So it comes down to the final day of action this Saturday as Ireland, England and France are all in contention for the honour of being crowned the 2014 6 Nations champions. Last year it was a winner takes all clash at the Millennium Stadium and this time round all eyes will be on Paris and Rome as a new name will be added to the trophy for the first time in three years.
Prior to kick-off and Ireland are the clear favourites by virtue of their superior points difference. Any slip up though and England will look to take full advantage and bring the title home whilst France are not completely out of the equation either.
Before looking at the individual match-ups and our own predictions, we will clarify the potential outcomes so that you can easily keep track of a busy day of rugby to look forward to.
- If Ireland win or draw against France and England lose or draw against Italy, then Ireland win the 6 Nations.
- If Ireland win against France and England win against Italy, whichever of England and Ireland have the greater points difference will win the 6 Nations.
- If England win against Italy and France win against Ireland, whichever of England and France have the greater points difference will win the 6 Nations.
- If England win against Italy and France and Ireland draw for the third consecutive year, England win the 6 Nations.
- If England lose or draw against Italy and France win against Ireland, France will win the 6 Nations.
Italy v England (Saturday 15th March, 12:30pm GMT)
Italy XV – Luke McLean, Angelo Esposito, Michele Campagnaro, Gonzalo Garcia, Leonardo Sarto, Luciano Orquera, Tito Tebaldi, Sergio Parisse, Robert Barbieri, Joshua Furno, Marco Bortolami, Quintin Geldenhuys, Lorenzo Cittadini, Leonardo Ghiraldini, Matias Aguero.
England XV – Mike Brown, Jack Nowell, Luther Burrell, Billy Twelvetrees, Jonny May, Owen Farrell, Danny Care, Ben Morgan, Chris Robshaw, Tom Wood, Courtney Lawes, Joe Launchbury, David Wilson, Dylan Hartley, Mako Vunipola
Italy welcome the return of captain Sergio Parisse for their final 6 Nations match whilst props Martin Castrogiovanni and Alberto de Marchi are replaced by the pairing of Lorenzo Cittadini and Matias Aguero. In the only other change to the starting XV which was thrashed by Ireland, Robert Barbieri takes the number seven slot. With Italy and their fans knowing that only a win could help them avoid another unwanted wooden spoon, expect a spirited performance from the men in blue as their 2014 6 Nations campaign comes to an end in Rome.
All set to do an Italian job on the Azzurri, coach Stuart Lancaster makes just one change to his squad which defeated Wales as Manu Tuilagi makes a long awaited return. The Leicester man, who has not represented England since last March, starts on the bench and replaces Alex Goode. England will certainly look to continue where they left off last Sunday but talk of all out attacking have been dismissed in favour of simply getting the job done and letting other results take care of themselves. With Rome staging the first of the final three games on Saturday, English fans and players could be in for a long afternoon which will end in tears of joy or despair come the final whistle in Paris.
England players and fans know that nothing short of a win will keep their title hopes alive. Whilst many are pointing at the need for a big margin of victory, should they need to overhaul Ireland’s impressive points difference, the reality is that despite how poor Italy were in Dublin a week ago, home pride and support may prove enough of a catalyst for avoiding another drubbing at the hands of Robshaw’s men in white.
2013 Result: England 18 – 11 Italy
LR Prediction: Italy 7 – 42 England
Look out for: Manu Tuilagi – the man mountain returns and surely it will only be a matter of time before he comes off the bench to make his presence felt. Expect the Leicester Tigers centre to be used as a big impact player, especially when the Italian legs are tiring and points are there for the taking. With ten Test tries to his name already in a relatively short international career to date, don’t be surprised to see him power over the Italy line.
Wales v Scotland (Saturday 15th March, 2:45pm GMT)
Wales XV – Liam Williams, Alex Cuthbert, Jonathan Davies, Jamie Roberts, George North, Dan Biggar, Mike Phillips, Taulupe Faletau, Sam Warburton, Dan Lydiate, Alun-Wyn Jones, Luke Charteris, Rhodri Jones, Ken Owens, Gethin Jenkins
Scotland XV – Stuart Hogg, Dougie Fife, Alex Dunbar, Matt Scott, Max Evans, Duncan Weir, Greig Laidlaw, Dave Denton, Kelly Brown, Ryan Wilson, Jim Hamilton, Richie Gray, Geoff Cross, Scott Lawson, Ryan Grant
Having had their hopes of a record third consecutive 6 Nations title crushed by England last weekend, Wales coach Warren Gatland makes six changes to the starting line-up. The trio of Liam Williams, Dan Biggar and Mike Phillips come in for Leigh Halfpenny, Rhys Priestland and Rhys Webb whilst Scarlets pair Ken Owens and Rhodri Jones receive their first starts of the 2014 campaign. The final change sees Luke Charteris return from injury having been ruled out of the England game. Injuries aside and Gethin Jenkins will be hoping to have more cause for celebration this week as he makes his 105th appearance and becomes Wales most capped player, surpassing Stephen Jones’ record.
Scotland arrive in Cardiff with Scott Johnson handing a Test debut to Edinburgh winger Dougie Fife, replacing Tommy Seymour who has failed to recover from an ankle injury against France last Saturday. Having impressed at club level, this is seen as an ideal match to test the international pedigree of Fife whilst the opposite wing sees the return of Max Evans as he comes off the bench to start. Kelly Brown retains the captain’s armband which would not normally be of worthy note but having been dropped for two games already this year, you never quite know what the Scottish team will resemble until it is officially announced.
Whilst many see this as a dead-rubber match, there is still plenty of pride at stake and both sides will be looking to end their 6 Nations campaign on a high. The last time Scotland left the Millennium Stadium victorious was back in the 2002 6 Nations tournament and they have not beaten the Welsh at all since 2007 so will certainly be looking to achieve a long overdue victory.
2013 Result: Scotland 18 – 28 Wales
LR Prediction: Wales 32 – 15 Scotland
Look out for: Mike Phillips – with Rhys Webb ruled out through injury, Phillips returns at scrum-half having been dropped for the previous two matches. Another player guilty of making headlines for all the wrong reasons, Welsh fans will be looking for a disciplined performance and one which shows off his skills and talent rather than his darker side. With Webb ruled out, this is the perfect opportunity for Phillips to make the jersey his own as the 2015 Rugby World Cup fast approaches.
France v Ireland (Saturday 15th March, 5pm GMT)
France XV – Brice Dulin, Yoann Huget, Mathieu Bastareaud, Gaël Fickou , Maxime Médard, Remi Tálès, Maxime Machenaud, Damien Chouly, Alexandre Lapandry, Louis Picamoles, Yoann Maestri, Pascal Papé, Nicolas Mas, Dimitri Szarzewski, Thomas Domingo
Ireland XV – Rob Kearney, Andrew Trimble, Brian O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy, Dave Kearney, Jonathan Sexton, Conor Murray, Jamie Heaslip, Chris Henry, Peter O’Mahony, Paul O’Connell, Devin Toner, Mike Ross, Rory Best, Cian Healy
From a wooden spoon to a potential 6 Nations title in the space of just twelve months – life is never boring for Les Bleus. In a complete transformation from last year, coach Phillipe Saint-Andre certainly doesn’t do things the easy way and made sure everyone knows exactly who is in charge, with no room for lack of respect in the team. For the final match he makes four changes to the starting XV, with the most notable being the return of Toulouse back row Louis Picamoles. Other changes include call-ups for Remi Tálès and Gaël Fickou as well as Dimitri Szarzewski who returns from an ankle injury.
The scene is set for Brian O’Driscoll to bow out of international rugby and sign off with his second 6 Nations championship medal. Humble as the Irish legend is, he will be first to admit that the team performance comes before his own glory as Joe Schmidt makes just one change to the starting line-up. In comes Peter O’Mahony meaning that Iain Henderson makes way and returns to the bench. Facing a much tougher prospect this time round than their opposition last weekend, the Ireland team know exactly what they have to do on what could be an unforgettable night in the French capital.
Both sides will be approaching the game as a must win but Irish players and fans alike will be only too aware of the fact that they have only won once in France since 1972 and that was back in 2000. The last two encounters have produced draws and English fans will certainly be praying for a third such result in what many expect to be a game almost too close to call.
2013 Result: Ireland 13 – 13 France
LR Prediction: France 22 – 24 Ireland
Look out for: Louis Picamoles – having served his time out of the team following his apparent lack of respect for officials, France’s star man returns but as number six on the side of the scrum. Ireland will need to be at their best to thwart the attacking threat Picamoles offers whilst the man himself will be out to prove that his rugby rather than his antics should be making all the headlines.
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