It’s only the second round of action in the 6 Nations and already there is plenty at stake. Whilst the opening round of fixtures may not have thrown up the biggest surprises, in terms of results, it did give a strong indication as to what to look out for over the coming weeks.
With the potential of a Grand Slam, Triple Crown and 6 Nations title on the line, all eyes will certainly be on Dublin come Saturday afternoon whilst the Calcutta Cup match has added significance with both sides chasing their first 6 Nations victory.
Can Wales gain revenge for last year over Ireland? Who will win the Calcutta Cup and how will Italy fare against a rejuvenated French side?
Ireland v Wales (Saturday 8th Feb, 2:30pm GMT)
Ireland XV -Rob Kearney, Andrew Trimble, Brian O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy, Dave Kearney, Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray, Jamie Heaslip, Chris Henry, Peter O’Mahony, Paul O’Connell, Devin Toner, Mike Ross, Rory Best, Cian Healy.
Wales XV – Leigh Halfpenny, Alex Cuthbert, Scott Williams, Jamie Roberts, George North, Rhys Priestland, Mike Phillips, Gethin Jenkins, Richard Hibbard, Adam Jones, Andrew Coombs, Alun Wyn Jones, Dan Lydiate, Sam Warburton, Taulupe Faletau.
Despite being the reigning champions, it is Wales who begin the game as slight underdogs following two impressive performances by the Irish against the All Blacks and Scotland whilst Wales struggled to stamp their authority over Italy last time out. The visitors will certainly be looking to exact revenge as Ireland left the Millennium Stadium with an impressive opening victory last year and ruined their Grand Slam ambitions.
Both sides will no doubt be boosted by the return of their captain and with Lions team-mates Paul O’Connell and Sam Warburton going head-to-head, expect plenty of experienced leadership on show. With such an exciting display of wingers on show in the pacey form of Cuthbert, North and Trimble, another great match-up will be between the kicking prowess of Sexton and Halfpenny – a British & Irish Lions dual that could well determine the game.
One aspect of the game that will be hard to avoid, is the relationship between Brian O’Driscoll and Wales coach Warren Gatland. Having been sensationally dropped from last year’s Lions Third Test, Gatland will feel his decision was justified whilst BOD will be out to prove his ability and leave Wales with a miserable trip back across the Irish Sea.
2013 Result: Wales 22 – 30 Ireland
LR Prediction: Ireland 27 – 18 Wales
Look out for: Conor Murray -After impressing against Scotland last time out, this weekend will see the Ireland scrum-half lining up against his Britain & Irish Lions team-mate, Mike Phillips, so expect there to be plenty of action and banter.
England v Scotland (Saturday 8th Feb, 5pm GMT)
Scotland XV – Stuart Hogg, Tommy Seymour, Alex Dunbar, Matt Scott, Sean Lamont, Duncan Weir, Greig Laidlaw, David Denton, Chris Fusaro, Ryan Wilson, Jim Hamilton, Tim Swinson, Moray Low, Ross Ford, Ryan Grant.
England XV – Mike Brown, Jack Nowell, Luther Burrell, Billy Twelvetrees, Jonny May, Owen Farrell, Danny Care, Billy Vunipola, Chris Robshaw, Tom Wood, Courtney Lawes, Joe Launchbury, Dan Cole, Dylan Hartley, Joe Marler.
Prior to the Calcutta Cup, all the talk has been about the state of the Murrayfield pitch, which came under much criticism during the autumn internationals. With the recent deluge of heavy rain, this could well result in a bogged down affair and result in very much a kicking rather than a running game.
Whilst not expected to be a pretty game, a win is quite simply all that matters as both sides look to chalk up two points on the 6 Nations table. Last weekend Scotland clearly lacked any fire power to cross the line and relied on the boot of Laidlaw to keep them in the game against Ireland whereas England were desperately unlucky in France but ultimately paid for a woeful start and were punished late on.
Of course the big news on the Scotland front is that of captain Kelly Brown being dropped from the squad. Replaced by uncapped Chris Fusaro, Brown has been told in no uncertain terms that performance is key to the future according to coach Scott Johnson and that looking forward it’s going to have to be at number seven. Brown is not the only casualty as another big name omitted from the squad is Lions lock, Richie Gray. Having only been on the bench last weekend, his place is filled by teenage brother, Jonny.
With England naming an unchanged side from that which faced France, Stuart Lancaster has given a vote of confidence to the wings by staying faithful with Nowell and May. Whilst the latter was a doubt having suffered a broken nose, Lawes has also recovered from a bruised cheekbone but should England lose on Saturday then the scars may well prove more permanent.
2013 Result: England 38 – 18 Scotland
LR Prediction: Scotland 13 – 21 England
Look out for: Jim Hamilton – Big Jim will have the task of going up against England’s second row pairing of Lawes and Launchbury, in what is sure to be a powerful tussle. It may not be a pretty match up but Hamilton will certainly be the driving force when Scotland are on the attack.
France v Italy (Sunday 9th Feb, 3pm GMT)
France XV – Brice Dulin, Yoann Huget, Mathieu Bastareaud, Wesley Fofana, Hugo Bonneval, Jules Plisson, Jean-Marc Doussain, Louis Picamoles, Bernard Le Roux, Yannick Nyanga, Yoann Maestri Pascal Papé, Nicolas Mas, Dimitri Szarzewski, Thomas Domingo.
Italy XV – Luke McLean, Tommaso Iannone, Michele Campagnaro, Gonzalo Garcia, Leonardo Sarto, Tommaso Allan, Edoardo Gori, Sergio Parisse, Mauro Bergamasco, 6 Francesco Minto, Joshua Furno, Quintin Geldenhuys, Martin Castrogiovanni, Leonardo Ghiraldini, Alberto De Marchi.
Snatching victory from the jaws of defeat against England, this was the perfect tonic to a woeful 2013 6 nations campaign for Les Bleus. From a sensational start to overcoming an even greater comeback by the visitors, the result last week shows more about the character and fighting attitude of the French side than the result itself.
With Italy conceding a sloppy try early on in Wales and France capitalising on English errors with less than 30 seconds on the clock, the smart money is on more early points in this match. If you are late for kick-off then you may need to catch up on the highlights.
Despite an opening win, French coach Phillipe Saint-Andre has seen fit to make three changes to the starting line-up for the arrival of the Azzurri on Sunday. Making his test debut is Hugo Bonneval on the wing and is joined by Dimitri Szarzewski whilst Yoann Maestri will partner captain Pascal Papé in the second row.
For the Italians they will look for a solid start and aim to frustrate their French hosts. A key area will be around the scrum as this was where they conceded 14 penalties last week, the most of any nation, with Michele Rizzo being dropped to the bench as a result. For the Azzurri to record back-to-back victories over France then they will need to be at their best and show the sort of flair which ran Wales close.
2013 Result: Italy 23 – 18 France
LR Prediction: France 36 – 12 Italy
Look out for: Michele Campagnaro -If you didn’t know his name before last weekend then you certainly will by now, as the Italian centre scored twice in the opening fixture against Wales. With only three international starts to his name prior to the 6 Nations and having only made his club debut for Treviso in 2013, it has been a meteoric rise for the 20 year old and fans will be keen to see if he can continue the exciting form against Les Bleus.