Week two of the Six Nations saw fine performances from Wales and England to defeat Scotland and Italy respectively to go joint top of the table. However, the weekend was marred by the farcically late call off of France vs. Ireland, due to a frozen pitch, just minutes before kick off. The match has now been rescheduled for next weekend.
Looking ahead to this weekend, Ireland play hosts to Italy in Saturday’s early kick off, Wales travel to joint leaders England and France make the trip to Edinburgh to face Scotland.
Ireland go into their match with Italy with what should be an extremely fresh and fit squad having not played a game since their home defeat to Wales 19 days ago. Coach Declan Kidney has named the same side that was due to start against France in Paris, and will be hoping his team come out all guns blazing against an Italy team still reeling from their defeat to England. Italy have named Tobias Botes at fly-half after Kris Burton inaccuracy with his kicking ultimately cost Italy their first ever victory over the English. The Irish will need to watch for Italy’s power particularly in the scrums and mauls, but I can’t see the Italians pulling out a shock. Ireland have never lost to Italy since the Six Nations begun, and a comfortable win will see them continue on with that record.
England will be looking to deny Wales the Triple Crown and, in turn, give themselves the chance to win it against Ireland on the final weekend, with victory at Twickenham this weekend. Both teams go in the match with confidence high after two wins from two in the tournament so far. Wales have shown their attacking dominance in both matches so far, while England have done the opposite showing their rugged defence and capitalising on the chances to earn their wins. England have rung four changes to the squad which started in Italy. Owen Farrell switches from centre to fly-half in the absence of Charlie Hodgson which sees Manu Tuilagi come in at centre. Tom Palmer, Ben Morgan and Lee Dickson also come in to replace Geoff Parling, Phil Dowson and Ben Youngs. Wales have been boosted by the return of Alun Wyn Jones and influential captain Sam Warburton from injury. Ken Owens also comes in at hooker as Huw Bennett and Matthew Rees have been ruled out with injuries. Another boost to the Wales camp was the news that George North is fit to play after hobbling off with a nasty looking twisted ankle against Scotland. Wales have been given the favourites tag ahead of the match, despite not having won at Twickenham since 1988,which shows the confidence instilled in the youthful squad Warren Gatland has at his disposal. The match is all set to be a cracking affair, with tries a certainty. I believe it will be a close match with Wales coming out to break their long running Twickenham hoodoo.
After finally getting a try at the Millennium Stadium, Scotland host France at a sold out Murrayfield Stadium looking to gain their first win since beating Georgia in the World Cup. Scotland have made four changes to the team which started in Cardiff, most notably Glasgow Warriors teenage Stuart Hogg coming in after impressing in the loss to Wales. Graeme Morrison comes in to partner Sean Lamont at centre with Rory Lamont switching to replace the injured Max Evans at right wing. John Barclay is in for injured Alastair Strokosch and Mike Blair comes in at scrum half for Chris Cusiter who drops to the bench. France have made no changes to the squad that was due to play Ireland and will be looking to prevent the Scots from gaining their first win against them in 6 years. Despite Scotland’s two losses in the championship so far, they can come into this game with some optimism having dominated the two losses for most of the 80 minutes. Crucial mistakes have cost them in both games and if they can cut them out, I can’t see why Scotland can’t defeat the French. It’ll be a hard hitting match, but with the Murrayfield faithful providing the 16th man I believe Scotland can pull it off.
Last weekend just didn’t feel the same without some first class rugby being played on our television screens, I’m delighted it’s back. With some cracking fixtures to feast on, it’s bound to be another fine weekend for rugby.