LOS ANGELES, CA – The Stade de France, Millennium Stadium, and Stadio Olympico will each play host to 6 Nations fixtures this weekend as Round 2 action kicks off between Ireland and France in Paris on Saturday morning (PST). Each team is faced with a do-or-die fixture ahead of them, especially amongst the likes of Scotland and Italy who presumably will drop four points behind first place with a loss this weekend. Long story short, the RBS 6 Nations offers no room for error in any of its five rounds, creating an atmosphere of balanced fear and excitement that only pulls viewers closer to the action as the tournament progresses. Preview the weekend’s action and follow our expert pics panel as RugbyWrapUp previews Round 2 of the RBS 6 Nations…
Expert Picks Panel: With the weekend kicking off with France vs. Ireland on early Saturday morning, our experts all decided to side with the Irish, a decision that could either sink or boost every panel member. Moving on to the Wales vs. Scotland fixture, our experts were a little more divided. Mr. Blaber, Mr. Frechette, and. Mr. Yeats all decided to go with Scotland to win at the millennium Stadium for the first time since 2002, while Mr. Harrington, Mr. Nelson, and Mr. WB chose Wales to continue their run of good form at Cardiff Arms. Only one man said out from the crowd in choosing a vector in the Italy vs. England fixture, Mr. Yeats being the only one to choose Italy to top Eddie Jones in Rome.
France vs. Ireland
Stade de France, Paris
Saturday, 13 February, 2016
Paris is a daunting place for any team to play when the French are doing well, but for Ireland in particular Paris historically has been a thorn in the Irish side. Until 2000, Ireland had only one one match in Paris, one of the worst records in world sport.
Recently, though, the Irish have won their last five against France both home and away, and this weekend will look to extend that run to six in a row.
Joe Schmidt’s Ireland travel to France with a fair amount of injuries to deal with after last weekend’s clash with Wales, most notably with the exit of Keith Earls and Simon Zebo from the back three. Fortunately, the return of Rob Kearney and Sean O’Brien from injury will boost to the Irish attacking prowess and provide the back row with an amazing trio in Heaslip, Stander, and O’Brien.
As for Guy Noves‘ and his French side, a disappointing showing against Italy last week has pushed 4 changes amongst Les Bleus, with two other changes coming for Louis Picomoles out due to injury and Gael Fickou missing for personal reasons. Noves’ squad depth has allowed him to make three changes in the tight five and make a change on the wing, replacing Hugo Bonneval with Teddy Thomas to try and provide more stability on the touchline.
An air of scepticism still surrounds this relatively new French side and its untested head coach, with the even Guy Noves expressing some concern saying, “I don’t know if we’ll win this weekend, but I know I’ve had a good week.”
The key for the French will be to play to their strengths of their crowd, one of the most intimidating factors about playing in Paris. Last weekend, the Parisian crowd was dead silent and it visibly played into the hands of the Italians who feasted off the silence of the stands. Without the crowd, I don’t believe France will stand a chance.
Wales vs. Scotland
Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
Saturday, 13 February 2016
Both Scotland and Wales enter into Saturday’s fixture looking for their first win in the 2016 RBS 6 Nations after losing to England and drawing with Ireland, respectively. Scotland will try to win their first game since 2002 under the closed roof in Cardiff while Wales will be pushing for a better start than last week when they went down 13–0 in the first half an hour in Dublin.
Warren Gatland has decided to make no changes to his side from last weekend, meaning the biggest news for Wales is the return of a healthy Dan Biggar after what looked like a bad ankle injury sustained in the first 20 minutes of last week’s fixture. Undoubtedly Wales’ biggest star since his heroics in the World Cup last summer, Biggar has been an integral part of Welsh strategic kicking as well as distribution to Jonathan Davies and Jamie Roberts in the centre. Considering that last year’s fixture between these two ended by a mere three points, Biggar’s boot might become more of a factor than originally anticipated.
Scotland, on the other hand, march into Saturday’s fixture looking to repair their self damage they inflected against England at Murrayfield last week. The Scots had several chances to break the gain line and put the English on the back foot, as well as several occasions where they had numbers on the outside, but a sense of naivety surrounded the Scottish side and prevented them from playing with any continuity.
Scottish number eight, David Denton, expressed his side’s mentality mid week saying, “The most important thing for us is winning…A victory would change the whole picture and as a squad we expect, more so than in the past. I am not saying we are expecting to come here and win, but it is something we feel we have to do.”
Scotland head coach, Vern Cotter, has only decided to make one change to decide that was defeated by England last week, substituting Duncan Taylor for Matt Smith at 12 due to injury concerns.
Cotter, only in his second year in charge of Scotland, has closed the gap significantly between Scotland, the other home nations, Ireland, and France during his tenure, but his side has lacked today skilful cutting edge required to string together wins in the 6 Nations. His decision to retain all but one player from last weekend’s team for Round 2 seems to be the right idea for the Scots who are still trying to find their true identity as a national side.
Italy vs. England
Stadio Olimpico, Rome
Sunday, 14 February 2016
Had Sergio Parisse made the last gasp drop goal last week in Paris, it would’ve been one of Italy’s most famous victories in the 6 Nations. But, in the end, Italy were consigned to another defeat even as they impressed with their attacking and defending strategies. Eddie Jones‘ England on the other hand were rather lacklustre last week as they claimed victory over Scotland any 15–9 dud at Murrayfield.
Italian head coach, Jacques Brunel, has decided to make only one change from Paris last week, substituting out fullback David Odiete for Luke McLean because of a hamstring injury. His one change decision shows belief in his side that they can replicate many of the same positive aspects from last week against the English this weekend, especially now returning home for their first game in Italy of the championship.
The Italians have to momentous players pushing them to greater heights at the moment, a new a face in new fly half Carlo Canna and the other in stalwart Sergio Parisse. Canna impressed many, including Eddie Jones, with his performance last week against France where he commanded a formidable backline defence that on many occasions confounded the French attack and turn the ball over in the midfield. Parisse on the other hand is turning out to be a feat of nature, getting older age-wise but somehow maintaining his status as one of the best number eight in the northern hemisphere.
The English, on the other hand, have made three changes for their trip to Italy, bringing in Mako Vunipola, Ben Youngs, and Courtney Lawes as well as bringing in uncapped Maro Itoje from Saracens onto the bench with the possibility of coming on in the second half.
England have never lost against the Italians in all of their playing history, but the last eight ties were decided by less than seven points. If Italy can replicate the same performance against France this weekend and apply pressure to an English side still trying to find their new identity then maybe, just maybe they might be able to (maybe) squeak out some sort of victory, maybe.
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