Who Will Win The 2022 Six Nations?
Written by Max Sharp.
There's one way to get a decent audience when you're a content creator in rugby, that's to create material which will be consumed by large countries! The Six Nations all have very strong rugby followers, so this will be my own attempt at audience growth.
The Six Nations is usually far more competitive than The Rugby Championship, three different nations have won the trophy in the last decade, they've all done so multiple times each. Even though this is the case, the table as a whole can look wildly different each season.
I think we'll see a similar scenario, as this article reviews each team, their strengths and weaknesses, with a potential placing.
World Ranking: 3rd Place
Head Coach: Eddie Jones
Captain: Owen Farrell (injured)
Ben Youngs, who will become England's most-capped ever player, barring injury in the Six Nations, will be relied upon heavily in order to fulfill Jones' game plans. Many experienced players from England have either been ruled out, or will miss parts of the tournament, so expect Youngs' 112 tests to give him a strong voice for the team, regardless of who ends up as captain in Farrell's place. Youngs' passing, kicking and communication will all be desperately needed to calm the younger players in the side.
Although Farrell is indeed missing, Marcus Smith is on a hot streak of form right now, he plays like a young Richie Mo'unga. First-Five is not England's key strength because of Smith alone though, a re-called George Ford will be able to offer him insight at the highs and lows of test rugby off the bench, while the versatile Orlando Bailey shapes up as a third-choice for the World Cup, he will bring excitement to the crowd on his debut.
Without question, the midfield is England's biggest weakness. Jonathan Joseph's test career looks to be over, while Manu Tuilagi has been ruled out of the tournament, Joe Marchant will likely miss the first test as well. Weight will fall on the shoulders of Henry Slade. Although Slade has been vaccinated against COVID-19 since the recording of the YouTube video version of this article, allowing him entry to France, losing Slade to injury will write off England's chances of a title. The uncapped Luke Northmore has been selected, Marchant has 7 test caps, Mark Atkinson has 1, compared to Slade's 43 tests.
Potential Finishing Place: 3rd Place. This team is more concerned with building towards a World Cup than the 2022 Six Nations. England won't win this year, but will be a big threat come 2023, especially if Farrell returns.
The YouTube video version of this article.
World Ranking: 5th Place
Head Coach: Fabien Galthie
Captain: Antoine Dupont
Antoine Dupont, stand-in captain, is not a one-man team. He will look to other experienced players to rally around the team and build them up. No player will be looked to for experience more than Gael Fickou, the key player. Fickou has excellent distribution of the ball from either 12 or 13, while he has 66 caps; having made his test debut aged just 18. His reading of the game is almost instinctual, while nobody should write off his kicking or his powerful tackle technique.
France's starting XV against the All Blacks in 2021 had an average age of only 25.8667, the ever-present Bernard Le Roux is their only remaining player born in the 1980's. Some may worry that with Fickou as the only veteran of 50 tests, this team is too inexperienced, but France's ultimate strength is, is how their most experienced players are still very young men. France's key figures such as Damian Penaud, Romain Ntamack and Gregory Alldritt have all had storming starts to their career. Now they are able to step up and finally be in contention for trophies.
Well, as stated above, Dupont isn't a one-man team. While Dupont only played 8 tests in 2021, an over reliance on him will severely damage their depth chart. 42-test veteran Baptiste Serin, his usual backup option, was injured against Argentina in the 2021 end-of-year tests, so if Dupont is injured, career-defining games could approach the 29-year-old Maxime Lucu, who has just 2 test caps. Although the 24-year-old third-choice, Baptiste Couilloud, has started one of his 8 tests as Captain, he is inexperienced too.
Potential Finishing Place: 1st Place. This is the best French side since 2011's Rugby World Cup, it's surprising they haven't won the Six Nations since Galthie became Head Coach. Now is the time.
World Ranking: 4th Place
Head Coach: Andy Farrell
Captain: Jonathan Sexton
Farrell, a former England player, started fresh at his hooker selections in 2020, following the retirements of Sean Cronin and Rory Best, the veteran of 124 tests. Ronan Kelleher played his first test for Farrell's Ireland that year, but in the last 12 months he has developed exponentially. Kelleher was invited to train with the British and Irish Lions in 2021, although he did not go on tour, while he has also become the first Irish player since 2003 to score 4 tries in a test match. He will undoubtedly get even better and is the core piece of Ireland's signature driving mauls.
This one goes without saying really, that Irish front row is monstrous, backed up by good depth. The 23-year-olds, Tom O'Toole and Dan Sheehan are exciting project players, Finlay Bealham, Rob Herring, Cian Healy and Dave Kilcoyne are all incredibly experienced, while other Six Nations sides will be frightened at the starting two props, Andrew Porter and Tadgh Furlong. Porter has converted to loosehead to gain a starting role, while Furlong is a two-time Lions tourist that has been the planet's apex tighthead ever since 2016.
Normal people don't consider mid-30's old at all, but rugby players of this age see themselves as old athletes. Ireland have 12 players aged under 25, including Jordan Larmour, but none were born in the 2000's. 11 of the Irish players are aged 30 or more, while 6 of those over 30's were born in the 1980's. Kelleher is the only under-25 who starts for Ireland, while Johnny Sexton will become the country's oldest-ever player if he reaches the World Cup. This reliance on the older players is why Andy Farrell's huge success as the Irish coach has been so surprising to me.
Potential Finishing Place: 2nd Place. Ireland will again subvert my expectations and go on to succeed, let's just hope we aren't seeing a repeat of examples like 2018, with the team peaking early yet again.
World Ranking: 14th Place
Head Coach: Kieran Crowley
Captain: Michele Lamaro
At just 23 years old and only 10 tests, Michele Lamaro will be the Italian captain for the Six Nations this year. He is symbolic of Crowley, a former All Black, and how he intends to coach the Italians. Crowley has turned to the next generation of Italy's rugby players, with Lamaro leading this group with his brave tackling, good turnover technique and promising leadership. Lamaro played for Crowley at Benetton Treviso, while he is co-captain there today as well.
Italy have many up-and-coming players such as Stephen Varney, Paolo Garbisi and Marco Zanon. 16 of the 33 players in Italy's squad have yet to turn 25 years old, while a whopping 8 of those 16 under-25's were born in the 21st century. Italy have been wooden-spoon "winners" every single season since 2016, so although this is the case, Italy will be able to build their team over a long period of time, to hopefully be playoff contenders in 2027's Rugby World Cup. I suspect Italy could score an upset victory against Scotland.
Coaching the Italian team genuinely isn't easy. Although Crowley's selections have made it clear that he is working on a long-term project, he has had to sacrifice experience to begin constructing the vision he has for Italy in the long-term. Luca Morisi and Marco Fuser are the only players in the squad aged 30 or over, while they both have a mere 36 test caps, as does Sebastian Negri. South African-born Braam Steyn is their most-capped player with 46 tests, just 7 players in Italy's set up have surpassed 20 tests.
Potential Finishing Place: 6th Place. Italy don't have a chance of winning this competition. They are though, on the verge of finally ending the wooden spoon streak. If they schedule some mid-year tests, they will be able to win those, while they could indeed be contenders for the 2027 Rugby World cup if they remain on this current course.
World Ranking: 7th Place
Head Coach: Gregor Townsend
Captain: Stuart Hogg
Duhan van Der Merwe has been a game-changer for Townsend's Scottish team. van Der Merwe is the nation's first genuine power winger and has the ability to beat defenders effortlessly, beating an astronomical 50 defenders for Scotland and the Lions in 2021. The South African-born winger could easily be the competition's top try-scorer for a second year running, Scotland's game plan is almost built to enable the usage of him, regardless of wether van Der Merwe is the strike runner or not.
Scotland has long-been notorious for selecting players born outside of Scotland, 45% of players they took to the 2019 Rugby World Cup were not born in the country. However, just 28% of the 2022 Scotland squad was born outside the United Kingdom. The team is becoming increasingly more like a genuine Scottish side, maybe thanks to World Rugby's new laws. This is creating much more of a team spirit on the field, the Scotsmen look to understand each other's playing habits more.
Scotland have a relatively balanced squad, 12 players are under-25, while 7 players are aged 30 or over. Despite this, Scotland's has a low amount of experience, only four of their players have reached 50 tests, although Grant Gilchrist, Ali Price and Hamish Watson will reach 50 during the Six Nations. Getting the balance of your players' age is hugely important, Scotland just don't quite have the necessary experience from their older players.
Potential Finishing Place: 4th Place. They are known by many rugby fans as "brave losers", due to an all time 43.44% winning ratio. Scotland will never die trying, I'm confident that they will be able to beat England and Wales in their campaign.
Previous England and Wales jerseys; they are strong rivals. Photo: Max Sharp.
World Ranking: 8th Place
Head Coach: Wayne Pivac
Captain: Dan Biggar
Adam Beard has been tasked with something impossible, filling the boots of Alun Wyn Jones. He will have a spectacular Six Nations with his soft hands, intelligent lineout jumping and forceful carrying, he's one of the best players Wales have. Although Beard will shine for sure in Jones' absence, the lack of the Jones effect will haunt the Welsh campaign.
The defending champions have a great selection of outside backs, the depth there is something to envy. Josh Adams is a try-scoring machine and don't be surprised to see Louis Rees-Zammit using the pace he trained hard to get. 31-year-old Alex Cuthbert, who stands at 6'6 has been re called to the wing, Johnny McNicholl still has a surprising amount of speed for an ageing player, while Liam Williams is the world's best under a high ball from fullback.
An incredible eight players who were present at the 2011 Rugby World Cup for Warren Gatland, have played test minutes for Wayne Pivac's Wales. Continuity can be good for sports teams, but it reaches a point of predictability. Wales' current squad still has a significant amount of players from the Gatland era, when you select the same side for so many years in a row, opposing teams begin to read you like a book. Wales are finding themselves in a very similar spot to the 2021 All Blacks.
Potential Finishing Place: 5th Place. With the exception of Taine Basham and Rees-Zammit, Pivac appears unwilling to give up-and-comers valid enough game time. Dan Biggar's disgraceful behaviour towards referees won't help their case either.