Coach: Simon Middleton
Captain: Sarah Hunter and Marlie Packer
Six Nations best: Winners (13-time champions with 11 of those grand slams. England won the title in 2003, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2017, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022)
Predicted finish: First, grand slam winners
The Red Roses are favourites to lift the Six Nations trophy again despite losing the World Cup final to New Zealand in November. The defeat in the final, which ended their record run of 30 games unbeaten, was England’s first loss since 2019. If avenging a heartbreaking defeat is not enough motivation to defend their title, the swan songs of the coach, Simon Middleton, and captain, Sarah Hunter, will add fire to the dominant English beast. Middleton will step down after the tournament and the record-cap holder, Hunter, will retire after England’s opening match against Scotland in her home town of Newcastle. England’s toughest match this tournament will be against France at Twickenham but the hosts are likely to prove too strong with the likes of the winger Abby Dow, prop Maud Muir and scrum-half Natasha “Mo” Hunt – who is back in the squad after not being selected for the World Cup – among their star players. More than 35,000 fans have bought tickets for the Red Roses’ first standalone match at the home of English rugby. The last time France and England played one another was at the World Cup and it was edged by England 13-7.
Coaches: Gaëlle Mignot and David Ortiz
Captain: Audrey Forlani
Six Nations best: Winners (Six-time champions with five of those grand slams. France won the title in 2002, 2004, 2005, 2014, 2016, 2018)
Predicted finish: Second
France head into the tournament looking to shake off England’s perpetual hold on the trophy with a new coaching set-up. Gaëlle Mignot and David Ortiz have taken over from coaching staff Thomas Darracq and Annick Hayraud. They have appointed a new captain, Audrey Forlani, despite the regular skipper, Gaëlle Hermet, being included in the squad. France came agonisingly close to the World Cup final with Caroline Drouin missing a penalty in the dying seconds against New Zealand in the semi-final. The fly-half has not been selected as she is on sevens duty and so there is a battle for the French No 10 role. Carla Arbez and Morgane Bourgeois, among others, are able to play in the position. France will not be able to call upon the 2022 Player of the Tournament, Laure Sansus, as she has retired, as has Safi N’Diaye and Celine Ferrer. Another blow for the team is Madoussou Fall’s injury, which means she will not play a part in the competition. France’s toughest opposition will be England in the last round. The last time France defeated England was in 2018 and since then they have played each other 11 times with the Red Roses winning all of them.
Coach: Ioan Cunningham
Captain: Hannah Jones
Six Nations best: Second in 2006, 2008 and 2009
Predicted finish: Fourth
Wales will be looking to capitalise on their good form from last year’s competition where they claimed third, their best finish since 2009, when they were runners-up. They carried those strong performances into the World Cup and they got out of their pool as one of two third-placed teams to claim a quarter-final spot. They were beaten by the eventual winners, New Zealand, in the last eight but progress was shown by Ioan Cunningham’s team. Siwan Lillicrap has now retired from international rugby and so Hannah Jones has been named captain and there are other players to keep an eye out for in the tournament. Alex Callender, Sioned Harries and Lisa Neumann are among the familiar stars fans will know. But six uncapped players have also been named, including the flanker Kate Williams who is definitely one to watch. And while Wales will want to cause an upset with an English or French scalp, they will be focused on retaining third place. Ireland, Italy and Scotland will also be targeting third, so each of those matches will be crucial and their opener is against Ireland.
Coach: Greg McWilliams
Captain: Nichola Fryday
Six Nations best: Winners (two-time champions, one of which was a grand slam. Ireland won it in 2013 and 2015)
Predicted finish: Fifth
The Ireland captain, Nichola Fryday, said at the Six Nations launch the team are targeting third place as it will determine which tier they play in at the Women’s XV, a new global competition, this autumn. The tournament will be split into three tiers with the top three finishers in the Six Nations being a part of WXV 1, which will also feature the top three teams from a cross-regional tournament featuring USA, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. Ireland will compete for third without some of their stars, such as Beibhinn Parsons and Amee-Leigh Murphy-Crowe, who are focused on Olympic qualification with the sevens team. They do have Sam Monaghan, the Ireland player of the year, to call upon and will also be blooding new talent with eight uncapped players in the squad. Ireland are the only team in the Six Nations not to have featured at the World Cup after they failed to qualify. The team did not go without any matches as they toured Japan in August. They started the tour brightly with a 57-22 win despite going 14-0 down in the first half. But the tour did not end with another positive result as they fell to a 29-10 defeat with the series ending in a 1-1 draw.
Coach: Giovanni Raineri
Captain: Elisa Giordano
Six Nations best: Second in 2019
Predicted finish: Third
Italy are another team with a new coach after Andrea Di Giandomenico stepped down after 13 years in charge. Giovanni Raineri is the new head coach taking Italy into a new era. He has named Elisa Giordano captain after her predecessor Manuela Furlan retired in 2022. The team have a mixture of experience and inexperience with the centre Beatrice Rigoni and record-cap scrum-half Sara Barattin in the ranks alongside eight uncapped players. Italy head into the Six Nations after reaching the quarter-finals at the World Cup. They were beaten convincingly in the last eight by France and it topped off a year where their form was hit and miss. They finished fifth in the 2022 Six Nations after losing three matches, their worst outing in the tournament since 2017. But they managed to defeat France in one of two summer Tests. They will be searching for more consistency in the upcoming competition. Raineri,who has been capped for the Italy men’s national side, said after naming his first squad: “It will be a new journey and we will run on to the field looking to give our best, game after game.”
Coach: Bryan Easson
Captain: Rachel Malcolm
Six Nations best: Second in 2003
Predicted finish: Sixth
Scotland have not finished higher than fifth in the Six Nations since 2017, where they secured fourth, and they will want to change their fortunes this year. The captain, Rachel Malcolm, spoke at the tournament launch about how the team are adapting their attack with the objective to start closing out tight matches. In the 2022 Six Nations they picked up three losing bonus points and Malcolm wants to turn those results into wins. They have appointed a new attack coach, Chris Laidlaw, to aid their gameplan. “As a squad we want to push on and find a way to get on the right side of results,” Malcolm said. “We want to look to play slightly differently because what we have been doing prior hasn’t necessarily worked for us.” A player who will help get them on the front foot is the No 8 Jade Konkel-Roberts. She has been named in the squad but had surgery for an injury in February so it is unclear when she will be available. At the World Cup Scotland failed to get out of their pool and did not register a win.