The upcoming Six Nations tournament after the World Cup will provide equal opportunities for the next generation to showcase their talents, according to Ugo Monye.
If this year’s Six Nations tournament continues as it has in the past, it appears that it will end with a grand slam victory. This would be the third consecutive grand slam and historical data suggests that every championship after a World Cup, except for the Covid-affected tournament in 2020, has ended with a clean sweep.
That is fascinating because when there is a Six Nations at the start of a World Cup cycle, every team is effectively starting from zero. Last year we had France and Ireland as the two standout teams, both very settled and looking to fine-tune, sustain and maintain in the leadup to the World Cup. Scotland were in a similar position but then there was England and Wales, both teams were trying to play catch-up having recently appointed Steve Borthwick and Warren Gatland respectively. Italy were on the up, too.
However, this statement cannot be reworded.
This circumstance has arisen due to a significant number of players who have been closely associated with the Six Nations in recent times, but will not be participating. This includes the retirements of Alun Wyn Jones, Dan Biggar, and Johnny Sexton, the choice of Owen Farrell to not be involved, Antoine Dupont’s pursuit of his Olympic goal with the French sevens team, and Louis Rees-Zammit’s sudden transition to American Football. As a result, there are numerous notable players absent from the tournament.
While it is unfortunate that these positions will be vacant, it also presents an opportunity for the next wave of players to step up and lead their teams. I am confident that the Six Nations is equipped to handle the absence of these players, as the intense rivalries and rich history of the competition will remain unaffected.
The most challenging aspect for every team is striking a balance between preparing for the future during the beginning of the World Cup cycle and achieving immediate success. The Six Nations tournament is not primarily used for development purposes, unlike the summer tours or autumn internationals where coaches can focus more on developing players. However, the pressure to produce results is always at its highest during the Six Nations.
This raises the question of whether there will be significant shifts in playing styles. I do not anticipate major changes in the coaches’ beliefs, but the introduction of new team members will naturally result in varying strategies. For instance, with Farrell out, if Marcus Smith is chosen as fly-half for England, the game-plan will likely alter due to their contrasting playing styles.
How much Borthwick embraces the current player form of Harlequins and Northampton will determine the extent to which he will change his England team. It is often the case that when players arrive at training with a positive attitude due to their success in domestic or European competitions, it makes the transition to international level easier. England’s team already has a new look with Jamie George as the captain, which is a fantastic choice. Everyone in the sport is happy for Jamie as he is highly respected, well-liked, and personable. He provides honest evaluations of England’s performances and is a consistent starter every week.
The English team has a chance to gain momentum in their first match against Italy, who are in desperate need of a win in this tournament. This may seem like a recurring situation every year, but considering the impressive performances of Georgia and Portugal in the recent World Cup, another winless championship and receiving the wooden spoon would result in increased demands for Italy to be replaced.
Prior to England’s game in Rome, all attention will be on France’s highly-anticipated match against Ireland on Friday evening. Both teams will be eager to play another match after their heartbreaking losses in the quarter-finals of the World Cup. However, they have both lost key players who were instrumental in their playing style. Dupont was the core of France’s game while Sexton was the mastermind behind Ireland’s strategy, but neither will be on the field in Marseille. Ireland typically starts strong in the Six Nations, especially with 13 players from Leinster wearing the green jersey. Nonetheless, France has the advantage of hosting both Ireland and England this year.
The Welsh team has a young and talented roster, similar to last year’s situation. However, this time it is due to injuries and retirements rather than a deliberate choice by coach Warren Gatland. Despite the challenges, Gatland’s experience will be valuable and the team seems to have a more stable off-field environment this year. Their first opponent is Scotland, who had a disappointing World Cup but have an improved squad and will pose a threat.