30 Days To Go: The over-30s set to shine in 2023

Peter O’Mahony 5/12/2020
The 2023 Guinness Six Nations kicks off in just 30 days and in anticipation of the Championship opener, we are going to celebrate some of the 30-plus players who are still key contributors for their teams.

The 2023 Guinness Six Nations kicks off in just 30 days and in anticipation of the Championship opener, we are going to celebrate some of the 30-plus players who are still key contributors for their teams.

While there is a tendency to single out the next big thing and the rising stars of the game, those who have performed at the highest level consistently for years also deserve their due.

And ahead of a 2023 Championship that could be one of the most competitive in years, we have picked out some of the veterans who will have the biggest impact.

Ireland’s experienced core look to build on brilliant 2022

A run-through of the most important players in the Championship, regardless of age, probably starts with Ireland skipper Johnny Sexton.

Now 37, he embarks on his final campaign, 13 years after his first, as he looks to lead an Ireland team to the title after a year in which they claimed a first-ever series victory in New Zealand and finished the year top of the world rankings.

Under Andy Farrell, the one thing that has eluded them however, is a Guinness Six Nations title, something they will look to put right this year.

Sexton may be a doubt for Ireland’s opener but his presence will be crucial to their hopes and he is far from alone in the 30-plus category for Ireland.

Peter O’Mahony (33) has re-established himself as one of the key men in the back row, while the likes of Tadhg Beirne, Tadhg Furlong and Jamison Gibson-Park (all 30), are among the first names on the team sheet.

If Ireland can cap off their recent form with a Championship title, it will be a ringing endorsement for the value of experience.

Big decisions for Borthwick with veteran group

It is all change for England ahead of the 2023 Championship with Eddie Jones’ reign coming to an end after the Autumn Nations Series, to be replaced by his former assistant coach Steve Borthwick.

After leaving England, Borthwick led Leicester Tigers to the title in his first full season in charge, and now he has some big selection decisions on his return to England.

Quiz: Can you name the England squad from Steve Borthwick’s debut as a player?

Courtney Lawes (33) and Owen Farrell (31) split the captaincy in 2022, and will likely be the main contenders to lead the team again in a month’s time.

In which position is probably the question for Farrell, who has been excelling at fly-half for Saracens, while playing at inside centre for England.

As well as the two captaincy candidates, Jamie George (32) has a wealth of experience at hooker, while the ball-carrying of Mako Vunipola (32 by the start of the Championship), Manu Tuilagi (31) and Billy Vunipola (30), could come in very handy.

Lastly, England’s most capped men’s player of all time, Ben Youngs (33), should have a role to play, despite competition from his younger club colleague Jack van Poortvliet.

Champions look to experience in front five

France enjoyed a perfect 2022 with ten wins from ten, including a first Grand Slam since 2010. While the vast majority of the team is still relatively young – Fabien Galthié included just one player aged 30 or over in his first squad in 2020 – they do have some older campaigners in the front five.

Uini Atonio (32) is in the form of his life at tighthead prop, while behind him, either Paul Willemse (30) or Romain Taofifénua (32), provide the ballast at scrum-time.

Les Bleus will be missing one of their key experienced men, however, with Jonathan Danty ruled out of the Championship through injury.

Gatland returns to familiar faces

A second new face in the 2023 Championship will be the return of Warren Gatland in charge of Wales after three years away.

The three-time Grand Slam winner takes over from Wayne Pivac and now will have to decide how many of the core who served him so well over the past decade will be important members in 2023.

Justin Tipuric (33) captained the team in the Autumn Nations Series, while Dan Biggar (also 33) did the same in Guinness Six Nations and summer tour to South Africa.

At 37, Alun Wyn Jones was Gatland’s last skipper, and the question over his role is another big call.

Add in Ken Owens (35), Taulupe Faletau (32) and George North (30) and there could be at least a third of the team in the 30-plus club for the opening game against Ireland in Cardiff.

Key Scotland contributors hit their peak

Scotland finished the Autumn Nations Series on a high with a thumping win over Argentina, and will look to carry that form into the Calcutta Cup where they are looking to make it three in a row against England.

One man who made a welcome return to form last year was Richie Gray, getting back to his athletic best at 33, when some might be slowing down.

Second row colleague Grant Gilchrist (32) is another who has taken on an increasingly important role in recent years, while in the backline, a trio of British & Irish Lions are all in the 30-plus club.

Chris Harris (32), Stuart Hogg and Finn Russell (both 30) could all start the opening game at Twickenham, looking to make the most of the experience they have built up over the years.

Brex leading a new Italian generation

One team who are very much prioritising youth over experience are Italy, and based on 2022, it seems to be working.

But while the likes of Michele Lamaro, Giancarlo Fischetti, Paolo Garbisi and Ange Capuozzo are all 24 or younger, there is still the need for some veteran nous to guide them.

The likes of Luca Morisi, Marco Fuser and Luca Bigi (all 31) will likely be in and around the squad but Juan Ignacio Brex is probably the most important member of the 30-plus club.

The Benetton centre turned 30 in May, and having made his Italy debut two years ago, he has quickly sewn up a starting role in the midfield.

His leadership will  be vital among all the fresh faces in the backline as Italy look to build on an historic year when they ended their wait for a Guinness Six Nations win with victory in Cardiff before beating Australia for the first time in their history.

So, as we hit the final straight before the start of the Guinness Six Nations, it is time to tip the hat to those veterans still making a difference at the highest level.