2022 Guinness Six Nations: Everything you need to know ahead of Round 1

The 2022 Guinness Six Nations starts with a bang this weekend and Rugby’s Greatest Championship looks as open as ever, with several teams competing for the trophy, which was claimed by Wales last year.

The 2022 Guinness Six Nations starts with a bang this weekend and Rugby’s Greatest Championship looks as open as ever, with several teams competing for the trophy, which was claimed by Wales last year.

The champions are involved in the opening match on Saturday, with Wayne Pivac’s side set for a tough test when they travel to the Aviva Stadium to face in-form Ireland.

Later in the day is the 140th Calcutta Cup clash between Scotland and England at BT Murrayfield, with the hosts aiming to record back-to-back victories against their oldest opponents for the first time since 1984.

The action will be rounded off at the Stade de France on Sunday, as France – who defeated New Zealand in their last match – and Italy compete for the Giuseppe Garibaldi Trophy.

But what can we expect from Round 1 and what stories should we be keeping an eye on? We take a look at everything that will be happening this weekend.

Ireland v Wales, Aviva Stadium, KO 2:15pm (GMT)

Ireland went under the radar during the 2021 Guinness Six Nations, although they finished in style by defeating England 32-18 in Round 5 to secure a third-place finish.

It’s fair to say, however, that far more attention is being paid to Andy Farrell’s side this year, following an Autumn Nations Series that could not have gone any better.

Japan and Argentina were both put to the sword, but it was the 29-20 victory against New Zealand – the Irish’s third win in their last five matches against the All Blacks – that really stood out.

Ireland were ferocious at the breakdown and hardly missed a tackle all game, while at the same time they displayed the more expansive way of playing with ball in hand that Farrell has been trying to develop since succeeding Joe Schmidt in 2019.

They come into the Championship with real momentum on their side, following eight straight Test wins, and a settled team, complete with 11 Leinster players in their starting line-up to face Wales.

One of the exceptions is 23-year-old Connacht winger Mack Hansen, who will be making his international debut.

But if everything appears to be falling into place for Ireland, then Wales are having to mend and make do, with several key players unavailable for the trip to Dublin.

That includes influential captain Alun Wyn Jones, an almost ever-present in the Guinness Six Nations for many years and a player who has been part of three Grand Slam-winning campaigns.

Fly-half Dan Biggar will lead the Welsh in his absence, while there is intrigue over Josh Adams, who is normally a winger, being named at outside centre for the game.

Matches between these two tend to be tight, including last year’s clash which was won 21-16 by Wales at the Principality Stadium after Ireland had Peter O’Mahony sent off just 14 minutes in.

Ireland: 15 Hugo Keenan, 14 Andrew Conway, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Mack Hansen, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Jamison Gibson Park, 1 Andrew Porter, 2 Ronan Kelleher, 3 Tadgh Furlong, 4 Tadgh Beirne, 5 James Ryan, 6 Caelan Doris, 7 Josh van der Flier, 8 Jack Conan

Replacements: 16 Dan Sheehan, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 Ryan Baird, 20 Peter O’Mahony, 21 Conor Murray, 22 Joey Carbery, 23 James Hume

Wales: 15 Liam Williams, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Josh Adams, 12 Nick Tompkins, 11 Louis Rees-Zammit, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Tomos Williams, 1 Wyn Jones, 2 Ryan Elias, 3 Tomas Francis, 4 Will Rowlands, 5 Adam Beard, 6 Ellis Jenkins, 7 Taine Basham, 8 Aaron Wainwright

Replacements: 16 Dewi Lake, 17 Gareth Thomas, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Seb Davies, 20 Ross Moriarty, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Callum Sheedy, 23 Owen Watkin

Scotland v England, BT Murrayfield, KO 4:45pm (GMT)

Interest in the oldest fixture in international rugby is at its highest in years, as Scotland look to record another famous victory against England at BT Murrayfield.

Scotland started their campaign in the 2021 Guinness Six Nations in the best possible fashion as they defeated England 11-6 to record their first win at Twickenham since 1983.

They’ll now be looking to retain the Calcutta Cup against an England side who have made many changes since their fifth-place finish in the Championship last year.

Gregor Townsend’s men will certainly relish playing in front of a full crowd again in Edinburgh after losing both of their home fixtures in 2021, against Wales and Ireland, which were of course played behind closed doors due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

After missing the Autumn Nations Series, Jonny Gray is back in the second row for Scotland, while the Championship’s top try scorer from last year, Duhan van der Merwe is also involved.

But it is at fly-half where a key battle will be fought, as Finn Russell – a man who has often saved his best performances for matches against England in recent years – goes up against Marcus Smith.

Smith is making his debut in the Guinness Six Nations and is set to have an extended run in England’s No.10 jersey in the absence of injured captain Owen Farrell.

It was expected that Courtney Lawes would step into Farrell’s shoes as skipper, but a delay from returning from a head injury means it will be Tom Curry who will be leading the visitors out.

Sam Simmonds has been given the nod at No.8, with Alex Dombrandt set to make a considerable impact off the bench in what will also be his Championship debut.

Full-back Freddie Steward and lock Nick Isiekwe are other Six Nations newbies, while there is a new midfield pairing for the Red Rose, with Henry Slade partnering Elliot Daly in the centres.

Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Darcy Graham, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Sam Johnson, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Ali Price, 1 Rory Sutherland, 2 George Turner, 3 Zander Fagerson, 4 Jonny Gray, 5 Grant Gilchrist, 6 Jamie Ritchie, 7 Hamish Watson, 8 Matt Fagerson

Replacements: 16 Stuart McInally, 17 Pierre Schoeman, 18 WP Nel, 19 Sam Skinner, 20 Magnus Bradbury, 21 Ben White, 22 Blair Kinghorn,23 Sione Tuipulotu

England: 15 Freddie Steward, 14 Max Malins, 13 Elliot Daly, 12 Henry Slade, 11 Joe Marchant, 10 Marcus Smith, 9 Ben Youngs, 1 Ellis Genge, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 4 Maro Itoje, 5 Nick Isiekwe, 6 Lewis Ludlam, 7 Tom Curry, 8 Sam Simmonds

Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Joe Marler, 18 Will Stuart, 19 Charlie Ewels, 20 Alex Dombrandt, 21 Harry Randall, 22 George Ford, 23 Jack Nowell

France v Italy, Stade de France, KO 3pm (GMT)

France have lit up the lastest editions of the Guinness Six Nations with some electrifying attacking rugby and now they want some silverware to go with the adulation they have received.

In last year’s Championship, they got off to a flyer by defeating Italy 50-10 at the Stadio Olimpico and they’ll be expected to put on a show in front of their own fans in Paris.

They will, however, be without head coach Fabien Galthié, who is isolating after testing positive for Covid-19 on Thursday, with team manager Raphael Ibanez in charge for the day.

There’s no doubt Les Bleus have been on an upward trajectory since Galthie took charge after the 2019 Rugby World Cup and his charges hit new heights during the autumn.

If victories over Argentina and Georgia were expected, then the manner of the 40-25 triumph against New Zealand – their first win against the All Blacks since 2009 – was a clearer indication on how far they have progressed.

Concerns over game management – following late losses against England, Scotland and Australia earlier in the year – were eased as France withstood a New Zealand fightback before storming clear again.

They’ve had to wait just over two months to build on that result, but there’s no doubt they’ll be facing off against a new-look Italy with confidence high.

This will be the Italians’ first match in the Guinness Six Nations under new head coach Kieran Crowley, after predecessor Franco Smith became the Italian rugby federation’s head of high performance.

His squad for the Championship contained six uncapped players and 10 more who have yet to reach double figures, in terms of caps, meaning there are combinations in their side still at an early phase.

It will be a tough ask to nullify a French team captained by World Rugby Player of the Year Antoine Dupont, who will be leading a backline that includes Romain Ntamack, Gael Fickou and Damian Penaud.

But the pressure will be off the Azzurri and hopefully that means they will play with as much freedom as their hosts, which should make for another feast of attacking rugby in Paris.

The visitors will have two players making their international on the bench in Toa Halafihi and Tommaso Menoncello and two more on the bench, Manuel Zuliani and Leonardo Marin.

France: 15 Melvyn Jaminet, 14 Damian Penaud, 13 Gael Fickou, 12 Jonathan Danty, 11 Gabin Villiere, 10 Romain Ntamack, 9 Antoine Dupont, 1 Cyril Baille, 2 Julien Marchand, 3 Uini Atonio, 4 Cameron Woki, 5 Paul Willemse, 6 Anthony Jellonch, 7 Dylan Cretin, 8 Gregory Alldritt

Replacements: 16 Peato Mauvaka, 17 Jean-Baptiste Gros, 18 Demba Bamba 19 Romain Taofifenua, 20 Francois Cros, 21 Maxime Lucu, 22 Yoram Moefana, 23 Thomas Ramos

Italy: 15 Edoardo Padovani, 14 Tommaso Menoncello, 13 Ignacio Brex, 12 Marco Manon, 11 Monty Ioane, 10 Marco Garbisi, 9 Stephen Varney, 1 Danilo Fischetti, 2 Gianmarco Lucchesi, 3 Tiziano Pasquali, 4 Niccolo Cannone, 5 Federico Ruzza, 6 Sebastian Negri, 7 Michele Lamano, 8 Toa Halafihi

Replacements: 16 Epalahame Faiva, 17 Ivan Nemer, 18 Giosue Zilocchi, 19 Marco Fuser, 20 Giovanni Pettinelli, 21 Manuel Zuliani, 22 Callum Braley, 23 Leonardo Marin