DUBLIN, IRL – After last weekend’s mid-competition break, the 2017 Six Nations returns with what is sure to be a scintillating third round.
England (2-0) currently hold the competition’s top spot with eight points while Ireland (1-1) holds second place thanks to their two bonus points. Wales (1-1), France (1-1), and Scotland (1-1) are tied for third with five points thanks to a bonus point a piece and the Italians (0-2), subject to much speculation over the last week, sit on the bottom with no points.
The weekend’s first match kicks off on Saturday as Scotland host Wales at Murrayfield to see who will rise to championship contention, followed by Ireland hosting France at the Aviva and England traveling to Rome to take on the Italians on Sunday.
Prep for a busy weekend of international rugby with our individual game previews below.
Scotland vs. Wales
Scotland return home to Edinburgh for the first time since their victory against Ireland in the first round. The Scots, who struggled against the French in round two, have opted for a great deal of veteran experience in their starting lineup, albeit for Ali Price who gets his third test start at scrum half alongside his Glasgow teammate Finn Russell.
Scottish head coach Vern Cotter has mixed up a few places in the forwards following his side’s defeat at the hands of the French two weeks ago, most notably with the return of flanker John Hardie, demoting Hamish Watson to the bench. Ryan Wilson moves into #8, while the Gray Brothers return once again to the second row.
The Welsh have not lost to the Scots since 2007, and head coach Rob Howley certainly intends to continue that streak to 10 years. The only change for the Welsh comes with the return of George North, replacing Alex Cuthbert at #14. The combination of Biggar and Scott Williams at fly-half and center has been very important for the Welsh, and will have to perform well against a deadly Scottish back line.
Ireland vs. France
Aviva Stadium, Dublin
A lot will be at stake when Le Bleus make the journey to Dublin to take on the Irish. Both teams are 1-1 in the competition, the Irish sitting one point ahead thanks to a winning bonus points last week against Italy.
Jonathan Sexton returns to the #10 jersey for tomorrow’s match after going out before last week’s contest against the Italians with an injury. Paddy Jackson moves down to the bench in what is an otherwise unchanged back line.
The only other change comes with the swapping of props, Jack McGrath moving into the starting XV to replace Cian Healy. The Irish forwards were consistently dominant last week and have no other choice but to put pressure on the French forwards tomorrow at the set piece and breakdown if they are to score their second victory.
French head coach Guy Noves has shifted three players from the starting lineup in the lead up to their clash with the Irish. Yoann Huget he moves to the wing to replace Virimiri Vakatawa in what is the only change in the backs. Bernard Le Roux gets the nod over the injured Loann Goujon, while Uini Atonio makes way for Rabah Slimani.
The French have struggled slightly at the breakdown, so they will need to reinforce and the contact area to make sure they don’t give away turnovers. Inversely, Jonathan Sexton needs to put on a grade A performance to prove himself after returning from injury. With both teams fighting for title contention, this is sure to be a game of fireworks.
England vs. Italy
England remain the only unbeaten team in this year’s Six Nations, but despite their two point margin at the top of the table they still have a lot they’d like to prove.
The English struggled against the French in the first round and waited until late to score back against the Welsh in the second round, proving that they are an excellent team with faults they need to remedy.
Head Coach Eddie Jones has decided to give center Ben Te’o his very first international start ahead of Jonathan Joseph who returns to the bench. Danny Care and James Haskell return to the pitch for their first starts of this year’s championship while Jack Nowell is replaced by Jonny May.
As for the Italians, head coach Conor O’Shea must be feeling at least a little bit of pressure after two dismal rounds to start the championship. He has opted to make four changes to the side that were blown out by Ireland, bringing in back rower Abraham Steyn in the forwards and returning Michele Campagnero and Tomasso Allen to the starting ranks to reform a partnership they have for their domestic club Exeter.
Lastly, Giulio Bisegni moves to the wing to round out the Italians’ changes.
It certainly looks as though England are on track for a third straight victory in this championship, but the Italians still have the ability to play their best against the world’s best. They beat two-time world champions South Africa last year, and always have the possibility to repeat that performance and create ripples in Europe’s top international competition. Plus, they could put to rest rumors surrounding Georgia’s ascension into the tournament with a statement win.
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