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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Michael Aylwin

Six Nations 2024: team-by-team guide to this year’s tournament

(Left to right) France’s Jonathan Danty, Wales’ Dafydd Jenkins, Rory Darge of Scotland, England’s Jamie George, Italy’s Tommaso Menoncello and Ireland’s Peter O’Mahony
(Left to right) France’s Jonathan Danty, Wales’ Dafydd Jenkins, Rory Darge of Scotland, England’s Jamie George, Italy’s Tommaso Menoncello and Ireland’s Peter O’Mahony. Composite: Guardian design


Coach Steve Borthwick Captain Jamie George Last season Fourth

If it is all change for everyone this Six Nations, it is particularly so for England. Like all bar Italy, they have a new captain – and their absent previous one, Owen Farrell, is second only in profile to France’s absent captain. They also enter this championship with the qualified kudos of a bronze medal from the World Cup, a welcome change from the dire form of the previous few Six Nations campaigns. More than that, though, they are without a host of players. Injury crisis? Nope. These guys have just chosen to play elsewhere. Amid the shifting dynamics of modern rugby, playing in the Six Nations for England is no longer the draw it once was. The good news is, George should be a natural as captain. Also England have theoretically the easiest opening couple of rounds, meeting Italy and Wales respectively.

Key player George Ford. With Farrell gone, the stage is set. He has tended to play in his old mate’s shadow, but Ford is one of the great fly-halves of English history.


Coach Fabien Galthié Captain Grégory Alldritt Last season Second

If playing club rugby in France trumps playing for England in the Six Nations, playing for France in the Olympics would also appear to nudge the old championship down the list of a player’s priorities. Antoine Dupont, France’s erstwhile captain, will not appear this year, as he prepares with France’s sevens squad for the Olympics in Paris. Not only that, but France the actual team have been nudged out of the Stade de France as it too prepares for said event later this year. France will be taking their home matches (three of them) around the country, starting with what appears the obvious decider, this Friday evening, when Ireland visit Marseille. Plain sailing all the way to a grand slam for the winner of that one? Maybe, although France follow up with a tricky second round in Edinburgh. But, even without their respective talismans, France and Ireland remain superior to everyone else. Roll on the World Cup final that never was …

Damian Penaud scores a try
Damian Penaud is outrageously gifted and a huge attacking threat for France. Photograph: Peter Cziborra/Reuters

Key player Jonathan Danty. Damian Penaud is as outrageously gifted as his missing captain, but he’ll find life a lot easier if France can unleash Danty in midfield.


Coach Andy Farrell Captain Peter O’Mahony Last season Grand slam

At least Ireland have lost their captain and talisman for old-fashioned reasons. Even Johnny Sexton has had to accept he can’t go on for ever. How Ireland respond to his absence will go some way to determining the direction of this year’s championship. Whoever steps in at fly-half (Jack Crowley of Munster, most likely), there will be a massive drop-off in experience, from a three-figure tally of caps to a single. That said, even allowing for Sexton’s absence, Ireland have by far the most experienced squad in the Six Nations and O’Mahony is just the man to make sure there is no drop-off. Can they become the first team of the Six Nations era to win back-to-back grand slams? All eyes on Marseille this Friday evening. A weird time, a weird place, a weird feeling to be playing without Sexton. If Ireland can make weird mean fresh, they have every chance.

Key player Caelan Doris. He might not kick goals or orchestrate plays, but if there is a relative youngster who looks fit to become a talisman it is this dynamic ball-player at the base of Ireland’s scrum.


Coach Gonzalo Quesada Captain Michele Lamaro Last season Wooden spoon

From the most experienced squad to, by some distance, the most callow. At least Italy, unlike anyone else, benefit from the continuity of a familiar captain, but they have a new coach in the former Puma Quesada. Can we really summon the energy again to speak hopefully of a new era in Italian rugby? That 90-point defeat by the All Blacks was one of the most depressing results in the history of the World Cup – and to follow up with a 60-point loss to France made us despair all the more. But the squad is inexperienced because Italy are bleeding through some real talent, who have gained the scalps of everyone in the junior Six Nations in recent years. And it is a squad based on that of Benetton Rugby (Treviso), who are sitting in second place, behind Leinster no less, in the United Rugby Championship. We can but dream on …

Key player Tommaso Menoncello. Ruled out of the World Cup through injury, the 21-year-old bruiser in the Italian midfield is back. With Paolo Garbisi inside him and Ange Capuozzo outside, something might be starting to come together.


Coach Gregor Townsend Co-captains Rory Darge/Finn Russell Last season Third

Scotland have decided to switch from one captain to two. Townsend has appointed Darge and Russell as co-captains, allowing their predecessor, Jamie Ritchie, to focus on his game. It should mean Scotland don’t lack for leadership, even if they too are missing a talisman. This will be the first Six Nations since 2011 not to feature Stuart Hogg. Scotland will feel exercised by their failure to make an impact at the World Cup, but theirs really was a thankless task. They will fancy their opening assignment in Cardiff, then it is home matches against France and England. It is not quite out of the question that they go into their final-round match in Dublin unbeaten. But they haven’t won at Lansdowne Road this millennium.

Blair Kinghorn makes a break for Scotland against Wales
Blair Kinghorn can run things from fly-half if necessary for Scotland. Photograph: Kieran McManus/BPI/Shutterstock

Key player Blair Kinghorn. No Hogg, but this guy has been more than ripe for the picking for a long time. Now he counts himself among the rock stars at Toulouse, Scotland might actually find they have themselves a new dimension at the back. He can also run things from fly-half if required.


Coach Warren Gatland Captain Dafydd Jenkins Last season Fifth

The blows to Welsh dignity keep coming. They suffered perhaps the most galling absentee of all, Louis Rees-Zammit upping and offing to the NFL on the very day of the squad announcement. Ouch. This time last year, they had 10 players in their squad with more than 50 caps, three with more than 100, one with more than 150. Now they have five with more than 50 – and two of those play in the same position. There is very much a feel of the rebuild here. Gatland goes the other way from co-captains to a single skipper, picking the man whose anointment has only ever been a matter of time. Over to Jenkins, the youngest Welsh captain since Gareth Edwards. He will find himself leading a team stripped of hundreds of caps of experience, the exodus continuing since the World Cup. If Wales avoid the feeling of a long campaign, Jenkins will likely have proved himself worthy of the honour.

Key player Ioan Lloyd. There are gaping holes in Wales’s squad where experienced men used to be. Lloyd is a classical Welsh genius of a playmaker who can play in a number of positions – and he may well have to. It won’t be boring.

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