This weekend marks the second last round of the 2021 Six Nations. Expect entertaining and compelling rugby throughout, with all three matches involving the remaining title contenders, Wales, France and Scotland, while their respective opponents Italy, England and Ireland all have a point to prove. So, what exactly should we look forward to in each crucial encounter?
ITALY vs WALES. STADIO OLIMPICO. 13.03.21 / 14:15
Despite Wales’ success in the tournament so far, Saturday is still as good a chance as any for Italy to end their 30 match-long six nations winning drought. Wales’ three wins from three flatter their performances as refereeing decisions and opposition indiscipline have papered over the cracks of their vulnerability. If Franco Smith’s men can keep their penalty count low, this Wales side, which so far has scored mainly from field position yielded to them through infringements, will find it difficult to create opportunities to cross the line. Moreover, Wales’ defence has not been infallible during this tournament – at times both Scotland and England were able to create space with ease in their respective clashes with Welsh. With their new-found attacking creativity centred around innovative playmaker Paolo Garbisi, Italy have the skill to unlock Wales.
That said, Wales still head to Rome as firm favourites. Their pack should dominate Italy, having stepped up their game this tournament in terms of physicality. In the backs, Josh Adams and Louis Rees-Zammit will remain omnipresent threats and hopefully we will get to see more of flyhalf Callum Sheedy, who has come off the bench in the last two rounds to play superbly, bringing greater fluidity to Wales’ attack.
ENGLAND vs FRANCE. TWICKENHAM STADIUM. 13.03.21 / 16:45
This year’s incarnation of ‘Le Crunch’ is set to be another high quality and captivating match. France will be back to an almost full-strength side after their Covid scare and they will be bolstered by the return from injury of world class fly half Romain Ntamack. Fabien Galthié’s side have been the best in the tournament, showcasing equal amounts of attacking genius and defensive doggedness. Should they reproduce this level of performance on Saturday they will most likely stay in the hunt for the Grand Slam.
There are, though, few prospects more intimidating than an England side at Twickenham with a point to prove. This England squad, not all too different from the one which made a World Cup final in 2019, has the quality and physicality to beat France. They will have to improve significantly on their performance against Wales to stand a chance though. In particular, Eddie Jones’ men cannot afford to concede so many penalties or to kick the ball away excessively. If they do, France will punish them.
SCOTLAND vs IRELAND. BT MURRAYFIELD STADIUM. 14.03.21 / 15:00
Sunday’s clash in Edinburgh is the biggest unknown quantity of the weekend. Of particular intrigue will be the battle between fly halves Finn Russell and Johnny Sexton, each a microcosm of their team’s contrasting styles. In recent games the Sexton possession-based game plan has stifled Russell’s invention. Scotland’s performances this year nevertheless suggest their kicking game and tactical competency can provide a platform from which their attacking flair can outshine Ireland.
Ireland, on the other hand, have had a disappointing Six Nations so far, beating only Italy while losing to Wales and France. Most worrying has been the lack of threat they have posed in attack, scoring just one try in each of their losses. To stand a chance Andy Farrell’s side will have to offer more with ball in hand.
Image: Andrew Hazard via Flickr