Six Nations Week 5: Ireland retain title on a dramatic Super Saturday

The Six Nations came to an end over the weekend and rugby fans were not disappointed. We were treated to a thrilling Super Saturday that ultimately saw Ireland crowned champions for the second year in a row.

England had faint hopes of winning the title at the start of the day but their dreams were dashed before they’d kicked off and they were ultimately stunned by France in dramatic circumstances. Meanwhile, Wales’s woes continued as they picked up the infamous wooden spoon.

Six Nations Table

 TeamPlayedWonDrawnLostPDBonusPoints
1Ireland540184420
2France53116115
3England5302-5214
4Scotland52030412
5Italy5212-34111
6Wales5005-5144

Ireland beat Scotland to secure Six Nations

Despite having their Grand Slam dreams ended by England the week before, Ireland entered Super Saturday in the driving seat. They went into their clash against Scotland knowing that one point would clinch them a second successive Six Nations title.

Fittingly, they secured the championship just in time to party the night into St Patrick’s Day. But the Scots didn’t make things easy in a cagey affair that finished 17-13.

Ireland went into the break just 7-6 up and braced themselves for a battle to reclaim their crown. And luckily for their expectant home crowd, they rallied in the second half and managed to break down a stubborn Scotland defence.

Tries from Dan Sheehan and Andrew Porter got them over the line and while the Grand Slam wasn’t to be, they clearly didn’t dwell on it as they secured a fifth Six Nations title since 2014.

Scotland went into the game dreaming of a first Triple Crown since 1990 but the visitors weren’t able to add to Huw Jones’ solitary try, despite a formidable performance.

France’s late late show sinks England

England broke Irish hearts with a last-gasp kick in week four but the roles were reversed in Lyon at the weekend. England were a point ahead late on but Thomas Ramos’ ambitious halfway line penalty secured a 33-31 win for the hosts.

The dramatic win saw France leapfrog England and finish in second place in the table. England had fought back from 16-3 down, with two Ollie Lawrence tries putting them in the ascendancy. Both sides added further tries but it was Ramos who ultimately stole the show.

After Ireland had secured the title earlier in the day, it was a battle for second place and France had the edge in their first home victory since the World Cup. Despite finishing third, England showed good resilience throughout the tournament having trailed at half-time in every match.

They’ll be looking to build on their performances, with Steve Borthwick now with a clearer picture of how he wants to shape his squad ahead of the Autumn Nations series later this year. For France, they’ll be delighted to finish as runners-up having started this year’s competition slowly with defeat to Ireland before they were held to a surprise draw by Italy in week three.

France edge past Wales in tight affair

After being held to a draw by Italy, France put that disappointing result behind them with a comfortable win against Wales. They led by just three points at the break but kicked on to win 45-24 thanks to a masterclass from Nolann Le Garrec.

Fans in Cardiff were treated to eight tries but the home faithful will be mightily concerned looking at the table. Wales are bottom with four defeats from four and they’re in danger of their first whitewash since 2003.

It was Wales’ 11th defeat in their last 12 Six Nations matches and another one against Italy in their crunch clash this weekend will consign them to this year’s wooden spoon.

For France, the victory saw them record their highest-ever points tally in Wales. They now find themselves fourth in the table but are just a point behind Saturday’s opponents England and they’re still mathematically able to win the Six Nations, although it remains unlikely.

Italy condemn Wales to wooden spoon

The opening game of Super Saturday saw Italy and Wales go toe-to-toe in a bid to avoid this year’s wooden spoon. Remarkably, it was Italy who came out on top, condemning Wales to the booby prize for the first time in 21 years.

Wales lost all five of their matches in this year’s Six Nations, including a full throttle affair in Cardiff at the weekend. They were 11-0 down at half-time but a respectable second period gave them hope as they ultimately lost 24-21.

George North’s Wales career ended in disappointment as he was carried off the pitch with injury in his final game before retirement. But he maintains that Warren Gatland remains the right man for Wales, with question marks surrounding the coach’s future.

Italy finished fifth in the table in what was their most successful Six Nations in history. They went unbeaten in three matches for the first ever time and it’s the first time since 2015 that they haven’t finished bottom of the pile.

Six Nations Week 4: England end Ireland’s Grand Slam hopes

After a two-week break, the Six Nations returned at the weekend and there were plenty of shocks. England secured a late win over favourites Ireland, while Italy claimed their first victory of this year’s competition.

Elsewhere, Wales’ misery continued as they slumped to another defeat. The Six Nations comes to a close this weekend with Super Saturday and, as ever, we’ve rounded up the best of the action.

Six Nations Table

 TeamPlayedWonDrawnLostPDBonusPoints
1Ireland430180416
2England4301-3012
3Scotland42024311
4France42114111
5Italy4112-3717
6Wales4004-4833

England strike late to sink Ireland

While it didn’t quite have the same impact, there were shades of Jonny Wilkinson in 2003 as Marcus Smith’s last-gasp drop-goal secured a famous win for England. With the hosts two points behind at Twickenham, the Harlequins fly-half silenced the reigning champions.

Ireland thought they’d won it through James Lowe’s second try, which would have left Andy Farrell’s side just one win away from back-to-back Grand Slams. But in the game’s final phase, Smith had other ideas and booted between the posts to secure an iconic 23-22 victory.

It was Ireland’s first Six Nations defeat for two years and while they’ll likely still claim the championship against Scotland this weekend, they’ll always have to live with the ‘what if’ of the Grand Slam that never was.

England still harbour faint hopes of securing an unlikely title if results go their way. While it ultimately looks like they’ll finish second at best, their win over Ireland will at least put to bed talk of them not being up to standard.

They’ve flattered to deceive in the competition so far but they showed a fighting spirit against Ireland and they’ll travel to France this weekend with a renewed confidence that the new era under Steve Borthwick really has begun.

Italy beat Scotland to shock the world

After holding France to a draw last time out, Italy fans were in dreamland on Saturday as a second-half comeback saw them beat Scotland. It was just their second Six Nations win since 2015 and ended a run of 26 consecutive home defeats in the competition.

Scotland went into the half-time break 22-16 up but they weren’t able to hold on in the second half, with Italy ultimately securing a narrow 31-29 win. They now go into a crucial clash with Wales this weekend with both sides looking to avoid the dreaded wooden spoon.

Italy have never gone three consecutive Six Nations matches unbeaten and they’ll be looking to make history in Cardiff on Saturday. Meanwhile for Scotland, the defeat all but ends their hopes of securing the Six Nations title.

Gregor Townsend’s side were in the ascendancy at half-time but they collapsed and looked a shadow of the team that saw off England last time out. They’ll be licking their wounds this weekend as they face an Ireland side hungry to confirm their second consecutive championship.

France edge past Wales in tight affair

After being held to a draw by Italy, France put that disappointing result behind them with a comfortable win against Wales. They led by just three points at the break but kicked on to win 45-24 thanks to a masterclass from Nolann Le Garrec.

Fans in Cardiff were treated to eight tries but the home faithful will be mightily concerned looking at the table. Wales are bottom with four defeats from four and they’re in danger of their first whitewash since 2003.

It was Wales’ 11th defeat in their last 12 Six Nations matches and another one against Italy in their crunch clash this weekend will consign them to this year’s wooden spoon.

For France, the victory saw them record their highest-ever points tally in Wales. They now find themselves fourth in the table but are just a point behind Saturday’s opponents England and they’re still mathematically able to win the Six Nations, although it remains unlikely.

Week 5 fixtures

Wales v Italy – Saturday 16th March, 14:15

Ireland v Scotland – Saturday 16th March, 16:45

France v England – Saturday 16th March, 20:00

Six Nations Week 3: England lose as Italy shock France

Following a two-week break, the Six Nations was back with a bang over the weekend. Ireland continued their pursuit of a Grand Slam double as they put struggling Wales to the sword.

Meanwhile, Scotland claimed bragging rights over England once again, while France’s struggles continued as Italy claimed a shock result.

Six Nations Table

 TeamPlayedWonDrawnLostPDBonusPoints
1Ireland330081315
2Scotland3201619
3England3201-408
4France3111-1706
5Wales3003-2733
6Italy3012-3913

Scotland continue winning run against England

Following a masterclass from Duhan van der Merwe, Scotland claimed a fourth successive Six Nations win over England for the first time since the late 19th century.

The winger stole the show with a hat-trick of tries, including a breathtaking solo effort, to become the first Scotland player to score a treble in the Calcutta Cup. Finn Russell’s faultless kicking secured three conversions and three penalties to cement the win for the Scots.

After just about edging past Wales last time out, there were fears that England would be punished if they didn’t step up their unconvincing performances. And Scotland took full advantage at Murrayfield, meaning England missed out on winning their opening three games for the first time since 2017.

The good news for England is that their new-look team is still finding its feet and George Furbank and Immanuel Feyi-Waboso will take confidence from their first tries. The bad news is that their next game is against successive Grand Slam-chasing Ireland.

For Scotland, they’ll be confident of beating Italy next time out. Following that, their final game is against the Irish, which could end up being a Six Nations decider.

France held to surprise draw by Italy

The most surprising thing about Sunday’s match in Lille wasn’t that Italy held France to a draw – it was that Italy should have won.

Paolo Garbisi had a golden chance to claim just a second Six Nations win since 2015 for his nation as he stepped up for an injury-time penalty. But as the ball fell off the tee, he lost focus in an attempt to beat the shot clock and saw his effort cannon back off the post.

France were in control at half-time, winning 10-3, and would have expected to push on after the break. But after Jonathan Danty was sent off following a half-time review, Italy rallied in the second half to claim an historic result that should have been so much more.

Ahead of the competition, France wouldn’t have expected to have just one win from their opening three matches. But after their controversial win against Scotland, they can count themselves lucky they haven’t lost all three.

France take on Wales next time out, who are hungry for blood following three consecutive defeats. Meanwhile, Italy face Scotland in what will be another tricky test, although their second-half resurgence against France will give them confidence that they can get more points on the board.

Ireland continue Grand Slam pursuit

While the other two matches were reasonably close, Ireland continued their dominance with a 31-7 win over Wales in Dublin.

The hosts were out of sight at half-time, finding themselves 17-0 up thanks to tries from Dan Sheehan and James Lowe. And despite Wales’ threat of a comeback, they held firm to secure another bonus point win.

Their dream of back-to-back Grand Slams continues and if they can secure victory at Twickenham next weekend, they’ll set a new record of 12 consecutive Six Nations wins.

While Wales have now lost all three of their opening matches, they’re yet to be completely blown away, having only narrowly lost to Scotland and England. They could spring a surprise against France next time out, who will still be licking their wounds, while they face Italy in the final week, which gives them a chance to climb up the table.

Week 4 fixtures

Italy v Scotland – Saturday 9th March, 14:15

England v Ireland – Saturday 9th March, 16:45

Wales v France – Sunday 10th March, 15:00

Six Nations Week 2: England and Ireland win again

Another thrilling weekend of Six Nations action has been and gone, with Ireland refusing to slow down in their pursuit of another Grand Slam. But England are hot on their tail, which could set up a mouth-watering clash when the pair meet in week four.

Meanwhile, Scotland were denied a second win a row after cruelly missing out on a match-winning try late on against France. Following an entertaining second round of matches, we’ve taken a look at all the key talking points.

Six Nations Table

TeamPlayedWonDrawnLostPDBonusPoints
1Ireland220057210
2England2200508
3Scotland2101-315
4France2101-1704
5Wales2002-333
6Italy2002-3911

England fight back to edge past Wales

Having scraped past Italy in an unconvincing performance last time out, there was pressure on England to step up as they welcomed Wales to Twickenham. It looked as though they were on their way to a limp defeat as they went into half-time 14-5 down, trailing at the break for the second game in a row.

Wales hadn’t won at Twickenham since 2015 and they were looking to bounce back after losing to Scotland the week before. But once again, Steve Borthwick’s half-time team talk seemed to work as England fought back to claim their second win in this year’s Six Nations.

George Ford’s first-half conversion attempt was run down and he then failed to convert Fraser Dingwall’s try after the break, leaving his side short. But the fly-half was ultimately the hero as his late penalty secured a narrow 16-14 win for England.

They’re now second in the table but they’ll need to step things up once again when they head up north to face Scotland on 24th February. Meanwhile, Wales face a daunting test against table-toppers Ireland, who they beat in this competition back in 2021.

Scotland denied famous win over France

After losing their opening match to Ireland, France got their Six Nations campaign up and running with a win over Scotland. They ran out 20-16 winners at Murrayfield on Saturday but it wasn’t without controversy.

The hosts thought they’d secured their fifth consecutive home victory when Sam Skinner looked to have planted the ball over the line at the death. But with the TMO unable to conclusively confirm the ball was grounded, Scotland were denied what would’ve been a match-winning try.

The Scots were understandably frustrated, particularly having played so well to get to that point. They led 13-10 at the break and perhaps should’ve been further ahead. But ultimately France showed just enough quality to win for the 10th time in their last 12 Six Nations outings.

Having lost out to Ireland, France are now a game behind in their hunt to come out on top and they’ll be hungry to build their momentum as they take on minnows Italy next week. Meanwhile, Scotland host old rivals England and they’ll be looking to beat them in the Six Nations for the fourth time in a row.

Ireland continue Grand Slam defence against Italy

Having got off to the best possible start by beating main challengers France in their opening game, Ireland continued their Grand Slam dream by brushing Italy aside with ease. The reigning champions are looking to become the first ever team to claim back-to-back Grand Slams and they were in full flow in Dublin.

Ireland ran out 36-0 winners and once again, new fly-half Jack Crowley grew into his role as the heir to Johnny Sexton. The 24-year-old scored a first-half try and recovered well from a poor early kick to convert twice.

Ireland also claimed another bonus point from Dan Sheehan’s second try which edged them clear at the top of the table. It was far from Ireland’s best performance and some of their sloppier play may have been punished by a stronger opponent.

However, they’ll learn from their mistakes going into the next round of fixtures where they face Wales. For Italy, it was always going to be a difficult day and things don’t get much easier next time out as they travel to France.

Week 3 fixtures

Ireland v Wales – Saturday 24th February, 14:15

Scotland v England – Saturday 24th February, 16:45

France v Italy – Sunday 25th February, 15:00

Six Nations Week 1: Ireland show they mean business

After months of anticipation, the Six Nations finally got underway on Friday night as France and Ireland kicked off a dramatic opening weekend. Reigning champions Ireland were victorious as the heavyweight pair met in Marseille.

Meanwhile, England and Scotland also both made winning starts, coming out on top in narrow away victories. Following an action-packed first round of matches, we’ve taken a look at all the key talking points.

Can Ireland achieve another Grand Slam?

As Ireland travelled to take on fellow France, there was a feeling that the winner of the opening clash would likely go on to win the competition. And that may prove to be Ireland, who ran riot in a dominant performance.

The reigning champions are looking to become the first ever team to win back-to-back Grand Slams and they’ll have to do it without legendary captain Johnny Sexton. But the iconic fly-half wasn’t needed at the weekend as the inexperienced Jack Crowley stepped up, converting all five of his side’s tries and adding a penalty.

The win was Ireland’s biggest ever away victory in France and with Italy up next, they’ve got a real chance to build some momentum as they look to defend their Six Nations crown.

While France were among the favourites to win the competition, they looked shell shocked as they were run ragged. They lacked creativity without star player Antoine Dupont, who has elected not to play as he saves himself for the rugby sevens at this summer’s Olympics.

A lack of spark going forward, combined with a red card for Paul Willemse after just half an hour, condemned France to a miserable opening day defeat. They visit Scotland this weekend and they’ll be desperate to put this behind them.

England end opening game hoodoo in Italy

Italy have finished bottom of the table in each of the last eight Six Nations tournaments, winning just one game in the process. But England had to come from behind to edge a narrow contest in Rome.

It brought an end to four consecutive opening game defeats for England but they were far from convincing. While getting the win was the most important thing, they’ll be punished if they play like that against stronger opposition.

With Owen Farrell not involved in this year’s Six Nations and Marcus Smith injured, it was George Ford on kicking duties against Italy. And the fly-half was very much needed as he scored five penalties and a conversion to pull England clear.

They welcome Wales to Twickenham at the weekend and Steve Borthwick’s side will be keen to build on a promising result with a performance to match.

Despite the defeat, Italy will take huge positives from their display. However, while they’d love to continue in that vein in their next outing, they face a daunting trip to high-flying Ireland on Sunday.

Scotland survive comeback to see off Wales

If Saturday’s game in Cardiff had ended after 43 minutes, rugby fans across Europe may have been tipping Scotland for a surprise run at their first Six Nations title this century. Yet an almost incredible comeback from Wales made the end result much closer than the Scots would have liked.

The visitors looked to be running away with it, racing into a 20-0 lead at half-time before adding another seven points just after the break. But it truly was a game of two halves and they just about held on to win by a point.

Wales scored four second-half tries and put the pressure on but didn’t quite have enough as it finished 26-27 and Scotland claimed their first win in Cardiff for 22 years.

The hosts rang the changes at half-time time, with Warren Gatland trusting his younger contingent to rescue the game. Their promising performance showed that the new Wales era has real potential and if they can replicate their second-half performance at the weekend they’ll give England a real contest.

For Scotland, they’ll need to quickly put their collapse behind them. They welcome France to Murrayfield on Saturday who are looking to get their Six Nations campaign up and running.

Six Nations preview: Scotland dream of ending 24-year drought

The Six Nations gets underway next weekend and in anticipation of this year’s biggest rugby event, we’ve taken an in-depth look at all of the home nations. Up next is Scotland, who haven’t tasted success in the competition since 1999.

While ‘24 years of hurt’ is unlikely to be ringing around Murrayfield over the next few weeks, Scotland are desperate to claim what would be their first title since Italy were instated as the sixth nation.

They threatened an upset in last year’s edition, winning their first two matches, but they ultimately finished third in the table as Ireland ran away with it. And they were dealt a tough hand in autumn’s World Cup as they were drawn in a pool alongside Ireland and South Africa.

They finished third as expected but they didn’t go down without a fight, showing they have the ability to be clinical as they put minnows Romania to the sword in an 84-0 thrashing.

Scotland will be hoping to continue to show their cutting edge as we head into this year’s Six Nations and recent years have shown they’re more than capable of a shock result.

When are Scotland playing?

Wales v Scotland – Saturday 3rd February: Principality Stadium, Cardiff

Scotland v France – Saturday 10th February: Murrayfield, Edinburgh

Scotland v England – Saturday 24th February: Murrayfield, Edinburgh

Italy v Scotland – Saturday 9th March: Stadio Olimpico, Rome

Ireland v Scotland – Saturday 16th March: Aviva Stadium, Dublin

Finn ‘Lionel Messi’ Russell to lead Scotland

This year’s Six Nations seems to be the competition for trying new things, with wholesale changes across the board. Jamie Ritchie captained Scotland at the World Cup but while he’s still in the squad, he’s lost the armband, with Gregor Townsend hoping it will allow him to focus on his game without any added pressure.

In his place, Scotland have named two co-captains. Finn Russell jokingly compared himself to footballing legend Lionel Messi in a Netflix documentary and he’ll be hoping he can emulate the Argentinian by driving his nation to glory.

The fly-half, who has 75 caps for Scotland, will lead the team alongside co-captain Rory Darge. It’s a huge statement from Townsend to bestow the honour on 23-year-old Darge, who has shown himself to be an influential star for the side in recent years.

Scotland could also hand out a few debuts throughout the Six Nations, with five uncapped players set to join the squad. Aaron Reed, Harry Paterson and Alec Hepburn were all named initially, while fellow uncapped players Elliot Millar-Mills and Ross McCann have since been added due to injuries elsewhere.

Can Scotland win the Six Nations?

It’ll be tough! Their competition pedigree is weak having crashed out in the pool stages of the last two World Cups. But they’ve got a big result up their sleeve as England fans are only too familiar with.

Scotland were in dreamland in round one a year ago as they won 29-23 at Twickenham. In fact, they’ve beaten England in each of their last three Six Nations meetings and that psychological advantage could see them through again when the pair face off at Murrayfield on 24th February.

They’ve also pulled rabbits out of hats against other big sides, notably claiming victory away at France back in 2021. Since then, France have gone from strength to strength so the chances of history repeating itself are slim.

However, anything can happen and Scotland will be well aware of their own potential. While they’re no strangers to big results, they’ve not been able to put them together consistently which will likely stop them going all the way.

Scotland Six Nations squad

Forwards: Ewan Ashman, Josh Bayliss, Jamie Bhatti, Andy Christie, Luke Crosbie, Scott Cummings, Jack Dempsey, Rory Darge, Grant Gilchrist, Richie Gray, Matt Fagerson, Zander Fagerson, Alec Hepburn, Johnny Matthews, WP Nel, Jamie Ritchie, Pierre Schoeman, Sam Skinner, George Turner, Glen Young, Elliot Millar-Mills

Backs: Ben Healy, George Horne, Darcy Graham, Rory Hutchinson, Huw Jones, Blair Kinghorn, Stafford McDowall, Harry Paterson, Ali Price, Cameron Redpath, Arron Reed, Kyle Rowe, Finn Russell, Kyle Steyn, Sione Tuipulotu, Duhan van der Merwe, Ben White, Ross McCann

Six Nations preview: Can Wales cause an upset?

The Six Nations is now just over a week away and next up on our home nations preview tour are Wales, who have won the competition twice in the last five years.

Like England and Ireland before them, Wales are entering something of a transition period in terms of their squad, with plenty of up and coming players set to be given the chance to impress over the coming months.

Warren Gatland’s hand has been forced due to injuries and key players retiring and it remains to be seen whether a host of fresh faces will revitalise them or if their inexperience will show.

Yet it may prove to be a blessing in disguise. Wales endured a disappointing Six Nations campaign a year ago, finishing fifth in the table with their only win coming against lowly Italy. They’ve since crashed out of the World Cup in the quarter-finals, although they topped their group unbeaten and smashed Australia 40-6.

The Six Nations gives them the chance to experiment and give us a glimpse of what the future holds for them. But with a tough set of games ahead of them, this year’s competition may have come too early.

When are Wales playing?

Wales v Scotland – Saturday 3rd February: Principality Stadium, Cardiff

England v Wales – Saturday 10th February: Twickenham, London

Ireland v Wales – Saturday 24th February: Aviva Stadium, Dublin

Wales v France  – Sunday 10th March: Principality Stadium, Cardiff

Wales v Italy – Saturday 16th March: Principality Stadium, Cardiff

Out with the old, in with the new

It seems to be a common theme in this year’s Six Nations that teams are being forced to reshuffle their squads and Wales are no different. Gatland has selected an inexperienced group, with five uncapped players and an average age of 25.

The good news is that experienced head George North is still around, although the influential centre is a fitness worry after picking up a shoulder injury playing for Ospreys out in South Africa. However, for Wales their squad is very much about who isn’t involved than who is.

Alun Wyn Jones, Justin Tpuric, Dan Biggar and Leigh Halfpenny have all retired, while Liam Williams, Gareth Anscombe, Dan Lydiate and Tomas Francis also won’t be involved. Elsewhere, several big hitters are ruled out through injury, including World Cup co-captains Dewi Lake and Jac Morgan.

Their absences have led to Gatland trusting 21-year-old Dafydd Jenkins with the armband. While it remains a huge honour for the Exeter Chiefs lock, it highlights the glaring lack of experience in the squad.

Wales will also be unable to call upon Louis Rees-Zammit. The 22-year-old, who has won 32 caps for his nation, turned his back on the sport last week as he seeks a new career playing in the NFL.

Can Wales win the Six Nations?

It’s unlikely but never say never! Wales may struggle with such a young squad lacking in big-game experience. But on the other hand, if you’re good enough you’re old enough and there’s no reason why this competition can’t be the making of them.

Despite losing a huge number of stalwarts, their experienced players could only manage a fifth-place finish last time out, so the new kids on the block can’t do much worse.

The pressure will be off Wales, with the likes of Ireland, France and England expected to get the better of them, and Gatland will make it clear to them that nobody is expecting them to be world beaters yet.

But if they can put a string of performances together, and maybe grind out a shock result or two, there’s every chance that this year’s Six Nations could be the start of an exciting new era for Welsh rugby.

Wales Six Nations squad

Forwards: Corey Domachowski, Kemsley Mathias, Gareth Thomas, Elliot Dee, Ryan Elias, Evan Lloyd, Keiron Assiratti, Leon Brown, Archie Griffin, Adam Beard, Dafydd Jenkins, Will Rowlands, Teddy Williams, Taine Basham, James Botham, Alex Mann, Mackenzie Martin, Tommy Reffell, Aaron Wainwright

Backs: Gareth Davies, Kieran Hardy, Tomos Williams, Sam Costelow, Cai Evans, Ioan Lloyd, Mason Grady, George North, Joe Roberts, Nick Tompkins, Owen Watkin, Josh Adams, Rio Dyer, Tom Rogers, Cameron Winnett

Six Nations preview: Can Ireland defend their crown?

Six Nations fever is gripping the rugby world and having already taken a look at England’s chances, it’s time for a deep dive on reigning champions Ireland.

The men from the Emerald Isle were imperious last year, sweeping all before them on their way to a Grand Slam. But could the pressure of a title defence weigh on their minds going into this year’s competition?

They’ll be without influential captain Johnny Sexton, who has called time on his playing career. Meanwhile, they may still carry the psychological effects of yet another World Cup quarter-final exit.

Ireland were among the favourites heading into the competition in France but once again failed to reach the final four as they narrowly lost to New Zealand.

While that will no doubt be playing on their minds, there’s every reason to be optimistic for Ireland fans as they enter a new era. And with a mouth-watering clash against favourites France kicking off proceedings, rugby fans across the world are counting down the days for the action to get underway.

When are Ireland playing?

France v Ireland – Friday 2nd February: Orange Vélodrome, Marseille

Ireland v Italy – Sunday 11th February: Aviva Stadium, Dublin

Ireland v Wales – Saturday 24th February: Aviva Stadium, Dublin

England v Ireland – Saturday 9th March: Twickenham, London

Ireland v Scotland – Saturday 16th March: Aviva Stadium, Dublin

Life after Johnny Sexton

While Ireland will be confident going into the competition, there’s no denying that there will be a huge Sexton-shaped hole in their backline. Their legendary captain hung up his boots following the World Cup, meaning Ireland head into the Six Nations under new leadership on the pitch.

Sexton led Ireland to four Six Nations wins and he holds the record for the highest number of points in the competition with 566. His influence will be missed but coach Andy Farrell will be hoping new captain Peter O’Mahony can fill the void.

The Munster flanker is no stranger to leadership having already captained his nation on 10 occasions, as well as the British and Irish Lions, and he’ll be desperate to repay Farrell’s faith by bringing the Six Nations title home for the second year in a row.

As well as Sexton’s leadership, Ireland will miss the former fly-half’s points and there’s pressure on his deputies to step up to the plate. Jack Crowley, Harry Byrne and Ciaran Frawley have just 12 caps between them but the fly-half trio have been called up to fill Sexton’s shoes.

Meanwhile, there have been changes to the Ireland World Cup squad that crashed out in the quarter-finals. Jacob Stockdale and Nick Timoney are back in the frame, as are Jordan Larmour, Calvin Nash and Cian Healy who missed out on the tournament in France through injury.

Can Ireland win the Six Nations?

Having won it last time out, all eyes will be on Ireland to repeat the feat this time around. They stormed to the title last spring, winning all five matches to claim their fourth Grand Slam.

Ireland have won the Six Nations on four of the last 10 occasions and despite the absence of Sexton, there’s no reason why they can’t go all the way and secure a 16th title. One side that could stand in their way is France, who are the favourites to win having undergone a remarkable turnaround in recent years.

With both sides expected to dominate throughout, there’s every chance this year’s winners could be decided on the opening weekend. The heavyweight pair go head-to-head in the competition’s curtain-raiser on Friday 2nd February and it would come as no surprise if the winners of that clash went all the way.

Ireland Six Nations squad

Forwards: Ryan Baird, Finlay Bealham, Tadhg Beirne, Jack Conan, Caelan Doris, Tadhg Furlong, Cian Healy, Iain Henderson, Ronan Kelleher, Jeremy Loughman, Joe McCarthy, Peter O’Mahony, Tom O’Toole, Andrew Porter, James Ryan, Dan Sheehan, Tom Stewart, Nick Timoney, Josh van der Flier

Backs: Bundee Aki, Harry Byrne, Craig Casey, Jack Crowley, Ciaran Frawley, Jamison Gibson-Park, Robbie Henshaw, Hugo Keenan, Jordan Larmour, James Lowe, Stuart McCloskey, Conor Murray, Calvin Nash, Garry Ringrose, Jacob Stockdale

Six Nations preview: England look to build on promising World Cup showing

With the Six Nations just a few weeks away, we’re taking an in-depth look at all of the home nations taking part, starting with England.

Steve Borthwick took a while to get going after taking over from Eddie Jones at the end of 2022 but optimism is high following an impressive showing at the World Cup in France.

There were fears that England would struggle at the tournament but they managed to put together a string of strong performances and they narrowly missed out on a second consecutive final as they lost late to South Africa in the semis.

Borthwick’s side will take great encouragement from their displays in the autumn as they look to improve on last year’s Six Nations showing. A disappointing campaign saw them finish fourth in the standings, with wins over Italy and Wales their only returns.

England last won the competition back in 2020 but with the likes of Ireland and France as strong as ever, they’ll need to step up another level if they want to claim the title for a record 40th time, and the eighth time since a sixth nation was added.

When are England playing?

Italy v England – Saturday 3rd February, Stadio Olimpico, Rome

England v Wales – Saturday 10th February, Twickenham, London

Scotland v England – Saturday 24th February, Murrayfield, Edinburgh

England v Ireland – Saturday 9th March, Twickenham, London

France v England – Saturday 16th March, Groupama Stadium, Lyon

The dawning of a new era

Despite defying expectations at the World Cup, Borthwick would be unwise to rest on his laurels. England now enter a crucial cycle where they’ll have one eye on the 2027 competition in Australia.

Many of the players at England’s disposal last year will not be around for the next World Cup, so Borthwick now has an opportunity to begin to bed in players that can contribute in the future.

In fact, of the 36 players that initially travelled to France, 13 of them are the wrong side of 30, including Owen Farrell, Jonny May, Manu Tuilagi, Courtney Laws and Joe Marler. Meanwhile, Mako Vunipola announced his immediate retirement from international rugby this week.

Borthwick will need to look at the younger contingent of his squad to build the foundation for the next World Cup, with the likes of Marcus Smith, Tom Curry, Jack van Poortvliet and Freddie Steward already well integrated into the squad.

Smith has often been rotated at fly-half with captain Farrell and George Ford but the Harlequins sensation has more than shown his capabilities and he will be a vital cog in the England side for years to come. Elsewhere, his Quins teammate Alex Dombrandt missed out on the World Cup squad but he could come back into the fray for the Six Nations.

England will still need to rely on their experienced players for the upcoming competition, as well as over the next few years. But combining that with youth, with the intention of nurturing their younger stars to take over when the time is right should be the top priority of Borthwick and his coaching staff.

Can England win the Six Nations?

Why not?! They still carry the scars of their poor showing a year ago but at that point they were just a few months into Borthwick’s tenure. They’ve since had time to adjust to his ideas and gel as a camp throughout the World Cup.

France and Ireland are the favourites to go all the way but anything can happen in a one-off match. England will expect to see off the likes of Italy, Scotland and Wales in their opening three games, by which point France and Ireland will have faced each other.

With the two big hitters to play in the final two games, Borthwick won’t have a better opportunity to put October’s World Cup semi-final heartbreak behind him and show the rugby world that his England side mean business.

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Can Saracens retain their Gallagher Premiership Rugby crown?

The club rugby season is almost at the halfway stage and the league table is beginning to take shape. Last season’s Gallagher Premiership runners-up Sale Sharks have made a blistering start but there’s still plenty of rugby to be played before the playoffs begin.

Meanwhile, the European Rugby Champions Cup is back for another year and Leinster are looking to win the competition for a fifth time after missing out in last season’s final.

Who’s leading the way?

With eight games down, Sale Sharks sit at the top of the Gallagher Premiership table having won six matches so far. Paul Deacon’s side came second last year before eventually being stopped by Saracens in the final.

A strong start to the current campaign will give them confidence they can go all the way to Twickenham again for the final on Saturday 8th June as they target their first title since the 2005/06 season.

However, despite losing just twice so far, both of their defeats have been drubbings which will cause some concern. They’re not exactly watertight at the back and 43-0 and 36-3 losses to Exeter and Harlequins respectively show that they can often struggle going forward.

Sale have been reliant on Robert du Preez for their points and the South African excelled in their win over Leicester, scoring three tries and adding both a penalty and conversion. Meanwhile, Arron Reed has five tries to his name so far.

Just below Sale in the table sit Bath, who have lost three times. They’ll be forgiven for pinching themselves at their lofty heights following an eight-placed finish last time out.

Their strong start to the season is in part down to Ben Spencer, who’s popped up with five tries so far, including a hat-trick against Newcastle back in October.

The chasing pack

Saracens remain the favourites to defend their crown as they seek a seventh title and their second in a row. They’re sitting pretty in fourth and have won five times so far, including a London derby triumph over Harlequins last month.

The pair will meet again in the Showdown 4 at the Tottenham Hotspur stadium on Saturday 23rd March. With live music, fireworks and top-class rugby to look forward to, you can enjoy the match from the best seats in the house with our exclusive hospitality packages.

Saracens star Alex Lewington currently tops the try scoring standings with six. And with the likes of Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje and Billy Vunipola back and firing following the World Cup, Saracens will be confident of another playoff appearance.

Meanwhile, Harlequins are looking to bounce back following a disappointing campaign that saw them finish sixth last time out. They last won the title in 2020/21 but they’re currently third in the table.

They’ll be disappointed to have lost to Saracens but a convincing win against table-toppers Sale last weekend shows they mean business.

Elsewhere, Northampton and Exeter will both have their eyes on the playoff positions. Northampton made it to the semi-finals last season but they came unstuck against Saracens in the final.

At the bottom of the table things are looking bleak for Newcastle Falcons. They’ve lost all eight of their matches so far and they’re in real danger of finishing bottom and meeting the Championship winners in a playoff for a place in the league.

European rugby is back

Alongside the thrilling action of the Gallagher Premiership, the European Rugby Champions Cup got underway last weekend.

French side La Rochelle are targeting a second successive title after triumphing last season in a thrilling final against Leinster. 24 sides will compete across four pools for a place in the knockout stage, with teams from South Africa taking part for just the second time.

Beaten finalists Leinster are the favourites to go all the way and they’ll have their eye on the final, which takes place at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in May. The Irish side got their revenge by beating La Rochelle in their first game in a pool that also includes English clubs Sale and Leicester Tigers.

Meanwhile Harlequins have a tough group and face difficult tests against the likes of Ulster and Toulouse. All teams will face each other twice, with 16 going through to the knockouts.

Of the eight that are eliminated, six teams will drop down into the Challenge Cup. Toulon won the secondary competition last season, beating Glasgow Warriors in the final.

June 2024
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