The Six Nations 2024 is almost here, and the excitement among rugby fans is palpable. The competition, which brings together the best teams from Europe, is always intense. However, this year, the pressure is on, especially after the continent performed so poorly at the recent Rugby World Cup.
Heading into the tournament, both hosts France and Ireland were the two favorites for glory. It marked the first time in history that not one but two European outfits had topped the odds lists heading into the World Cup however, both sides perished at the quarterfinals. Les Bleus lost by one point to eventual champions South Africa while the Boys in Green lost to New Zealand. The results were particularly disappointing especially considering the fact that the Irish defeated the Springboks and the hosts defeated the All Blacks in the group stage.
But ahead of the upcoming Six Nations, both nations will be without their star players. As will England, who made it all the way to the semifinals last autumn.
While he might be the youngest on this list, the brilliance of Antoine Dupont is one of the reasons that online betting websites have made France one of the favorites for this year’s tournament. As one of the most exciting and dynamic players in the game – as confirmed by winning the world player of the year award back in 2021 – the 27-year-old’s absence will certainly be felt.
The Toulouse scrum-half is the best player in his position globally, with a skill set that other rugby players can only dream of. However, he won’t feature in the Six Nations as he aims to win Olympic Gold in the rugby sevens event on home turf in Paris this summer. He’s a vital part of the Les Bleus team and it will be interesting to see how he his country fairs without him directing traffic.
Moving on to Johnny Sexton, the Irish rugby superstar who recently retired after Ireland’s heartbreaking elimination from the Rugby World Cup. At 38 years old, the kicking supremo has had an illustrious career marked by numerous accomplishments, including winning this competition on no fewer than four times including two Grand Slams in 2018 and 2023.
The former Leinster man is one of Ireland’s modern-day heroes, whose leadership and on-field prowess made him one of the best players in the world. Sexton, who has served his country for over a decade, has decided to call it quits, and his absence will be felt both on and off the field. His experience and calmness under pressure have been key to Ireland’s success in recent years, and his retirement leaves a big hole in their squad.
Finally, we come to Owen Farrell. While Farrell hasn’t officially retired from international rugby, he has withdrawn from the Six Nations this year in order to protect his family following a torrent of abuse he received at the recent World Cup. The current Saracens man was roundly booed both by his own fans and those of other nationalities any time his face or name appeared on screen at the recent showdown in France and that has taken its toll both mentally and physically on Farrell and his family.
The 32-year-old became England’s record points scorer at the tournament and he was the team’s captain. Now, manager Steve Borthwick must find a new man to lead his team out in the biggest tournament of the year. It’s unclear when Farrell will return to the setup but they will be hoping it comes before the summer as the 2003 World Cup Winners will be touring Japan and New Zealand. As well as that, he is thought to be making a big money move to Racing 92 in the French Top 14, and it is unclear whether that has played a role in his withdrawal as well.