Ireland won the Grand Slam in 2023 but a lot has happened in a year

So here we are again. The Six Nations is back and what a year it has been after the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France. So much has changed since Andy Farrell’s Ireland won the Grand Slam last year. So what will happen this time around? Here are our Six Nations predictions.

It is hard to look past the men in green despite their agonising World Cup quarter-final exit at the hands of New Zealand. They return to France to take on Fabien Galthié’s 2022 champions on Friday in Marseille, with the winner opening up the path to another clean sweep.

Read more: Nice narratives but too much swearing? Six Nations: Full Contact reaction

But England, buoyed by a bronze medal at the World Cup, and Scotland, eager to put their pool-stage departure behind them, will have plenty to say about that.

While Steve Borthwick is evolving his squad, it’s revolution for Wales with a whole host of new faces. Italy are the only side with the same captain as last year but they have a new coach in Gonzalo Quesada who will be hoping to build on some impressive displays over the last two campaigns.

Six Nations predictions 2024: Our winners

FRANCE – Alan Dymock, Editor of Rugby World

“What’s that line from Gladiator? ‘Win the crowd; win your freedom.’ Well with a heavily Bordeaux-flavoured attack, France are hoping to play with some freedom and excitement (within reason – Galthié is still in charge, at the end of the day!).

“So that leaves the crowd. And with France playing in Marseille on a Friday night, and then taking the show on the road two more times thanks to the Stade de France being out of commission as it preps for the Olympic games, suddenly they are taking games to fired-up sections of the country.

“So they have the edge in round one against Ireland. And if they win that, then they suddenly become heavy, heavy favourites to win it all. The omens are in their favour, with or without Antoine Dupont.”

Ireland celebrate lifting the 2023 Six Nations trophy

Ireland lift the Six Nations trophy after beating England to seal a Grand Slam in 2023 (Getty Images)

IRELAND – Josh Graham, Content editor at Rugby World

“It ended in tears in Paris at the World Cup for Ireland but there’s no need to revisit the scene of that quarter-final crime as Marseille awaits for the opener. Topple Les Bleus and once again Zombie will be ringing around another French stadium and you may not get it out of your head until after Super Saturday in mid-March.

“Andy Farrell has added motivation to make this campaign count as he will be on sabbatical next year with his British & Irish Lions hat on. Peter O’Mahony is a good continuity appointment as captain after Johnny Sexton’s retirement. And if the latter isn’t missed too much at No 10, then there’s no reason Ireland can’t be the first side to win successive Six Nations Grand Slams.

“It has not been done since Italy joined at the turn of the century, but France managed consecutive clean sweeps in 1997 and 1998. With three home games, it is in theory an easier proposition than last year for the defending champions.”

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France won a Grand Slam in 2022 but will be shorn of Antoine Dupont for this year’s campaign (Getty)

FRANCE – Alan Pearey, Writer and sub-editor at Rugby World

South Africa won the World Cup but I still believe France, with Antoine Dupont the ringmaster, were the best team in last autumn’s tournament.

That squad remains largely intact – with a couple of players reversing retirement decisions – and so it is only Dupont’s absence that allows any doubt to creep in. Just a smidgeon, mind, because France have two excellent scrum-halves in Maxime Lucu and Nolann Le Garrec.

Read more: France’s Six Nations squad

The other European powerhouse, Ireland, have lost their own talisman in Johnny Sexton, and they must overcome France in a Friday-night cauldron in Marseille. The defending champions are certainly capable of doing that – but the odds lie with France.

The victor of that Six Nations opener will be heavy favourites to go all the way. England are the dark horses, if we may call the team that came within a whisker of reaching the World Cup final that.

The order is slightly different but their fixtures mirror the 2016 campaign which culminated in a Grand Slam in Paris. If they go to Lyon still unbeaten, it will be a hell of a way to finish.

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