of the Six Nations sides, ahead of Fabien Galthie’s France side. England had the worst such rate, rolling over for just five tries from 27 throws in the Red Zone. If you squeeze up even closer to the try line (10 metres or closer), then Les Bleus were the most clinical, converting half of their 10 lineouts from such distance into tries. Even more remarkably, Ireland didn’t concede a single try from a lineout within 10 metres of their own try line, repelling all eight such attacks. There’s a reason Andy Farrell’s men are favourites to win.
3. Italy to Avoid the Wooden Spoon
The Azzurri went a record 36 games without a win in the Six Nations, before beating Wales in their final game of 2022. That triumph triggered a run of four victories from six ensuing games in 2022, with Italy having won just one of their previous 21.
Fair enough, three of those wins came against non-Tier 1 opposition, but it did include a famous win against the Wallabies in Florence too. Historically Italy have a 20% win rate in Rugby World Cup years, a much higher rate than their average. They’re on the up for real this time. Their U20s beat England, Scotland and Wales in the 2022 U20 Six Nations last year which was no fluke.
4. Borthwick to Start Hard and Fast
New manager/head coach syndrome is a proven thing in sport… sort of. The formula is simple: get a new boss in and start winning immediately. Fresh impetus for players, new ideas, and a reinvigorated crowd are all intangible factors that surely come into play. But the ‘new manager bounce’ has proved somewhat accurate in the history of the Six Nations. Steve Borthwick will be hoping to emulate his predecessor Eddie Jones, who won at his first two attempts in 2016 and 2017, the first of which was a Grand Slam triumph. Other full-time coaches who were debut winners include Mike Ruddock in 2005 and Warren Gatland in 2008 both with Wales (both Grand Slams); and Declan Kidney (2009) and Joe Schmidt (2014) with Ireland.
5. Ronan O’Gara to Slip Into Obscurity
Think of Six Nations legends and fly-half Ronan O’Gara will be near the top of most people’s lists. He made his debut in the inaugural edition of the Championship in 2000 and nine years later slotted the winning drop-goal against the Welsh to secure a first Irish Grand Slam in 61 years.
This could be the year that he loses his record as top points scorer in the competition though. He notched up 557 points across 63 appearances, but his replacement, Johnny Sexton is hot on his heels with 531 and Owen Farrell is not far behind on a round 500. On average Farrell averages 11.3 points per game, so if he plays all five games he will exactly tie O’Gara. If Sexton scores his average of nine points per game, he will sail past the Munsterman.
6. Kicks. Lots of Kicks
Last year saw 848 kicks in play during the Six Nations, the most in any edition of the Championship across the last 10 years.
Kicks come in all shapes and sizes though, and if you’re interested in speciality kicks you’ve come to the right place. There’s your bomb/Garryowen/up & under/chandelle, which Wales employed the most (17 times) and France the fewest (six). Then you have your classic box kick which England used the most (60) and Scotland the least (32); whilst the chip was something Italy (13) reeled out most often.
New for 2022 was the 50/22 kick. Ireland led the way with this novelty kick, notching up four such successful kicks, with Andrew Conway (two) the only player to manage more than one and Tadhg Beirne the only forward to achieve the feat.
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