England still in the running but France are clear favourites for Six Nations crown
I picked France to win the Six Nations this year ahead of the tournament and after two exciting rounds. I am willing to double down on my prediction.
Following their victories at home to Italy and Ireland, France have put themselves in the box seat in this year’s Six Nations Championship. Les Bleus got off to a slow start against the Italians in Round One before finding their groove and eventually running in five tries in a dominant display. Against the Irish in Round Two, they stormed out of the gate and were winning 22-7 early in the second half. The Irish came back but French power and discipline saw them home in what many felt could already have been the Championship decider. The game was played at a level above anything else we have seen in the tournament to date.
Despite their 6-point margin of success against Ireland, France still has a long way to go to claim their first Six Nations crown since 2010. They travel away to Scotland this weekend in what has traditionally been a banana skin of a fixture for the French. In the past four meetings of the two sides in the Six Nations, the Scots have come out on top three times and currently hold the Auld Alliance Trophy. They will be disappointed after their performance in Cardiff and with the Murrayfield crowd behind them, could pose a real threat to the French title charge. That being said, I feel the French strength up front, with world class talent at 9 and 10 behind, will be too much for the much-improved Scotland team this time around.
Following the results in Round Two England find themselves back in the hunt for silverware. The Grand Slam and Triple Crown are out of reach. England are accustomed to losing in the opening round of the Championship and still coming out on top overall as they did in 2020, but England have arguably gone backwards since 2020, especially when compared with France and Ireland. England host Wales at Twickenham in what is their first home match of the tournament. Both teams will be buoyed after winning in Round Two and a win for either team in this often-feisty fixture will keep the victor in contention and consign the other to fourth or fifth place in all probability. In the last four Six Nations matches between the sides, both have two wins each and interestingly the team that came out on top in each match had home advantage. England will need the Twickenham crowd in good voice to help them across the line against Wales.
Marcus Smith will bring his flair and form (he is the leading points scorer so far) to Twickenham for the first time as a starter in a Six Nations match and will be in a head-to-head battle with the vastly experienced Dan Biggar. Biggar performed brilliantly and steered his Welsh side to victory against Scotland on what was his 100th appearance for his country. With the potential return of Manu Tuilagi, and with England playing in front of a home crowd, I would give us the edge in this fixture although it will likely be close as always. If fit, he simply must start.
Italy travels to Dublin in Sunday’s fixture and the Irish will be expecting a bonus point win and a performance to boot. Having lost in Paris in a tight match, a resounding victory over the Italians will put them in a good place in the table before a mouth-watering clash with England at Twickenham in Round Four.
If France, England and Ireland are successful this weekend the Championship becomes a clear three-horse race, with the French a couple of lengths ahead of England and Ireland. It would mean the England v Ireland fixture in Round Four and the France v England fixture on the last day of the tournament would take on even more significance. If there are some upsets this weekend with both Scotland and Wales claiming victory it opens this Championship up completely; there would be five teams, all with a chance of winning the Six Nations, although a Grand Slam would be an impossibility.
My heart says England still has a chance but my head says it’s between France and Ireland.