The second round of the 2014 Six Nations is set to kick off tomorrow with Wales, France and Ireland in poll position having recorded victories in their opening encounters. Here we take a look at the next round of fixtures and how we expect the teams to fair;
Game 1 – Ireland vs Wales
Location – Dublin
Kick-off – 14.30 GMT (Sat)
Ireland: R Kearney; A Trimble, B O’Driscoll, G D’Arcy, D Kearney; J Sexton, C Murray; C Healy, R Best, M Ross; D Toner, P O’Connell; P O’Mahony, C Henry, J Heaslip.
Replacements: S Cronin, J McGrath, M Moore, D Tuohy, T O’Donnell, I Boss, P Jackson, F McFadden.
Wales: 15-Leigh Halfpenny, 14-Alex Cuthbert, 13-Scott Williams, 12-Jamie Roberts, 11-George North, 10-Rhys Priestland, 9-Mike Phillips; 1-Gethin Jenkins, 2-Richard Hibbard, 3-Adam Jones, 4-Andrew Coombs, 5-Alun Wyn Jones, 6-Dan Lydiate, 7-Sam Warburton, 8-Taulupe Faletau
Replacements: 16-Ken Owens, 17-Paul James, 18-Rhodri Jones, 19-Jake Ball, 20-Justin Tipuric, 21-Rhys Webb, 22-James Hook, 23-Liam Williams
Preview – Two of the pre-tournament favourites go head-to-head in this battle after recording victories in their opening games. Whilst Wales made hard-work of beating Italy at the Millennium, Ireland eventually put Scotland to the sword and only conceded 6 points in the process. Warren Gatland will be hoping that last week was just the usual Welsh opening day jitters and that his team will be a much more cohesive unit this time around.
On Sunday the Irish really began to dominate once the pack gained ascendancy and Joe Schmidt’s men will therefore be hoping to get off to a strong start in that area in particular. Both sides see players return to fitness for the game, however, the extra day’s rest could play into Welsh hands.
Key Battle – The tight five have a key role to play here as each team will look to work off ball won by the forwards. Whichever pack gains the ascendancy will likely win the game.
Key Man – Sam Warburton returns to captain Wales and will have a key role to play as he goes head-to-head with Ireland’s Chris Henry who was on top form last weekend.
One to Watch – Peter O’Mahony was in fine form for Ireland last weekend and if he can continue imposing himself on the 6 Nations he could be a huge asset for Ireland tomorrow.
Prediction – A narrow win for Ireland by 5 – 10 points.
Game 2 – Scotland vs England
Location – Edinburgh
Kick-off – 17.00 GMT (Sat)
Scotland: Stuart Hogg (Glasgow Warriors), Tommy Seymour (Glasgow Warriors), Alex Dunbar (Glasgow Warriors), Matt Scott (Edinburgh), Sean Lamont (Glasgow Warriors), Duncan Weir (Glasgow Warriors), Greig Laidlaw (Edinburgh, capt.), Ryan Grant (Glasgow Warriors), Ross Ford (Edinburgh), Moray Low (Glasgow Warriors), Tim Swinson (Glasgow Warriors), Jim Hamilton (Montpellier), Ryan Wilson (Glasgow Warriors), Chris Fusaro (Glasgow Warriors), David Denton (Edinburgh).
Replacements: Scott Lawson (Newcastle Falcons), Alasdair Dickinson (Edinburgh), Geoff Cross (Edinburgh), Jonny Gray (Glasgow Warriors), Johnnie Beattie (Montpellier), Chris Cusiter (Glasgow Warriors), Duncan Taylor (Saracens), Max Evans (Castres).
England: Mike Brown (Harlequins, 22 caps), Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs, 1 cap), Luther Burrell (Northampton Saints, 1 cap), Billy Twelvetrees (Gloucester Rugby, 9 caps), Jonny May (Gloucester Rugby, 2 caps), Owen Farrell (Saracens, 20 caps), Danny Care (Harlequins, 43 caps), Joe Marler (Harlequins, 16 caps), Dylan Hartley (Northampton Saints, 51 caps), Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers, 44 caps), Joe Launchbury (London Wasps, 15 caps), Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints, 26 caps), Tom Wood (Northampton Saints, 24 caps), Chris Robshaw (Harlequins, capt, 21 caps), Billy Vunipola (Saracens, 6 caps)
Replacements: Tom Youngs (Leicester Tigers, 13 caps), Mako Vunipola (Saracens, 11 caps), Henry Thomas (Sale Sharks, 2 caps), Dave Attwood (Bath Rugby, 6 caps), Ben Morgan (Gloucester Rugby, 16 caps), Lee Dickson (Northampton Saints, 13 caps), Brad Barritt (Saracens, 17 caps), Alex Goode (Saracens, 14 caps)
Preview – The auld enemy head North for this years Calcutta Cup clash as both sides will look to build on a disappointing opening weekend to this years 6 Nations tournament. Whilst England will feel disappointed to have thrown away the lead in the dying minutes in Paris, Scotland will be hoping to rectify a performance that started brightly but rapidly died off in the second half.
Both sides include a number of injury replacements and untried combinations with neither coach seemingly able to settle on their first choice XV meaning there is the potential for lots of errors and hopefully some broken field running. Don’t get too excited though as this game is traditionally bereft of tries with this year likely to be no different given the state of the Murrayfield pitch.
Key Battle – The loose forwards could well dictate how this game goes with the ball carrying of Denton and Vunipola likely to be key whilst Robshaw and Fusaro will go head-to-head as they attempt to win turnover ball.
Key Man – Greig Laidlaw leads Scotland on Saturday and will be instrumental in Scotland’s performance, particularly as his penalties could decide the game.
One to Watch – Everyone knows him now but Stuart Hogg looked like one of the most impressive players of last weekend and could produce a moment of magic that turns the game.
Prediction – England to win by around 7 points.
Game 3 – France vs Italy
Location – Paris
Kick-off – 15.00 GMT (Sun)
France: B Dulin; Y Huget, M Bastareaud, W Fofana, H Bonneval; J Plisson, J-M Doussain; T Domingo, D Szarzewski, N Mas; P Pape, Y Maestri; Y Nyanga, B Leroux, L Picamoles.
Replacements: B Kayser, Y Forestier, R Slimani, S Vahaamahina, D Chouly, M Machenaud, F Trinh-Duc, G Fickou.
Italy: McLean, Iannone, Campagnaro, Garcia, Scarto, Allan, Gori; De Marchi, Ghiraldini, Castrogiovani, Geldenhuys, Funro, Minto, Bergamasco, Parisse (c).
Replacements: Giazzon, Rizzo, Cittadini, Bortolami, Zanni, Botes, Orquera, Esposito.
Preview – The last time these two sides met Italy sprung one of the surprises of the 6 Nations as they defeated their more illustrious French counterparts. Although the game this weekend is unlikely to be a repeat Italy’s impressive performance against Wales last weekend suggests this may not be the walkover many had previously suggested.
The French will be buoyed on by their win over England last weekend whilst Italy will be determined to build on last weeks performance as they look to become more than just wooden-spoon contenders. Both sides have plenty of flair in the backs so if the conditions are right then everything is in place for a great spectacle of rugby.
Key Battle – The fly-halves this weekend have a huge role to play in the outcome of this game. Neither has more than a handful of caps and so if Plisson or Allen can step-up they could really dictate this game.
Key Man – Louis Picamoles had a strong game against England last weekend but if he can step it up again and carry well for France he could give his side the momentum they need to put Italy to the sword.
One to Watch – Michele Campagnaro was magnificent for Italy against Wales last weekend and if he can continue that kind of form he could well be on for man of the tournament.
Prediction – France to win by around 15 points.
What are your predictions for this weekends games?