It’s the penultimate weekend of the 2018 Six Nations, and boy is it a big one.
Ireland face Scotland at the Aviva Stadium in a bid to stay on course for a Grand Slam. England then clash with France in Paris, followed by Wales v Italy on Sunday.
If there’s any slip-up from the Irish, any one of three sides could win the tournament on the final day. Plus a Grand Slam opportunity will be – once again – passed up.
The Ladbrokes News crew preview all three games…
Ireland v Scotland
Can Ireland take one step closer to a fabled Grand Slam? If they can beat Scotland in Dublin, only England at Twickenham stand in their way.
The pressure is on. And that’s where Ireland tend to fail. They’re not good with the favourites’ tag. However, Joe Schmidt has developed a deep squad of talent over the last two years.
The New Zealander has suffered major injuries to big players since matchday one. But he can count on crucial forwards, Tadhg Furlong and Iain Henderson.
Scotland are definitely on an upward curve and were excellent when shocking in England two weeks ago. But they don’t have a great record in Dublin.
Gregor Townsend’s side haven’t won there since 2010. And you have to go back to 1998 for the next win on Irish soil.
These games tend to be close. Ireland’s last two wins at the Aviva came by six and 10 points. If they can withstand the favourite’s tag, they should win. But it’s going to be tight.
France v England
Where to start with both these teams? England came a cropper against Scotland last week. And you could argue it was coming.
Eddie Jones’ side weren’t at their best against Italy despite a big win. And Wales should have beaten then but for an awful call by the television match official.
But Scotland fronted up on the day, and England crumbled. Jones needs his side to pick themselves up against France and go again – there’s still a Championship title on the line.
Les Bleus are in disarray. They got their win over Italy last week. But that’s not saying much. However, Jacques Brunel’s team did put it up to Ireland at the Stade de France on the opening weekend. And he’ll be expecting a similar performance against the English.
Maro Itoje and co. should still simply be too powerful for a France side who lack the technical prowess of old. This will be a battle of power and England hold all the better cards.
Wales v Italy
Wales were arguably outplayed by Ireland for large parts of the match but still got mightily close to causing a big upset.
Despite being without a host of high-calibre players, Warren Gatland’s side still attack with plenty of verve. And they’ll relish a beleaguered Italy team arriving at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.
Gatland has made 10 changes to his team ahead of the clash with the Azzurri. That will be in a bid to freshen up his talent pool and develop players for the coming World Cup.
With such a big influx of new faces, their regular attacking patterns may suffer. And Conor O’Shea’s Italian side may not suffer from as big a hiding as a result.
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