Who will win the Six Nations 2023?
The 24th edition of the Six Nations Championship kicks off this weekend with plenty at stake.
England and Wales have recently changed coaches and will be looking for an upturn in form ahead of the Rugby World Cup in September. France are hosting the latter tournament and will be under pressure to perform well, particularly given the Grand Slam they completed in 2022.
We have analysed the data from every tournament since its expansion in 2000 to predict how the Six Nations 2023 will unfold.
Will England and Wales bounce back under new coaches?
Eddie Jones’ first Six Nations tournament as England coach in 2016 was a triumph as they completed their first Grand Slam in 13 years. However, after two successive years in which the team won just two games out of a possible five, they will enter the 2023 tournament with a new coach in Steve Borthwick.
There is also a new era dawning in Wales, with Wayne Pivac’s dismal return of one win in 2022 a low bar for the returning Warren Gatland to clear.
The good news for both teams is that hiring a new coach after a bad Six Nations showing usually triggers a better performance. There have been eight coaches in the Six Nations era who took over after their new charges had won at least one fewer game than their overall average and six of them oversaw an immediate improvement.
This includes the dawn of Gatland’s previous spell at the Welsh helm in 2008, in which he delivered a Grand Slam despite his predecessor Gareth Jenkins losing four games the previous year.
Does home advantage matter?
While every team plays the other five in every tournament, the home team in each fixture alternates from year to year. This means that odd-numbered years will see half of the teams play three home games compared to two in even-numbered ones, and vice versa.
The presence of their own fans for an extra game doesn’t give teams the boost you might expect though. For example, Wales play three away fixtures in the Six Nations 2023 but their average winning margin in odd-numbered years is around 80% better than those in which they play three times at home.
France, meanwhile, behave more predictably: in years like 2023 – when they will be on the road for three of their matches – their average winning margin shrinks by over three points. Therefore they are unlikely to enjoy themselves as much as later in the year when home advantage will give them an edge as hosts of the World Cup.
In which Six Nations 2023 fixtures will home advantage matter most?
Breaking that down further, we can compare average winning margins to identify which games will be tilted the most in the home team’s favour compared to the reverse fixture last year.
England’s new coach will be boosted by the fact that their average winning margins against France and Scotland are significantly higher at home than away. At Twickenham, England are typically around 16 points better off per game than at the Stade de France and 14 more than at Murrayfield.
Interestingly Italy have fared worse when facing France at home – as they do this year – than in Paris. Travel sickness doesn’t seem to affect France when crossing the Alps, with their average winning margin rising from around 18 points to 23 when playing in Rome.
Which fixtures have been the most one-sided?
A further boost for the incoming Borthwick is that England’s three home fixtures this year are the most one-sided in odd-numbered years. Their second match – at home to Italy – is won by over 30 points on average and is the only combination at the tournament where one team has won all 23 meetings, home and away.
Scotland avoided defeat at Twickenham for the first time in Six Nations history last year, but they still lose this game by an average of over 18 points. France have also struggled on English soil, having lost there eight times in a row at the tournament.
The three most closely-contested games on average in odd-numbered years all involve Wales. Their home games against England and Ireland have an average margin of less than one point since the tournament was expanded in 2000, while their trips to France have typically tilted towards the hosts by fewer than three points.
Does the Six Nations predict the World Cup?
The Six Nations 2023 could end up being a dress rehearsal for the biggest event on the international rugby calendar, which takes place in September. This will be the sixth time that the Six Nations has taken place in the same year as a World Cup, and the previous five occasions have shown that it can be a good predictor of how the leading sides in the northern hemisphere will fare.
Eight of the 10 nations finishing first or second in the Six Nations made it at least as far as the quarter-finals of the corresponding World Cup, with five of them reaching the semis. This includes the top two from 2019 – Wales and England – who finished fourth and second respectively in the latter competition.
Likewise, a poor Six Nations showing usually precedes a disappointing World Cup, with seven of the 10 teams finishing fifth or sixth crashing out in the pool stage and none making it as far as the semi-finals.