Well, what an opening weekend of Six Nations action it was. France showed their credentials for the championship with a comfortable 30-12 victory over Italy. England began their defence of the Six Nations with a victory over Scotland, coming from 6-3 down at half time to win 6-13. Wales completed a stunning comeback over their hosts Ireland, coming from 21-15 down to claim a last gasp 21-23 victory.
In the build up to this weekend’s fixtures, there has been some hard hitting headlines for Wales and Scotland. Wales will have to play the rest of the tournament without their lock Bradley Davies after he was banned for his tip tackle on Ireland’s Donnacha Ryan. Perhaps the most shocking news of the week was the retirement of Scotland fly-half Dan Parks. The decision came just three days after his charged down kick led to England’s eventual match winning try.
Kicking off this weekend’s fixtures are Italy and England. Italy have made two changes to the side that lost to France. Marco Bortolami and Gonzalo Canele brought in at the expense of Cornelius Van Zyl and Alberto Sgarbi with head coach Jacques Brunel keen to cut out the errors which led to France’s tries. England, on the other hand, have made no changes to the side which defended the Calcutta Cup last weekend. This is despite calls for Ben Morgan to replace one of last weekend’s debutants Phil Dowson at 8. This will be the first match that Italy play at their temporary home of the Stadio Olimpico, after their normal home, Stadio Flamino, began renovations. I believe that this will be a massive test of what England will bring to this years Six Nations. Italy are notoriously strong at home, causing many teams problems in the past, and with a new, hostile environment around them this match could go in their favour. It will be a close fought match that I believe both teams can win, but I am going to go for a home win.
France vs. Ireland rounds off Saturday’s entertainment. Visitors Ireland have made just the one change from their defeat to Wales with Keith Earls replacing Fergus McFadden. Meanwhile, France have made no less than five changes to their starting XV. Morgan Parra, Yoann Maestri, Imanol Harinordoquy, Jean-Baptiste Poux and Dimitri Szarzewski all come in to replace Dimitri Yachvili, Lionel Nallet, Julien Bonnaire, Vincent Debaty and William Servat respectively. The Irish have an uphill task ahead of them this weekend. They haven’t beaten the French since their Grand Slam winning year of 2009 and haven’t tasted victory in France in just under 12 years. In fact, France have a strong home record against all teams in the Six Nations. The match promises to be a hard hitting affair, but I can’t see anything but a France victory here.
The weekend closes in Wales, where Scotland are the visitors. Wales, despite being without banned Bradley Davies, will be buoyed by the return of captain Sam Warburton who has shaken off the dead leg he sustained against Ireland last weekend. Gethin Jenkins also returns at prop after a knee injury to give the side some needed experience in the front row. Scotland have been forced into the two changes they have made to their XV. Geoff Cross replaces Ewan Murray who doesn’t play on Sunday’s for religious reasons while Greig Laidlaw comes in for the now retired Dan Parks in a XV that has no less than 8 players in. This is a game that regularly produces classics, and if 2009’s Millennium Stadium clash was anything to go by this should be no different. Both sides have gone on record stating they wish to play expansive rugby, so we should be in for a treat. I’m going to predict a better performance than last weeks from the Scots but I can’t see them defeating what is a strong Wales side filled with confidence.
This is a weekend that could produce some fantastic rugby and some great atmospheres in the stadiums. One thing I will guarantee you is this; You will not be disappointed!