Five intriguing storylines to follow in the 2023 campaign : PlanetRugby

The 2023 Six Nations is fast approaching, and fans can ready themselves for an enthralling Championship this season, made even more intriguing by the Rugby World Cup later this year.

In anticipation of the start of what is sure to be an exciting tournament, Planet Rugby has selected five storylines to follow as the action plays out.

The beginning of the Steve Borthwick era

There has been a significant change in the England set-up since the Red Rose last took to the field, with long-term coach Eddie Jones being sacked and Steve Borthwick being appointed as the head coach.

Borthwick served as one of Jones’ assistants from 2015 until 2020 when he moved to Leicester Tigers and won the Premiership title last season. The coach is renowned for his attention to detail and his focus on mastering the basics of the game.

Being appointed as head coach of a Test side with the World Cup less than a year away is a difficult challenge, but one Borthwick certainly has the capabilities to succeed in. The 2023 Six Nations will be massive for him and the Red Rose, as it will be his main period to shape the team into a competitive force before the showpiece in France later this season.

All eyes will be on the former second-row as he embarks on his first challenge as England coach when the side welcomes Scotland to Twickenham for the Calcutta Cup on February 4.

The return of Warren Gatland

Wales also had a change in their hot seat at the end of last season as Wayne Pivac was given his marching orders after a poor season that included their first loss to Italy at Cardiff and their first loss to Georgia.

Pivac’s departure resulted in a call on the one man who can steady the Welsh ship before the World Cup, Warren Gatland. The New Zealander is a vastly experienced coach in the Wales set-up, having coached the side from 2007 through to 2019, winning three Grand Slams and a Six Nations during that tenure.

Gatland is contracted until this year’s World Cup with a possible extension to the 2027 edition and has his work cut out for him with the professional game in Wales under pressure from several angles.

However, the veteran coach should be able to draw on his experience and expert knowledge of rugby in the country to move the team forward. It is going to be fascinating to see how quickly Gatland can make an impact.

Ireland and France to battle for northern supremacy

With most of the teams in the Championship undergoing changes in their set-up and philosophy, it widens the already notable gap to the two highest-ranked sides in the world, Ireland and France.

Andy Farrell’s Ireland had a sensational year in 2022, complete with a Triple Crown, a historic series win against the All Blacks in New Zealand and autumn wins over the Springboks and Wallabies.

The team is looking to buck the unwanted trend of peaking between World Cups and enter the year as the best-ranked side in the world. The Six Nations will be an important tournament to continue their momentum.

However, standing in their way is last season’s Grand Slam winners, France, who went unbeaten in 2022 and have beaten all tier-one teams over the previous two seasons. There is no doubt that Fabien Galthie and his team are brimming with quality. However, several injuries have made for interesting reading.

France will look to continue their sensational run as they long for World Cup glory at home. It will be a battle of the titans when these two sides meet, with the winner likely to take home the silverware.

Will Scotland find consistency in the 2023 edition?

It has been the same old tale for Scotland over the last couple of Six Nations campaigns, where the side starts brilliantly but fades as the tournament pushes on.

Scotland faces England first up, and last season Gregor Townsend’s side managed a stunning 20-17 triumph in the same fixture but fell away to three defeats in the remainder of the tournament finishing fourth.

Townsend has been calling for greater consistency, and the Scots will need to find that in their game. Fortunately, club sides Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors have been in brilliant form over the last two months, which could boost their chances in the Six Nations.

With Townsend’s future beyond the World Cup in doubt, it could be his last chance to make a solid swing at the Six Nations.

Can Italy cause another upset?

The Azzurri have constantly improved under Kieran Crowley and had a couple of breakthrough moments in 2022, with their first win in Cardiff over Wales and their first win over the Wallabies in the autumn.

The younger generation of Italian players is impressively headlined by Ange Capuozzo, the magic fullback who was central to the historic wins last season. The star’s fine form earned him the World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year award in 2022.

For Italy to make a charge at the Six Nations title is unlikely, but the Azzurri will certainly be in the market to ruffle the feathers of some of the biggest sides. For the most part, the side is still underpowered but facing Italy is no longer the same prospect it used to be.

READ MORE: Six Nations: An England XV to start against Scotland based off the weekend’s action

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