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Six Nations 2024: Ultimate guide to fixtures, main contenders and where to watch it on TV

France and Ireland are favourites but look more vulnerable given their post-World Cup hangovers

Whether a believer in four-year Rugby World Cup cycles or not, as in the case of Andy Farrell, the forthcoming Six Nations does feel more like a continuation of the 2023-24 season rather than the starting point of something drastically new.

Compare and contrast with the 2020 championship. At that year’s launch in London, there were four new head coaches appointed in the aftermath of the 2019 World Cup, namely Farrell, Fabien Galthié with France, Wayne Pivac at Wales and Franco Smith at Italy. The long-serving Warren Gatland, Joe Schmidt and Conor O’Shea had all moved on, leaving only Gregor Townsend and Eddie Jones (whose ensuing talk of building towards the 2023 World Cup became tedious and served to devalue the Six Nations) in situ.

The air was full of optimism. Words such as Covid and pandemic had not even entered our lexicon. But, with two-thirds of the teams beginning journeys under newly installed head coaches, it really did feel as if the winds of change were sweeping through the Six Nations.

Fast forward four years and in stark contrast the only new head coach on the block at last Monday’s launch in Dublin was the Argentinian Gonzalo Quesada, now the coach of Italy. Admittedly, that was because the RFU and the WRU jumped the gun in removing Jones and Pivac to anoint Steve Borthwick and reanoint Gatland after last year’s Six Nations.


Sure enough, the appointment of Galthié in the aftermath of the 2019 World Cup immediately sparked a turnaround in the performances of Les Bleus. Incredibly, in the previous nine championships France had only finished in the top half once – and that was when third in 2017.

Their second-placed finish in 2020 was their highest since the Grand Slam of 2010. They finished second again in 2021 before winning the Grand Slam in 2022, and they were runners-up once more last year. France (16 wins out of 20 in the last four championships) have become the kind of force they had traditionally been for decades before their slump in the 2010s, when winning three titles in the 1980s, three in the 1990s, and five more between 2002 and 2010.

Only Ireland (15 wins out of 20 matches) have really kept pace with France in the last four years. Having finished third in Farrell’s first two years, as they had in Schmidt’s last Six Nations campaign, Ireland were runners-up two years ago before decisively completing the Grand Slam last year by winning margins of at least two scores in each of their five victories.

Effectively therefore, France and Ireland have won nine out of 10 matches in the last two years, each winning a Grand Slam in the year they had the other at home. So it is that the bookies make France favourites for the title again this year, marginally ahead of Ireland, in large part because they host Farrell’s side in what in the last two years has been rightly billed the championship decider, even in round two.

This time, it would appear the organisers have gone a step further ... by having the championship decider on opening night!

Of course, the Six Nations is not a round robin or home and away format. The vagaries of the Six Nations, one-off meetings, changeable conditions and internecine rivalries often make the competition fiendishly unpredictable. Yet whoever wins on that opening night in Marseille will be hot favourites to claim this year’s Six Nations. Which is not to say that one first round loss and you’re out? History tells us this is not far from the truth. Only three times since the championship was expanded to the Six Nations in 2000 has a team lost their opening game and gone on to win the title.

In 2006, France, the eventual champions, lost in Murrayfield in the first round. In 2013, Wales recovered from an initial 30-22 loss to Ireland to win their next four games (while Ireland didn’t win another and finished fifth) and retain the title. England lost on the opening day in Paris in 2020, albeit their recovery from a 24-0 deficit to earn a losing bonus point proved crucial in winning the title above France on points’ difference.

Admittedly, whereas five of the six head coaches remain in situ, all has changed with the captains save for Michele Lamaro at Italy, and in addition to Owen Farrell and Dan Biggar moving on, so too has another outhalf standard-bearer in Johnny Sexton while, of course, France must cope without Antoine Dupont.

Furthermore, both France and Ireland look more vulnerable given their post-World Cup hangovers, with the bookies deeming England – buoyed by their clubs’ improved showing in the Champions Cup – third favourites. That said, the loss of Ollie Lawrence is a blow.

England have won 15 and lost 15 over the last half dozen Six Nations championship seasons, including two fifth-place finishes, but they should win their opener in Rome, and they face Wales at Twickenham a week later, so affording them every chance of generating momentum.

Reaching the semi-finals of the World Cup was in part the consequence of the lopsided draw and may have flattered England, but were Steve Borthwick’s to play as obdurately as they did in that one-point defeat by South Africa, they will again be as hard to beat as they were to watch.

Yet Scotland – third last season, more settled and backboned by an impressive Glasgow side – finished third last season after three fourth-placed finished in a row. Their opener away to Wales looks pivotal for both countries.

“Get off to a good start and we can go to Twickenham without too much fear,” declared Gatland in typically bullish style at the Six Nations launch, adding: “We can absolutely win this tournament. It has always been the case with Wales that you write us off at your peril. Do that and you could be caught with your pants down.”

Therein lies the rub with Wales. With momentum, they won the title three seasons ago, yet in the other three seasons of the last World Cup cycle they won one match out of five and finished fifth each time.

Ange Capuozzo’s daring, slaloming counter-attack to set up Edoardo Padovani’s 79th-minute try and Paolo Garbisi’s match-winning conversion on the final day in Cardiff two years ago remains one of the best tries in Six Nations history. It also remains Italy’s only win in their last 42 Six Nations matches, as last year they were condemned to their eighth wooden spoon in succession. After Twickenham, Quesada’s tenure moves on to the Aviva Stadium, so ensuring a testing start.

Looking ahead to his 18th Six Nations campaign, Gatland believes the biggest change to the tournament has been the vastly bigger media exposure and the advent of social media. But on foot of a World Cup, when in all bar New Zealand’s semi-final rout of Argentina the teams with the least possession and attacking output won, he believes that game’s law makers and officials have to tip the balance back as defences are now on top.

“If you look at the All Blacks against Ireland in the World Cup and they [Ireland] went through all those (35) phases and the All Blacks defended by holding their zones. Ireland played a lot of short passes and out the back. By doing that you’re trying to get someone to step in or come out of the line, and for a couple of years that has been pretty successful, and that’s where teams have been able to create space.”

Improved defences have in turn created challenges for attacking coaches, and while he believes there is still a significant role for kicking in breaking down defences and creating space, here again the balance has been tipped too far.

“It’s a getting that balance right between having confidence to keep the ball or to play and create space, versus the risks and playing territory. That’s one of the things that we need to consider within the laws of the game and how things are refereed to make the game a little bit more attractive to the fans, particularly in big games when you’re playing in front of big crowds, and in front of a big television audience too.”

There’s no doubt that sending offs could again be significant in this year’s Six Nations, although then again last season there wasn’t anything like the deluge of red cards which were widely feared. Between 2000 and 2019, there were only six red cards in the Six Nations. Then, there were nine in three seasons – two in 2020, five in 2021 and two more in 2022 – but last season there was only one. As an aside, Wales are the only team not to have incurred one.

Furthermore, in five of those 10 games the team reduced to 14 men actually won, albeit the timing of cards were a mitigating factor. But given a relatively even playing field, the opener still looks potentially decisive.

2024 Six Nations fixtures and TV guide
Round One

Friday, February 2nd

France v Ireland (9pm local time/8pm Irish), Orange Velodrome, Marseille. Referee: Karl Dickinson (ENG). Virgin Media TV, ITV Sport.

Saturday, February 3rd

Italy v England (3.15pm local time/2.15pm Irish), Stadio Olimpico, Rome. Referee: Paul Williams (NZ). Virgin Media TV, ITV Sport.

Wales v Scotland (4.45pm), Principality Stadium, Cardiff. Referee: Ben O’Keefe (NZ). RTÉ, BBC Sport.

Round Two

Saturday, February 10th

Scotland v France (2.15pm), Murrayfield, Edinburgh. Referee: Nic Berry (AUS). Virgin Media TV, BBC

England v Wales (4.45pm), Twickenham Stadium, London. Referee: James Doleman (NZ). RTÉ, ITV

Sunday, February 11th

Ireland v Italy (3pm), Aviva Stadium, Dublin. Referee: Pierre Brousset (FRA). Virgin Media TV, ITV

Round Three

Saturday, February 24th

Ireland v Wales, (2.15pm), Aviva Stadium, Dublin. Referee: Andrea Piardi (ITA). RTÉ, ITV Sport.

Scotland v England (4.45pm), Murrayfield, Edinburgh. Referee: Andrew Brace (IRE). Virgin Media TV, BBC Sport.

Sunday, February 25th

France v Italy (4pm French time/3pm Irish), Decathlon Arena, Lille. Referee: Christophe Ridley (ENG). RTÉ, ITV Sport.

Round Four

Saturday, March 9th

Italy v Scotland (3.15pm Italian time/2.15pm Irish), Stadio Olimpico, Rome. Referee: Jaco Peyper (SA). Virgin Media TV, ITV Sport.

England v Ireland (4.45pm), Twickenham Stadium, Cardiff. Referee: Nika Amashukeli (GEO). RTÉ, BBC Sport.

Sunday, March 10th

Wales v France (3pm), Principality Stadium, Cardiff. Luke Pearce (ENG). RTÉ, ITV Sport.

Round Five

Saturday, March 16th

Wales v Italy (2.15pm), Principality Stadium, Cardiff. Referee: Mathieu Raynal (FRA). RTÉ, BBC Sport.

Ireland v Scotland (4.45pm), Aviva Stadium, Dublin. Referee: Matthew Carley (ENG). Virgin Media TV, BBC Sport.

France v England (9pm French time/8pm Irish), Groupama Stadium, Lyon. Referee: Angus Gardner (AUS). RTÉ, BBC Sport.

Outright betting: 6/5 France, 6/4 Ireland, 11/2 England, 11/1 Scotland, 17/1 Wales, 275/1 Italy.

Grand Slam betting: 10/11 No winner. 13/5 France, 7/2 Ireland, 9/1 England, 35/1 Scotland, 45/1 Wales.