It was nice of the 6 Nations to have a break from their international window to allow the spotlight onto Super Rugby this weekend past, but they are back into this week with some fascinating encounters. Let’s take a look.
France v Scotland
This game is very hard to preview purely because it’s near impossible to predict what kind of French team you are going to get from hour to hour never mind day to day. Another reason it’s hard to call is the fact that Scotland have been hammered by injuries over the past 12 months. It’s still getting much worse for Scotland now with Stuart Hogg and Huw Jones missing the rest of the 6 nations with Hogg looking like he could miss the first round or two of the Rugby World Cup. As bad as the Scottish camp is at the moment the whispers out of the French camp are much worse with real signs that Brunel has lost the players’ support which can only mean bad things are coming for France. Honestly though I would still put my support behind Scotland I think that they have shown their ability in parts of the first 2 rounds even with France at home and Finn Russell out I see Scotland winning this by about 7 points.
Wales v England
This has to be the game of the week I’m viewing it as even a bit more important than that as I see Wales as the last hope of stopping England on their way to a Grand Slam. Sadly though wales are not a team playing well together at the moment missing some of their major players such as Halfpenny, Felatau and now possibly Biggar. England have their own injury worries with Mako Vunipola and Maro Itoje out but with solid replacements like Ben Moon and Courtney Lawes covering them I can see England putting in a massive shift and stealing this game from Wales away from home. I see Farrell showing his experience and over shadowing Anscombe and really questioning the Welsh back three. Other than the kicking game I feel like England will really dominate the Welsh pack who have looked a little under cooked so far in this tournament. Wales only hope in my eyes is that they can put pressure on Youngs which will effect the ball to Farrell. T he Welsh have had three weeks to be looking at this game and I feel like they have the players to do it but maybe not the physicality to keep England under pressure. In the end I see this going to England by about 5 points.
Italy v Ireland
Italy will view this as a big chance to take down the Irish as the Irish form has been very poor and lackluster so far this 6 Nations. The Irish, who have been slow to warm up in this tournament (and every tournament in the past 4 years), will be looking to squash the Italian hopes and start making some progress in this tournament. I expect a slight change in personnel with Carbery starting and Jack Carty possibly making his debut off the bench and the possibility that Kieran Marmion might come back in from his ankle injury after he started in the All Blacks game in November. This game is a great way to get some game time for any injuries coming back and any new partnerships that he wants to try. In realistic terms I really cant see Italy beating Ireland due to Italy’s poor discipline around the field and Ireland’s near perfect discipline with give Ireland 6-12 points from the boot if they choose to do so.
England : - Maro Itoje, Mako Vunipola, Chris Ashton
Ireland : – Gary Ringrose, Devin Toner
Scotland : – W.P Nel, Sam Skinner, John Barclay, Hamish Watson, Blade Thomson, Matt Fargerson, Lewis Carmichael, John Hardie, Ryan Wilson, George Horne, Finn Russell, Duncan Taylor, Huw Jones, Mark Bennett, Matt Scott, Stuart Hogg
Wales : – Leigh Halfpenny (50/50), Dan Biggar (50/50), Ellis Jenkins, Taulupe Faletau
Italy : – Jake Polledri, Matteo Minozzi
France : – Alivereti Raka, Teddy Thomas, Yoann Maestri, Cedric Gomes Sa, Mathieu Babilot
Ireland are one of the very few teams lucky enough to get some players back from injury with both second row’s Iain Henderson and Tadgh Bernie making a return to camp accompanied Andrew Conway who looked electric for Munster against The Southern Kings last Friday. England who have the smallest injury list are getting back Ben Teo who could put pressure on Eddie Jones for a bench spot this weekend. Other than these few no major calls ups other than Scotland who have had to call up 6 new players to help bolster their squad for the next couple rounds with the likes of Duncan Weir and Magnus Bradbury.
This week has been a big mind game week with England claiming that Maro will be fit to play and Wales saying Halfpenny might be fit. Then just yesterday the Daily Telegraph in England has started to claim that Gatland is now the lead runner to replace Jones after the World Cup, while the question still remains around the roof of the Principality Stadium – it would benefit Wales to close it and let the crowd get into England’s head.