TRAILBLAZE EXCITING YEAR AHEAD
(Feb 4th – aMarch 18th)
RUGBY’S revered event, the Six Nations championship, by some distance the sport’s most popular annual tournament, so beloved the capacity of all host stadia, whether it be Twickenham, Paris, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Dublin, or even Rome, could be filled more than twice over such is the fervour this tournament engenders, kicks off on 4th February for a six-week celebration of the great game. This year’s championship has powerful added significance as it’s World Cup year and all six countries will be in action in the Webb Ellis Trophy starting next September in France.
Bookmaking opinion is split between France and Ireland as to which to make favourite for the Six Nations title, while Wales and England have both hit the panic button with last-minute sackings of their chief coaches – Wales welcome back tried and trusted Kiwi Warren Gatland following a disastrous last season that included defeats to perennial strugglers Italy and, astonishingly, a home defeat to second-tier nation Georgia, while Twickenham HQ’s patience finally ran out with Eddie Jones’ feeble excuses, replacing the Aussie serial apologist with popular ex-England star Steve Borthwick.
Looking elsewhere, history shows that Ireland struggle when burdened with the tag of being made favourite, as my financial scars over the years bear testament to, but, probably illogically, I’m tipping the Green Machine to be crowned champions, mainly because their two most dangerous opponents, France and England, have to come to Dublin’s fair city to wage war at the cauldron that is Fortress Aviva.
Must-Watch Juggernaut TV Clashes:
11th Feb – Ireland vs France
KO 15:15 (CET)
25TH Feb – Wales vs England
KO 17:45 (CET)
11th Mar – England vs France
KO 17:45 (CET)
18th Mar – Ireland vs England
KO 18:00 (CET)
WORLD SNOOKER CHAMPIONSHIP
(April 15th – May 1st)
SNOOKER is going through turbulent times at the moment with troubling tales of corrupt match-fixing sweeping through the game and ten players banned by the World Snooker Tour, including Chinese star Zhao Xintong, who is ranked number nine in the world, so it follows that the World Championship, starting at the hallowed home of the sport, the Crucible in Sheffield on 15th April, will be under intense scrutiny as the giants of the game, defending champion ‘Rocket Ronnie’ O’Sullivan and last year’s beaten finalist Judd Trump, among other household names, seek to restore snooker’s reputation.
Winner of the Masters’ title in January, Trump boasts the best current form and is my tip to avenge last year’s final defeat at the hands of O’Sullivan, but write off the ‘Rocket’ at your peril!
WIMBLEDON TENNIS CHAMPIONSHIPS
(July 3rd – 16th)
WIMBLEDON 2023, minus Roger Federer – arguably the greatest player of all time, but indisputably the most stylish professional practitioner to have ever picked up a racquet – and with chief rival Rafael Nadal beset by injury woes as Old Father Time demands his dues, the road ahead for Novak Djokovic to claim his eighth singles title is clear, with the only possible obstructions being the volatile and ill-disciplined Aussie Nick Kyrgios and beleaguered Daniil Medvedev who, by accident of birth, can expect a somewhat frosty spectator experience should authorities relent and allow the Russian to compete. The great and defiantly unvaccinated Novak will surely hold the trophy aloft on Sunday, July 16th.
In the Women’s Singles, Britain’s Emma Raducanu continues to disappoint since sensationally winning the US Open as an A-level student in 2021. Knocked out in just the second round of this year’s Australian Open, the charge against the Bromley girl is that there are too many distractions in her life, modelling commitments, multiple changes of coach etc, and becoming a multi-millionaire at such a tender age. This is Emma’s opportunity to recapture the magic that saw her stun the tennis world in New York two years ago, and emulate her idol Virginia Wade by winning Wimbledon in front of an adoring full house. Girl, would that blow the Centre Court roof off!
WOMEN’S FOOTBALL WORLD CUP
(July 20th – Aug 20th)
FOOTBALL came agonisingly close to ‘coming home’ for the men in both the Euros and recent World Cup before the scourge of the penalty shootout and Harry Kane’s ‘pigeon killer’ came into play to cruelly shatter Three Lions’ dreams, but no such doorstep stumble for the ladies on that glorious 31st July night at Wembley Stadium, when the Lionesses devoured Germany 2-1 to clinch their first Euro Championship.
And now for the big one – 32 nations, including England and Ireland, will take part in the FIFA 2023 World Cup Finals, to be co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand, with the final scheduled for Sydney on 20th August. Defending champions, the United States are strongly fancied to retain the title, but if the Lionesses recapture the spirit of that unforgettable last night in July, then football may well be truly coming home.
RUGBY WORLD CUP
(Sept 8th – Oct 28th)
FRANCE hosts the 10th Rugby Union World Cup which starts on September 8th, with the opening group game being an absolute awe-inspiring snorter, featuring the hosts taking on the mighty All Blacks – Les Bleus vs New Zealand – a pairing that could well be repeated seven weeks later, in the final itself. Of the nine previous world cups, southern hemisphere giants New Zealand and South Africa are tied with three triumphs each, with Australia successful twice, leaving England as the sole European winner, an historic victory gained in 2003.
France, as hosts, probably represent Europe’s best hope of repelling southern hemisphere giants, defending champs South Africa, New Zealand and Australia, but Ireland, currently world-ranked number one, and a resurgent England should not be overlooked.
2023 ICC CRICKET WORLD CUP
(Oct – Nov – Dates TBA)
INDIA hosts the ODI World Cup this autumn in the 13th edition of the competition, rearranged because of delays in the qualification schedule due to the Covid-19 pandemic and, as the home nation, no surprise that they feature high on most experts’ lists as favourites to claim their third world title.
Recently crowned T20 World Cup winners England, unrecognisable from the side that were whitewashed by the Aussies in the Ashes Down Under just 18 months ago, pose the biggest threat to an India triumph, but never under-estimate the Three Roses’ recurring ability to throw in at least one wobbly among the googlies, as was perfectly illustrated by defeat to minnows Ireland in the group stage, a result that nearly wrecked their triumphant T20 campaign.
Traditional heavyweights, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Pakistan can never be discounted, so buckle up for an exciting finale to a stellar sports year.