Six talking points ahead of the Six Nations: Netflix, new coaches and the quest for glory

Six talking points ahead of the Six Nations: Netflix, new coaches and the quest for glory
The captains of the six teams at the tournament launch
The captains of the six teams at the tournament launch
Europe's Six Nations tournament is one of the highlights of the international rugby calendar every year. With the Rugby World Cup only a matter of months away, this one is more important than ever. Here are six talking points ahead of the tournament kicking off this weekend.

Netflix is in the house 

In an exciting development for sports docuseries fans, the Six Nations and the producers of Netflix’s popular series Formula 1: Drive to Survive have teamed up to put cameras behind the scenes of this year's tournament. With a slew of fantastic sports series and films now flying off the Netflix production line, the upcoming Six Nations series promises to be one of the best all-access rugby series ever made. 

What’s more, it represents a concerted effort from the Six Nations organisers to get the tournament, and the game at large, a bit more global exposure - timely with the World Cup this September/October.

Unfortunately, the series isn’t due to be released until next year but it’s already generating press and excitement among fans and players alike.

New coaches at the helm 

Two of rugby’s traditional powerhouses, Wales and England, had poor seasons in 2022 to varying degrees and they are both going into this year's Six Nations with fresh coaches steering the ship.

England were up and down in their form last year, losing matches to Argentina and South Africa at home but drawing with New Zealand in Autumn. Before that, a successful southern tour saw them beat Australia in a thrilling three-test series but their form tailed off after that high, resulting in the much-debated removal of long-term veteran Australian coach Eddie Jones. He was replaced by Steve Borthwick in December.

With the World Cup so close, many experts and ex-pros bemoaned that sacking as rather rash and premature considering the progress Jones had made. Eddie has now been snapped up by Australia to lead the Wallabies - could that come back to bite them at the World Cup?

Wales also sacked their coach, Wayne Pivac, after the Autumn internationals but it was rather more expected. In 12 test matches in 2022, they won just three. Their losses included shock defeats to both Georgia and Italy at home. That's just not good enough for one of the proudest rugby nations around. Pivac was replaced by fellow Kiwi Warren Gatland for a second coaching stint with Wales.

Both sides will be hoping the new coach bounce sees them turn their respective fortunes around in the lead-up to the main event later in the year.

Who is Europe’s World Cup favourite? 

The two teams to beat at this year's Six Nations will be, once again, Ireland and France and this year's tournament will go some way to showing which is going into the World Cup with the greater momentum.

Ireland are the world’s number one ranked side while France (number two) are the defending Six Nations champions having won the Grand Slam last year - winning all five games - including a thrilling contest against Ireland in Paris.

That narrow win was the difference between the sides last time out but this year Ireland have the home advantage in the head-to-head contest. They will meet again in Dublin in round two in a blockbuster clash on February 11th.

Being the world’s number one and two ranked sides makes the battle between these two even tastier and with the World Cup in France later this year, this duel doubles up as a contest to see who the real European favourite is.

Neither Ireland nor France have ever won a World Cup and both will be desperate to change that later in the year. Looking ahead to the tournament, there’s a chance they could meet in the quarterfinals or, even better, in the final in Paris. Keep your eyes on their clash at the Six Nations to see who is the true top dog in European rugby.

Mitigating injuries and suspensions

One of the major factors in rugby is the injuries team amass whilst at battle. It can really make or break a team’s tournament chances. In such a condensed and high-level tournament as the Six Nations, injuries can mount and derail a side and with the World Cup on the horizon, there’s an added worry. All six coaches will be watching on nervously and hoping that lady luck takes care of their prized assets. 

Another major factor in test matches is discipline and the danger of receiving yellow and red cards. With Rugby’s sometimes obscure rules not always easy to understand from a distance, all six teams will be hoping that the rugby gods will be shining down on them at the often opaque breakdown.

It is not a surprise to learn that there is a direct correlation between the minutes spent playing with a man less and points conceded. It is also not a huge surprise to learn that the only two teams who didn’t receive a yellow or red card in last year’s Six Nations were the two best teams - France and Ireland.

In a competition where there isn’t much between the sides, keeping your best men on the pitch and healthy is crucial.

A new wooden spoon?

The wooden spoon is the inglorious "award" given to the team that props up the standings by the end of the tournament. Italy collected the wooden spoon last year - and in the last seven editions, in fact. They have been by far the worst-performing team since the Five Nations became Six with their inclusion in 2000. They haven’t collected every wooden spoon since they joined but they have seldom finished above last place.

For a long time, there was talk about whether their inclusion was worthwhile but despite struggling to get off the bottom of the table most seasons, they are improving. They beat Wales in last year's edition and then went on to beat Australia for the first time ever in the Autumn internationals.

Those results represent progress for the Italians and, hopefully, this year’s tournament sees them pulling off more surprises. It’s been ten years since the last time they won more than one game in a Six Nations season. Here’s hoping they break that record this time around.

With Wales and England in a certain degree of crisis and Scotland remaining beatable opponents, the Italians will be hungry to make this year count.

Room for one more?

Georgia are the next best European nation outside the top six and their steady development has seen them asking for inclusion in the annual competition. They are hot on the heels of Italy in the Word Rugby rankings sitting in 13th place, just one behind the Italians.

Much like Argentina joining the Rugby Championship, allowing Georgia into an elite annual competition could greatly help professionalise and improve their game. Speaking of the Rugby Championship, one of its members, South Africa, has been rumoured to be eyeing inclusion into the Six Nations as well.

Ever since four of South Africa's rugby franchises left the southern hemisphere’s Super Rugby competition to join Europe's United Rugby Championship, it has seemed as though South African rugby is aligning itself with Europe where the time zones matchup a little more elegantly than the seasonal cycles. The latest word from the Six Nations is that there is no expansion on the cards in the near future, however.

Whether it makes sense to reallocate South Africa into Europe or not is a complex issue. Including Georgia, on the other hand, would be a fantastic move for one of world rugby’s most improved nations in recent years - they did beat Wales after all!

Follow all the drama from the 2023 Six Nations on Flashscore.