It is Six Nations time, as the most loved and important tournament in the Northern Hemisphere kicks off this weekend. There is no easing into the 2024 edition of the Six Nations, with France hosting Ireland in Marseille on Friday night in a match that could decide the whole competition.
The Six Nations has been around in some format since 1883, when it was first placed as the Home Nations Championship. Expansion to six teams happened in 2000, with Italy joining France who had entered to create the Five Nations in 1910.
The money from this event funds the six unions, and national pride and familiarity often lead to shock results.
Odds to win:
France is the favorite to win the Six Nations three months from their crushing defeat on home soil to South Africa in the 2023 World Cup quarter-final. They open against Ireland – second favorites – the team that comes into this event as defending champions.
England is in flux – not uncommon at the beginning of a new World Cup cycle – while Wales and Scotland will look to improve on their third and fifth-placed finish (respectively) in the 2023 tournament.
Italy scored just one point from five games in 2023, and the tournament needs the Italians to improve quickly. The TV money means there is no chance they are booted out in favor of rapidly improving Georgia, but their impressive play at U-21 level needs to boost their senior side for their games each round to matter.
The winner of France against Ireland should win the tournament. The value, however, is in England at 6/1. Steve Borthwick will keep every game close with his coaching style, and there is no reason to think they can’t sneak past Ireland, France, or both.
Here is a look at the Round 1 fixtures with odds from BetXchange:
France VS Ireland – Stade Velodrome, Marseille
When: Friday, February 2
The biggest difference between the game and the World Cup is that long-time Ireland fly-half Johnny Sexton retired following that tournament. This leaves Ireland without their pivot and captain, with Jack Crowley the first player to attempt to replace the Icoonic Leinsterman.
Lock Joe McCarthy and wing Calvin Nash are on debut, but there is no place for inflation midfielder Carry Ringrose, who misses out with a shoulder issue.
France also has a massive hole to fill with Antoine Dupont – the player often picked as the best in the entire game – not in contention here after choosing to play sevens in the Paris Olympics this summer. Maxime Lucu will replace the 2021 World Player of the Year at No. 9 but expect to see players like Tomas Ramos and Geal Fickou step up in the backline to replace their talisman.
There is nowhere to hide in this one, as both countries have to lick their World Cup wounds and come out firing. I like Ireland to sneak this on the road over a France team with real questions in the halves.
Italy VS England – Stadio Olimpico, Rome
When: Saturday, February 3
The biggest change for England comes at fly-half, with Owen Farrell taking a break from international rugby before moving to France to play for Racing 92. That move would make him ineligible for England (unless the rules change), so this is now George Ford’s time to shine.
Ford is backed up by youngster Finn Smith, who is set to make his England debut from the bench after Marcus Smith injured himself in training. Courtney Lawes and Johnny May have retired, while TOm Curry is a long term injury miss with a hip problem,.
Despite all that, England should have far too much for the Italians. Steve Borthwick’s style of play will keep scoring low, but I like them to cover.
Wales VS Scotland – Principality Stadium, Cardiff
When: When: Saturday, February 3
Anyone who had Wales wing Louis Rees-Zammit quicking the sport at 22 to try for a career in the NFL is better at this betting business than I am. He leaves a massive void on the wing for Wales, and their team announced for this one is the youngest in a Six Nations fixture for the country since 2019.
Scotland has never beaten a Wales team coached by Warren Gatland at the Principality (Millennium) Stadium. The Scots have to finish second in the tournament to improve over 2023, and given they can’t buy a win over Ireland, this has to be a victory.
I like them to win this comfortably, with Finn Russell playing some of his best-ever rugby at Bath and with Wales down so many of their long-term contributors like Alun-Wynn Jones, Dan Biggar, and Leigh Halfpenny.