Ahead of another huge weekend of Six Nations action, SWL previews three Round Two fixtures which could tell us much about various sides’ title aspirations.
Scotland v Wales
Scotland and Wales are coming off victories in Round One and will both look to continue their success in what is sure to be a competitive match at Murrayfield.
Wales suffered a number of injuries in their win over Ireland, with George North out due to a foot problem, and Johnny Williams, Dan Lydiate, Josh Navidi and Hallam Amos also injured.
However, Liam Williams will bolster the squad as the fearless winger is back from a three-match ban.
Scotland have made changes to the squad that defeated England at Twickenham, with Sean Maitland, Cameron Redpath and Jamie Ritchie being replaced by James Lang, Darcy Graham and Blade Thomson.
Wales narrowly lost to Scotland 10-14 in the final round of the 2020 Six Nations, but will be hoping that their momentum can carry them on to victory this year.
Ireland v France
Ireland come into this game off the back of a 21-16 defeat to Wales in Cardiff and Peter O’Mahony has been banned for three weeks for his shoulder charge to the head of Tomas Francis which saw him sent off.
They are also missing Jonny Sexton, Connor Murray and James Ryan to injuries sustained in that game which will see a chance at redemption for Billy Burns after his mistake in Cardiff.
Iain Henderson will deputise for Ryan whilst Connor Murray is out with a hamstring injury, meaning Jamison Gibson Park starts at scrum-half.
France comfortably won 50-10 against Italy in Rome and are heavily tipped to lift their first Six Nations crown since 2010.
To do so they will need to win tough games like these, in a ground where they have a very mediocre record, having not won at the Aviva Stadium since 2011.
The standout change in the French team is Damian Penaud coming in for Teddy Thomas, as France seem to have sacrificed Thomas’s flair for Penaud’s solidity in defence.
Eyes will once again be on Antoine Dupont to lead France to another impressive victory and it will be interesting to see how they cope with this favourites tag.
England v Italy
England’s first defeat to Scotland at Twickenham in 38 years prompted a week of soul-searching for Eddie Jones after he admitted his side had let the country down.
The pre-tournament favourites were woeful against Gregor Townsend’s men, with a lack of discipline and inventiveness costing Owen Farrell and co.
Those criticisms were nothing new for an England outfit who won both the Six Nations and the Autumn Nations Cup last year but were booed as they ground their way to the latter trophy with an uninspired kicking game.
Jones seems to have doubled down on his style in the wake of the Scotland loss, with Mako Vunipola, Kyle Sinckler, Courtney Lawes and George Ford all returning to the starting XV for Saturday’s match against Italy.
Farrell has kept his place in the team after his disappointing performance at Twickenham but the captain has been switched to centre to accommodate Ford.
Meanwhile, Jones has dropped the exciting Ollie Lawrence from the matchday squad entirely in another apparent sign of the head coach playing it safe.
The good news for England fans is that Italy have never won a game against them in 27 attempts and the overall score count reads England 1,092, Italy 324.
Marco Zanon’s injury has forced head coach Franco Smith to make two changes, with Carlo Canna in at inside-centre and last weekend’s debutant Juan Ignacio Brex moved to 13.
The Azzurri also had to put up with their detractors this week, with former Wales captain Sam Warburton arguing they should face the prospect of relegation from the tournament.
That is perhaps unfair as Italy showed promising signs in attack in their 10-50 drubbing by France. Even so, the chances of an upset against England are remote to none.
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