The 2023 Six Nations (Men’s) ended with Ireland beating England to win their 3rd 6 Nations Grand Slam in the last 15 years. France ran them close and Scotland recorded their 1st top 3 placing since 2018. England & Wales disappointed their fans whilst Italy have some grounds for optimism despite their wooden spoon.
The Final Table in 2023
This was Ireland’s 5th title and 3rd Grand Slam in the 6 Nations era. Italy were bottom yet again and were whitewashed for the 13th time.
All Time 6 Nations Table
Ireland’s Grand Slam mean they have overtaken England to top the all time table after 24 seasons and 120 games. England continue to lead in number of titles won and points and tries scored.
Note the Points column excludes Bonus Points and is calculated as 4 points for a win, 2 for a draw and none for a loss. The For, Against, Tries & Boot (points from) columns are all averages per game.
This table is the order I will review each nation’s 2023 performance by comparing it with how they performed in the previous 23 seasons between 2000 & 2022.
“If I were Ireland, that is the goal I would set for 2023, Grand Slam or bust.” That was my comment on Ireland after last season’s 6 Nations and they delivered. Next stop is the World Cup where they will enter as the number 1 ranked side in the world and again their goal should be win or bust. Yes they have a dismal world cup record but Ireland couldn’t be in a better position to win. I definitely see shades of England in 2003.
Probably the most pleasing point for Ireland will be their consistency over the last 2 seasons with average scorelines of 34-13 & 30-14 and over 4 tries per game. They have now had 10 seasons in a row with top half placings and they fully deserve their status as the most successful team in 6 Nations history in terms of wins and winning seasons.
England defence was their worst ever in the 6 Nations which was marked by their worst ever defeat at home to France who scored 7 tries in their 53-10 thumping. England’s try scoring returned to usual levels but this was countered by Owen Farrell having another poor campaign with the boot like 2018 so overall number of points scored was unchanged from 2022.
Changing their manager from Eddie Jones to Steve Borthwick has not changed the fact that England are well behind the pace for the World Cup.
France were unable to repeat their Grand Slam of last year but 2023 was their best ever season for try scoring and attack.
I have to repeat what I said last year for France –
“In 2022, France delivered the improved defence matching that achieved by the 2002, 2004 & 2010 Grand Slam teams. Their attack though was identical to the last 2 seasons so this tells me France’s goal for 2023 has to be more points in attack from more tries whilst maintaining their defensive standards. The fact that they will have to play Ireland in Dublin next year means winning back to back Grand Slams (which has not yet happened in the 6 Nations era) may be a step too far but provided they set new records in their attack, I think they will be on course to be a genuine contender for the 2023 World Cup.“
Despite their defence slipping back, I think my analysis is still sound. The World Cup is on home soil, they go into it as the number 2 ranked team in the world, their attack has improved and the omens say France get to a World Cup final ever 12 years (1987, 1999, 2011).
Like England, Wales also changed their manager to no effect and in fact went backwards, especially in defence. During the Sean Edwards era from 2008 to 2019, Wales conceded an average of 16 points and only had one season where they conceded more than 20 points. Without him, Wales have conceded 20 points or more in each of the last 4 years.
Last year I asked “So which is the real Wales, the 2021 or the 2022 edition?” and said I didn’t have clue. Based on 2023, the answer is clearly the 2022 edition. Three 5th place finishes is the first time they’ve done that in a 4 year world cup cycle and with no progress in attack and their worst ever defence since 2022, Wales are going nowhere.
When I look back to the all time table, one can’t but conclude that Wales have probably been the luckiest side in terms of titles won. I suspect this has blinded Wales to the weakness of their club sides and perhaps that is a better indication of the relative strengths of the national teams? Bear in mind England normally field 12 teams and France 14 teams in the two competitions (Champions Cup & Challenge Cup) so in this table we should be comparing Wales 4 teams with Ireland’s 4 teams and Scotland’s 2 teams.
Scotland recorded their first top half placing since 2013 and have had their best ever 4-year world cup cycle. They won 11 of the 20 games, averaged winning scorelines in 3 out of 4 seasons and scored more tries than any other cycle.
In 2022 I said, “I noted last year that teams have been able to win titles with a defence that concedes 15 points a game on average so the challenge is for them to return to those standards (“9 points fewer” should be the mantra) if they want to continue to have winning seasons, top half finishes and even titles.” They conceded 4 points fewer in 2023 so there is still work to do to get to a level where they can challenge for titles.
For the world cup, they should be competitive but they do have an uphill battle to get out of their pool which also contains Ireland and South Africa.
Italy were unable to win a match despite playing Wales in Rome and finished bottom for the 8th season in a row.
There were signs of progress in both attack and defence though and the average scoreline of 18-30 is Italy’s best since 2013.
Last year, I noted Italy had a potential pipeline of talent after their U20 side recorded their first ever winning season. This year, their U20 side won only 2 out of 5 games but they scored so many tries that they recorded 4-try bonus points in all 5 games which was enough to end up in 3rd ahead of England for the first time ever. Attack is a notable weakness of Italian sides but this suggests after the World Cup, Italy may be able to bring through enough talent to start winning games regularly.
Both France & Ireland are capable of winning the 2023 World Cup, Scotland have made progress, Italy may have made progress in the background but England and Wales have a lot of work to do.
My other blogs on 6 Nations and Rugby World Cup
- My 6 Nations reviews for 2021, 2022
- Should there be promotion & relegation in the 6 Nations
- My prediction model for the 2019 Rugby World Cup
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