Posted by Harry Kane on Wednesday, November 3, 2021
We’re on the cusp of the highly anticipated Six Nations Championship for 2022, which will be the 128th edition of the event (including its previous incarnations). Featuring England, France, Ireland, Scotland, Italy and the defending champions Italy, the tournament is expected to be one of the most keenly contested in recent years. But what exactly is the history of this famous and prestigious tournament, and who are the bookmaker’s favourites to prevail in 2022?
A Brief History of the Six Nations Championship
Given that the UK is largely thought to be home to the sport of rugby, it’s little wonder that the first iteration of the Six Nations first emerged on these shores. To this end, the tournament was first played in 1883 as the so-called “Home Nations Championship”, which including the four home nations of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
England and Scotland dominated the early tournaments, sharing the first seven titles between them before Wales claimed their inaugural title in 1893. The popularity of this tournament helped to accelerate the growth of the sport across Europe, creating considerable interest in countries such as France, Italy and throughout the Eastern block of nations.
This wave of growth and appreciation culminated with inclusion of France and the formation of the Five Nations Championship in 1910. However, it took a while for France to be competitive in the Five Nations tournament, with ‘Les Blues’ finally claiming their first, shared title in 1954.
The Six Nations tournament was borne in the year 2000, when Italy was accepted into the fold after a series of relatively impressive performances at the 1995 and 1999 World Cups.
Interestingly, Italy has struggled to make any kind of impact in the Six Nations since their integration, with the side claiming the dreaded wooden spoon and a sixth-place finish in 16 years since 2000. However, this hasn’t prevented calls for other tier 2 nations such as Georgia and Romania to also join the Six Nations, despite concerns that this will make the championships less competitive overall.
Still, it seems inevitable that the tournament will once again be expanded at some point in the future, especially if nations such as Georgia and Romania continue to perform well in the tier 2 European Nations Cup and Rugby World Cup.
When Does the 2022 Tournament Begin?
Usually, this tournament kicks during the first weekend in February, before culminating with a so-called “Super Saturday” on the second or third weekend in March. The 2022 iteration is no exception to this rule, with the opening round of fixtures scheduled on February 5th and Super Saturday booked in on March 19th.
The opening weekend will see Ireland host defending champions Wales at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin, before Scotland host their arch rivals England for the Calcutta Cup at the iconic Murrayfield Stadium. The following day, France will entertain Italy at the Stade de France in Paris, with this year’s tournament favourites (Les Blues) widely tipped to kick-off their 2022 campaign with a sizable victory.
The format of the 2022 tournament is a relatively familiar one, with each team playing against one another one, creating a total of 15 matches. Under this system, home advantage alternates from one year to the next, meaning that some teams will benefit from a more favourable fixture list during the 2022 tournament.
For example, France will have home advantage in three of their five matches in 2022, as will Ireland and defending champions Wales. Conversely, England, Scotland and unfancied Italy will have to play three matches away from home, making it slightly harder for them to remain competitive over the course of the campaign.
Who are the Favourites to Win in 2022?
According to the average bookmaker price, France are currently favourites to prevail in 2022 at odds of 6/4. Then come England and Ireland at odds of 11/4, while an ever improving and mercurial Scottish side can be backed at 10/1. Surprisingly, defending champions Wales are priced way out at 12/1 to repeat their 2021 success, while perennial wooden spoon contenders Italy have incredibly long odds of 500/1.
Clearly, the trio of France, Ireland and England are the teams most likely to achieve success at the 2022 Six Nations Championship, with the odds reflecting a chasm between these three sides and their rivals. So, here’s a further breakdown of their respective chances and how they’re likely to fare this year:
With a world ranking of number five (which coincidentally is lower than both England and Ireland), France may not be the obvious favourites for the 2022 Six Nations Championships. However, Les Blues have been building some significant momentum ahead of 2022, particularly with France scheduled to host the prestigious World Cup (and their second since 2007) next year.
Certainly, France have been inching closer and closer to a Six Nations title over the course of the last two years, finishing as runners-up in both 2020 (to England) and 2021 (to Wales). Last year, France only missed out by four points after a final day defeat at home to Scotland, in a rearranged match that Les Blues were required to win by 21 points for them to prevail.
They had previous kept their chances of the title alive and showcased their immense potential by narrowly ousting champions Wales 32-30 during the final weekend. This thrilling match was settled by a last-gasp try by full-back Brice Dulin, while it ended Welsh hopes of adding a Grand Slam to their somewhat unexpected title.
Undoubtedly, France has a young and attack-minded squad of players that’s incredibly talented, while the side has become increasingly consistent as it builds towards the 2023 Ruby World Cup.
At the heart of this is the 25-year old Toulouse scrum-half Antoine Dupont, was player of the tournament in the 2020 Six Nations and remains one of the most talented and impactful players in the sport. Dupont also deservedly earned the World Rugby Player of the Year Award at the end of 2021, earmarking him as the best players on the planet among the current crop.
Due to his obvious quality and influence, Dupont is expected to captain France through the Six Nations, having worn the armband for all three of the nation’s end-of-year internationals in the absence of the injured flanker Charles Ollivon.
These games included a stunning 40-25 victory over New Zealand in Paris on November 20th, with this representing Les Blues’ first win over the All Blacks since 2009 and evoking memories of their stunning World Cup semi-final win against the same opponents in 1999.
As we’ve already touched on, France is also one of the three sides that will play three games at home, while an opening day match against Italy will surely provide them with the ideal start to their campaign. With these point in mind, France’s status as favourites is both justified and easy-to-understand, and it will take a brave man to bet against Les Blues in 2022.
By the same token, it’s hard to discount Ireland as potential winners of the 2022 Six Nations, despite the fact that the country has failed to claim the title since 2018.
Remember, Ireland also has three of its five Six Nations matches at home this season, and while their opening contest is a challenging one (they take on the defending champion Wales), home advantage makes them clear favourites to get underway with a win at the Aviva Stadium.
This is borne out by the numbers too, with the Irish having recorded just two defeats in 28 matches at home over the course of the previous five years. This means that they’re highly likely to be there or thereabouts at the end of the season, even though their two away games will see them visit France and England respectively.
As we’ve already touched on, the Irish are ranked fourth in the world at present, while few sides can claim to have had as successful a set of year-end internationals.
Firstly, Andy Farrell’s side stomped a highly competitive Japanese side 60-5, before going to win just their third match against New Zealand in five attempts. This run followed an incredible sequence of 111 years during which the Irish tried and failed to beat the All Blacks, with Ireland prevailing 29-20 at a rocking Aviva Stadium on November 13th.
An outstanding run of form then continued with a 53-7 thumping of Argentina in Ireland’s final competitive match of the year, meaning that the country is well-placed to pursue a first Six Nations title for four years. However, their most recent form in the tournament is a cause for concern, with Ireland finishing a distant third in each of the last three iterations since their win in 2018.
They’ll need to banish such demons and get their campaign off to a good start if they’re truly compete for the 2022 Six Nations title, with their second-round match against France at the iconic Stade de France potentially crucial to determining the final outcome.
When England romped to the Six Nations title in 2020 (after finishing as runners-up in the Rugby World Cup during the previous year), many expected them to retain their hard-earned crown in 2021.
However, Eddie Jones’ men slumped to fifth at the end of an embarrassing campaign, picking up a paltry two wins (one against a perennially struggling Italy) and failing to win the Calcutta Cup after a defeat to the Auld Enemy Scotland.
What’s more, defeat to Ireland saw them miss out on the Millennium Trophy, for only the third time since the Six Nations welcome Italy into the fold in the year 2000. You can’t keep a great side down, however, and England rebounded well towards the end of 2021 and maintained a prominent world ranking of number three in the process.
More specifically, England demolished Tonga by 69-3 in their first year-end international, before recorded successive (and convincing) wins against Australia (32-15) and South Africa (27-26) to end 2021 on a considerable high! Both of these matches were played in front of raucous crowds at Twickenham, with coach Eddie Jones reaffirming his status as one of the game’s most resilient and innovative leaders.
Jones also named his Six Nations squad over the course of the past week, with Owen Farrell likely to be captain if he retains his fitness (he hasn’t played since picking up an ankle injury in the penultimate game of 2021 against the Aussies). Interestingly, there are six uncapped players in Jones’ 36-man squad, as Jones has recognised to restructure his side and create a better balance between youth and experience.
Despite their recent form, this arguably creates a sense of uncertainty around England and Jones, particularly when you consider that openside flanker Sam Underhill and formidable centre Manu Tuilagi will be absent as a result of injury. This will be compounded further if Farrell misses the tournament, so the Three Lions will kick-off against Scotland with at least a small amount of trepidation.
There’s no doubt that the opening Calcutta Cup clash against Scotland will provide significant, while a final weekend clash against the French at the Stade de France could yet provide to be a Six Nations Championship decider.
The Last Word
Some will baulk at Wales’ price of 12/1, but despite enjoying a magical campaign 12 months ago (when they claimed both the Triple Crown and the Grand Slam), they’re far from being placed at the beginning of 2022.
The regular lock and influential capital Alun Wyn Jones may well miss the tournament through injury, of course, while the team suffered a series of adverse results in the year-end fixtures of 2021.
So, the smart money is on one of France, England and Ireland winning the 2022 Six Nations Championship, with Les Blues widely considered to be on the crest of a wave and capable of dominating the tournament ahead of a home World Cup next year.
One thing’s for sure; we’re in for an incredible six weeks of action once the tournament gets underway, and we can’t wait to see how the action will unfold!