Whilst the upcoming Rugby World Cup is on everybody’s minds this year, with the showcase event in France only a matter of months away, there is the small matter of the 2023 Six Nations to enjoy first – and this year’s edition of the tournament is shaping up to be one of the most competitive in its history. Wales and England have new head coaches, Italy have been getting stronger by the day, France will be defending a Grand Slam and will want to prepare for their home World Cup in the best possible way and Ireland are current world no.1s.

Every coach has made their squad selections and hopes that they will have enough to achieve their aims, and this tactical analysis will preview all of the action that fans can expect to witness in the coming weekends.


2022 placing: 3rd

For the first time since the 2016 Six Nations tournament, England will go into a major competition without Eddie Jones at the helm, following his sacking by the Rugby Football Union (RFU) in December. The timing of the decision was questioned by fans, pundits and writers alike, with it coming so close to the World Cup, and the pressure will be on his successor and former assistant Steve Borthwick to get his ideas across as quickly as possible and for the team to show that they are on board with the way that he wants them to play.

This tournament will be the first time that he has led the side, so slow progress should be expected as different players get used to his methods. However, if there are signs of progression and the team moving in the right direction once the competition has come to an end, as well as a clearer picture of the tactics that they will use, then fans can be happy.

Player to watch: Leicester Tigers prided themselves on their rolling maul threat last season, with it becoming a key part of their tactics under Borthwick as they went on to lift the English Premiership trophy. One player who always played a key role in setting up those situations and getting the team on the front foot once possession had been secured was the hooker, and so the experience of Jamie George will be needed if England are to pose just as big a threat in those moments as the Tigers did.

First game: HOME v Scotland (Twickenham, Saturday 4.45pm)


2022 placing: 1st (champions)

France have been steadily growing in confidence and quality over the last few seasons, but 2022 was the year when everything came together for them as they secured a Grand Slam and lifted the Six Nations trophy for the first time since 2010.

Head coach Fabien Galthie deserves a lot of credit for the work that he has put in since being appointed to the role in 2019, with him taking France back to what they do best and ensuring that they are executing key situations well, showing accuracy with their passing and kicking and generally being much more robust and harder to beat.

It has been a gradual process though, because turning France’s fortunes around since they finished fourth in 2018 and 2019 has been a case of looking for the right players to fit the profile of the team that he has wanted to build.

Last year, the final piece seemed to be located when then-Perpignan full-back Melvyn Jaminet (who has since joined Toulouse) was added to the squad, with him challenging star fly-half Romain Ntamack from the tee and providing Galthie’s side with another strong option on the ball and someone who was capable of starting attacks from the backfield.

He was undoubtedly one of the breakthrough stars of last year’s tournament, and there will be a great focus on him and the whole French side to see if they can deliver once again.

Player to watch: Whilst there are star names in every corner of the French squad, the one that stands out time and time again is that of Antoine Dupont. The Toulouse scrum-half and current captain is one of those players who shows a magic touch in everything that he does, and he is and always has been central to their transformation into the side that they have become today.

If France are to have any chance of defending their title, then they will need their skipper to be on top form throughout the tournament.

First game: AWAY v Italy (Stadio Olimpico, Sunday 3pm)


2022 placing: 2nd

Ireland were one of the favourites to lift the Six Nations title last year, but ended up having to settle for second after a defeat in Paris in the second week put them behind France in the race for the trophy. As such, they will go into this year’s competition with even more determination, and the fact that they are current world no. 1s in the rankings will only spur them on to deliver on the European stage.

When looking at their squad, what is evident is how many different ways Ireland can hurt their opponents, with tighthead Tadhg Furlong always a threat in the front row, Tadhg Beirne a versatile forward who offers a lot when moving up the field, and Jacob Stockdale returning as a back three option after a series of injury problems (he was the 2018 Player of the Tournament, when Ireland last lifted the trophy).

As with every team, they do have key players ruled out through injury, with influential centre Robbie Henshaw a major name to miss this year’s tournament, but that never concerns them and they always seem to have enough to cover for their absences. Therefore, a title fight seems very likely.

Player to watch: As mentioned, they have quality all over the pitch, but the player that will catch the eye at the moment is reigning men’s World Player of the Year Josh van der Flier. The Leinster flanker has been a constant threat in the opposing 22 for club and country over the last 12 months and consistently demonstrates pace, precision and execution in everything that he does, and Ireland will always have a chance of hurting teams if they can get him on the ball.

First game: AWAY v Wales (Principality Stadium, Saturday 2.15pm)


2022 placing: 6th

Italy have not had the best time of things in recent Six Nations history, with them going on a 36-game losing streak and never looking able to compete with the rest of the nations, all whilst seeing queries and rumours of either Georgia or South Africa taking their place in the tournament grow each year.

However, in 2022, their fortunes finally seemed to change, and no-one will forget that afternoon in Cardiff last March when fly-half Paolo Garbisi kicked through the posts and secured Italy a first Six Nations win in seven years, finally bringing that torrid run to an end.

This time around, Italy will simply be looking for progression and further development, and analysis of their performances under New Zealander Kieran Crowley has shown to everyone that they are moving in the right direction. They have a young squad who are continually gelling and understanding what is required to compete at this level, and the fact that they backed that win against Wales up with a deserved victory over Australia in last year’s Autumn internationals will give them further encouragement that they can get the results that their performances deserve.

Player to watch: Italy have some very good young players in their squad, but the one that always stands out is talented full-back Ange Capuozzo. It was his break that led to Italy scoring in the dying minutes of the game against Wales last March, and, since joining Toulouse in the summer, his performance levels have continued to grow and develop as he adds new details to his game.

He will be a key weapon for Italy during the tournament, and his pace and ability to change direction on the spot will make him a very difficult player to stop when he gets into full swing.

First game: HOME v France (Stadio Olimpico, Sunday 3pm)


2022 placing: 4th

Every year, the same things are said about Scotland, in that they have a lot of good players and look to be in a position to challenge in big games again, and then every year the same thing happens as they fall short, have a few poor performances and don’t live up to their pre-tournament potential.

As a result, the position of head coach Gregor Townsend is currently in question, with his current contract up at the end of the World Cup, and many feel that his time in charge of the national side may be coming to a natural end and that there is a need for new ideas and fresh energy.

Whether this is Townsend’s last Six Nations tournament in charge of his home nation or not, Scotland need it to be a good one. They only picked up two wins last time out, against England and Italy, and, with three home matches this year, they will know that not performing in those games will leave the Murrayfield crowd restless.

Townsend will have seen the way that England, Wales and Australia have changed their head coaches in recent months, and, even though Scotland are unlikely to part with his services before the trip to France in September, a disappointing tournament will leave him in a dangerous position.

Player to watch: So much of what Scotland do well is about controlling the game from the middle of the pitch, and there is no doubt that they play better when Finn Russell is on the field. A controversial figure among rugby fans, with him having a tendency to break team rules, he has always been a talented player who has the ability to dictate play and keep his side in games.

The Racing 92 fly-half, who will join Bath in the summer, has had a fractious relationship with Townsend in the past, but the Scotland coach will be hoping that his playmaker turns up to this tournament and shows what he can do when fully focused on the job in hand, because Scotland will have a better chance of winning matches if he does.

First game: AWAY v England (Twickenham Stadium, Saturday 4.45pm)


2022 placing: 5th

When Warren Gatland left his role as Wales head coach after the 2019 World Cup, there were many fans, both Welsh and non-Welsh, who felt that it was the end of an era and not one that they would see again any time soon.

Gatland’s fellow New Zealander Wayne Pivac was named as his successor, but, despite delivering a Six Nations title in 2021, results under him were not up to standard, and defeats to Australia and Georgia in last year’s Autumn internationals, coupled with the loss to Italy in the Six Nations, brought his time in charge to an abrupt conclusion.

There had been speculation over Gatland’s next role even before Pivac’s departure, with him being strongly linked with England as a replacement for Eddie Jones, but his return to the Welsh post last December will give fans a lot of hope that things will now start to improve ahead of the World Cup.

However, Gatland will know that, despite his good relationship with the Welsh fans, there is no room for sentimentality in sport and he will need to deliver results quickly if Wales are to get back on track ahead of the trip to France later this year.

Player to watch: With Wales’ main aim during this Six Nations being to steady the ship and improve on what had been going wrong, Gatland will need to rely on some of his more experienced heads around the field in order to help deliver performances and get results on the board quickly.

One of those who will be vital to their hopes of having a good tournament is Ospreys flanker Justin Tipuric, who is now 33 but who still rarely has a bad game in a Welsh shirt. He has shown throughout his career that he is a key player at the breakdown, both in terms of securing possession and winning turnovers, and is a strong ball-carrier who makes sizeable territorial gains.

He and Wales will need all of those qualities to be in full flow if they are to emerge from the tournament with more positives than negatives to reflect on.

First game: HOME v Ireland (Principality Stadium, Saturday 2.15pm)