The 2024 Men’s Six Nations kicks off in two weeks, on Friday, 2 February with, potentially, the biggest match of the tournament, France v Ireland in Paris. That’s 0700 on Saturday 3rd February AEDT. I’m fairly sure it will be on Stan. The full schedule is available here.
There’s a full rundown of the squads on this page. If you don’t follow Northern Hemisphere rugby news here’s a quick run down of the main talking points:
- For Ireland, Johnny Sexton has finally retired, Ireland are looking for his replacement.
- Otherwise, there are a lot of familiar faces with a few new ones around the edges.
- Most of the changes (Hansen will be the most eye-catching absentee to readers here) are down in injury.
- For France, Dupont is off, trying out for Les Bleus 7s and hoping for Olympic Gold. Le Garrec is the new face, Couilloud (who was in the RWC squad is out of form).
- Hastoy has likewise suffered a dip in form and has gone, arguably Danty has too, but has been retained.
- Atonio, who (was) retired, has unretired.
- There are a few more new faces, there on form plus a bit of playing in the way Galthié likes, a few controversial picks (Jaminet is felt not to be as good as Buros overall, but he’s a better second playmaker whereas Buros is a more traditional 15.)
- France have more youth than some expected (they have a new agreement between the clubs and the national team, where there are fewer players released now, but more, younger players for the summer tour), but there’s still a solid core (baring Dupont) of the team that won the Grand Slam two years ago.
- For Scotland, really there are two huge changes – no Chris Harris and no Hamish Watson. That feels like a real changing of the guard.
- The fact that WP Nel, at 37, is still being picked suggests there’s a shortage of props.
- For England, Farrell withdrew from international rugby to protect his family. There are ever strengthening rumours linking him to a move to Racing 92, which would rule him out of contention for a while.
- There are a number of seemingly odd choices here, mostly caused by injuries. However, there’s a fair bit of changing of the guard and young blood too.
- You can select a team that says “Borthwick isn’t going to change” or a team that says “Borthwick is going to throw over the shackles and play exciting rugby” from this squad. My money is on the former but who knows?
- For Wales the big question is really can Gatland catch a break?
- Morgan is out with a knee injury. LRZ, the day of the squad announcement, quit rugby to go and try and make it in the NFL. There are a batch of other injuries, so less significant, some more (Faletau for example) that have shaped this squad.
- There’s a bit of a feeling that none of the replacements for Biggar and Anscombe have really held their hands up. Part of me thinks that’s fair – they just haven’t. Part of me thinks that’s unfair, you’re looking at kids compared to really senior players, and kids playing behind packs that have been weakened and are not playing well. Even great 10s can look really ordinary when they’re on the back foot; these guys are always on the back foot.
- This is a weaker squad than we had at the RWC, but the best team we can field from it is stronger than the B team we fielded against Portugal and Georgia. It might be a tough M6N (again) but hopefully we’ll find a couple of new stars as well.
- For Italy we’re seeing their young stars become more experienced, and some of their decent U20s come through into the senior squad. They also have a new coach. Can they perform better this year than last, particularly in the RWC?
France and Ireland look strong, although I have more questions about the mental strength of the Irish than the French, even missing Dupont.
Scotland look strong – they suffered in the RWC from being in a pool with Ireland and South Africa – but they have positions where an injury exposes some real lack of depth.
England, I’m not sure how they’ll play. However, they start with Italy away and Wales at home. That’s probably the best start to the championship you could ask for this year, if they win both (hopefully not) and play well (please no), they’ll be confident going to Murrayfield and who knows after that.
Wales are, honestly, injury-ravaged and affected by the players who left Welsh Rugby looking for better pay at the end of last season. Can Gatland forge a run to the quarter-finals miracle again? My heart says yes, of course; there’s a route to beating certainly England and Italy, Scotland isn’t impossible at home. France and Ireland are out of reach this year I think, but France is towards the end and if they have injuries and aren’t up to a trip to Wales we could win that. I don’t expect it from here, and I don’t want their players injured, but it’s possible.
Italy are travelling in hope, at some point, they have to deliver. They have good youth that are delivering at U20 and U18 levels, coming through into the senior squad. They may never challenge for winning the RWC, that’s a tough club to break into, but they may be on an arc to challenge for a quarter-final, even a semi-final place in 2027.