The Guinness Six Nations returns having taken a week break, and this could be a tournament deciding weekend.
Scotland and Italy will face each other as they both try to avoid the wooden spoon, Wales will look to build back into the tournament as they take on title contenders France and Ireland could secure the triple crown if they beat England at Twickenham.
Italy v Scotland
It would be fair to say that Scotland haven’t had their ideal start to the Six Nations. The men in tartan looked on the rise in past years, they finished 3rd in the 2018 tournament, then they dropped to 5th in last year’s competition and in the most critical blow of all they dropped out of the World Cup during the pool stages with losses to both Ireland and Japan. It seems as though Scotland haven’t regained any confidence since dropping out of the World Cup, having lost both fixtures so far in the competition after losing a close fixture at the Aviva Stadium against Ireland and also be defeated by England in a messy affair at Murrayfield.
Italy have been a similar position. While it’s clear to see improvements to their general game structure and game plan, the results just haven’t gone in their favour with the Azzuri still having massive defensive issues. Italy have conceded over 34 points in both of their games so far in the tournament having lost 42-0 to Wales and 35-22 to France. This weekend offers a genuine opportunity for Italy to pick up a first Six Nations win since 2015 when they beat this weekend’s opponents away at Murrayfield. They’ll be at home in Rome this time around and have already built on performances in this tournament so far, and despite being niled in the first fixture, they scored more points than a high-quality France team England managed against the same team the week before.
On the team news, Gloucester man Chris Harris comes in for Huw Jones, Ben Toolis replaces injured lock Jonny Gray and ex-captain Stuart McInally comes in for Fraser Brown at hooker. Italy are yet to announce their team for the fixture with Franco Smith announces his squad at 2pm. However, there is the potential for 142 cap legend Sergio Parisse to play in one of his final games for Italy with Parisse announcing before the tournament that he will only feature in home games.
Speaking on the matter he said, “I told [Franco] Smith my desire to end my international career in Rome in front of my family, my friends and our fans.
“He agrees that I cannot end with that match cancelled by the typhoon. I will face Scotland, England or both, but I will certainly not play the entire Six Nations.”
I see this being an incredibly tight fixture, the Italians are always passionate at home and they now hold the fire power to properly compete in the competition but organisation and structure will dictate how they perform and I’m still not sure they entirely have that. Even though Scotland are struggling at the minute I think they will pick up a narrow win here between 5-10 points.
Wales v France
The biggest fixture of the Saturday, France are still unbeaten so far but facing their first game across the English Channel and Wales need to bounce back after a sub-par performance and a loss away in Ireland. France have been outstanding so far. Fabien Galthié has completely reinvigorated Les Blues since coming in as head coach, his introduction has seen a complete clean out of the squad with lots of trusted players having been shown the door and the youth being brought in. The playing style also looks completely rejuvenated with a mixture of French Flare and solid structure, the introduction of ex-Wales defence coach Shaun Edwards also seems to have transformed the defence with the men in blue looking more solid then they have done for numerous years.
Wales will need to put out a big performance this weekend if they still have aspirations of lifting the trophy at the end of the tournament, they started very strongly in game-week one taking out Italy in fine form but then performance dropped against Ireland at the Aviva Stadium, they couldn’t break through with the Irish defence and specifically the backrow causing problems in defence and at the break down.
Neither team has announced their sides for the fixture however France haven’t suffered any injuries so will look to go full strength, Welsh coach Wayne Pivac will have some questions over selection after the performance in Dublin especially at fly-half with Dan Bigger potentially being a doubt for the fixture having suffered a concussion in the last figure, Jarrod Evans would be the only remaining fit fly-half in the squad if Bigger was unavailable for the fixture. This has led to questions of if Pivac will choose to bring another fly-half into the squad with Bath man Rhys Priestland rumoured to be an option however this looks unlikely with the Welsh medical staff being confident that Bigger will be fit.
This fixture could go a few different ways, France have never typically travelled well when playing away from home however this is clearly a different kind of France so who knows what they’re capable of. I do believe a big factor in Wales potentially winning would be if Dan Bigger is fit, he’s instrumental in this team now, his leadership and his ability are so important and at the Principality Stadium they are one of the hardest teams to play in the World, so we will see what happens but I back the men in red to come out winners in a very tight contest, Wales to win by 3-5 points.
England v Ireland
The biggest fixture of the weekend. Sundays encounter offers to be a tasty affair with England returning to Twickenham to take on unbeaten Ireland. Since the World Cup game against New Zealand, England haven’t had the greatest fortunes. England put in potentially their greatest ever performance against the all blacks and have just looked a shadow of themselves since. They completely lost all composure in the final and crumbled to the South African pressure and they played the same way in the opening round against France. While the game at Murrayfield was important and it was a big win, England will still be disappointed with the way the game went. The weather was abysmal and England didn’t always manage the game in the greatest way possible, it was no day for running rugby but some of the tactical decisions just didn’t make sense and that will need rectifying against an incredibly solid looking Ireland.
Ireland have had a near perfect start with wins over both Scotland and Wales. Both wins came in Dublin and this fixture is the first time they will have to travel during the tournament. The last time they were away from home they lost to New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup quarter finals but this looks like a different Ireland team, Andy Farrell has taken the reigns from Joe Schmidt and will be looking to gain a first win over his home nation, Farrell’s Ireland has so far looked incrementally different, no overhaul was needed after the World Cup just some new ideas and more free reign to allow Ireland to play a style of Rugby that suits the players they have. Team news will be announced tomorrow however in a boost for Eddie Jones Henry Slade looks fit to play again, Jones has stuck with a Ford Farrell axis at 10 and 12 so far in this tournament however the reintroduction of Slade could cause a structural change with captain Owen Farrell moving back to his natural position of 10, Tuilagi pushing into the 12 channel and Slade slotting in at 13. In other team news Mako Vunipola is out of this fixture due to family reasons which leaves room for Ellis Genge to make his first test start after he scored the winning try against Scotland. Ireland’s squad