Beyond the midpoint and still to relish the final deciding games of the two most important and prestigious tournaments in Europe, we have witnessed many twists, turns and surprises on the field of play and behind the scenes incidents in the so called tier 1 and tier 2 levels of rugby. The 6 Nations is gearing up to the last 2 matches to be played to see who will win it or achieve the highly sought Grand Slam, that is, winning all 5 games. While the newly structured RE Championship prepares for the final ranking games of the 2 pools involving eight different nations with newcomers Belgium, Poland and Germany in the new format.
Guinness 6 Nations 2023 – Only two top tier matches remain and after 3 already played games the table is still wide open for several teams but only Ireland is in line to accomplish the Grand Slam which entails all 5 matches won. However, the tournament still has France, England and Scotland all on 10 points that can be champions without the Grand Slam status. One of the biggest surprises is Italy, this year with new management has brought about a competitive side that challenges the usual favourites, Italy is making a nae for itself with players like Ange Capuozzo, Paulo Garbisi & Stephen Varney. This leap in quality by the Italians has silenced the critics that Italy should not compete in the tournament. Surprisingly, Welsh rugby is at a low point in its glorious history of multiple Grand Slam wins in its heyday, they currently languish in last place, or the Wooden Spoon position in the classification after 3 games. Wales did change the head coach after 2 matches but still lost against England in the 3rd match and remain with no points, not even a bonus point. England is also struggling to find match play form with the head coach, Eddie Jones being replaced with Steve Borthwick at short notice but the team battled back to win 2 matches out of 3 after losing the 1st match to Scotland at England’s sacred ground of Twickenham no less!. Scotland boasts of some great young players and Fin Russell who has elevated his game to genius level, his performances are scintillating and a huge support for the younger players coming through. Although Scotland lost to France, who were the favourites to win the tournament, they can challenge and push any team to the limit with the quality squad available and players like Hew Jones and Duhan Van der Merwe. France, on paper, looked unbeatable but maybe they have peaked to early or tactics to emerge as world champions in this year’s RWC in France. France lost to the in form team of Ireland who lead the table with 15 points. Notable newcomers to the French squad putting in exceptional performances are Thomas Ramos and Ethan Dumortier along with Antoine Dupont, voted the rugby world’s best player. Ireland has brought some new names to the international team and are playing the best and most consistent rugby so far, the players to watch are Mack Hansen, James Lowe and the mighty Caelan Doris. The remaining fixtures are:
- 11/3/23 – Italy v Wales & England v France & 12/3/23 - Scotland v Ireland with the final matches the following week.
- 18/3/24 – Scotland v Italy, France v Wales & Ireland v England
Rugby Europe Championship – The 2023 season in tier 2 rugby has seen the introduction of a new format. Championship level is now based on 8 teams split into 2 pools. First, the teams play each other in their pool then the ranking matches are played, with the top 2 teams from the pools competing in a semi-final resulting in the RE Championship Winner 2023. As this is a new format the governing body has declared that there will be no relegation to the RE Trophy or promotion from the RE Trophy to RE Championship. The 2 pool matches finished as follows:
- Pool A – Georgia, Spain, Nederland & Germany
- Pool B – Portugal, Romania, Poland & Belgium
The Grand Final matches start on 4th March with the nominated semi-final fixtures of: Georgia v Romania and Portugal v Spain. Then on 5/3/23 the ranking semi-finals of: Netherland v Belgium and Poland v Germany. The remaining matches will follow on accordingly.
The Welshman Chris Hitt who is head coach of the Polish national team won promotion from the RE Trophy division in his first season, a remarkable achievement and continuing the success with a superb win over Belgium at RE Championship level could be Poland’s highest ever ranking in international rugby. The match against Germany is crucial for both teams and stan ding in the WC Rankings. Only 2 teams from the RE Championship have ever qualified for the RWC, they are Georgia and Romania while the remaining 6 teams have yet to taste the RWC atmosphere. Spain and Portugal qualified for the RWC once but were found to have fielded illegal players and were consequently disqualified allowing Russia to go to Japan’s RWC in 2019. By the way, Russia is disqualified from Rugby Europe participation due to the invasion of Ukraine and Spain committed the same error of 4 years ago by playing a non-eligible player and therefore losing out again to take part in the RWC in France 2023.
Speaking of the other nobel championships and tournaments, Krakow in 2023 hosts 2 major gigs- the European Games (Jun 21- 2nd July), and obviously the Krakow Rugby Festival ( 9-11 June) :)