With France’s match against Scotland called off due to another positive COVID-19 test in the French camp, SWL previews the two intriguing games from Round Three of the Six Nations going ahead this weekend.
Wales v England
England will hope to keep their dreams of retaining the Six Nations alive as they head to the Principality Stadium in Cardiff tomorrow.
Eddie Jones’s side bounced back from their opening day Calcutta Cup defeat to secure a crucial 41-18 victory over Italy in Round Two, although Wales will pose a much more serious threat to their title credentials.
Wales hold the momentum going into the third round fixture, having won both opening matches, the more recent being a narrow victory over Scotland, who were a man down.
The Welsh have been branded lucky after scraping both opening two fixtures against 14 men, but their heart and individual moments of brilliance in doing so should be applauded.
They will be encouraged by the fact England have not yet had an outstanding showing, although Jones’s star-studded squad will be a force if they can cut out individual errors.
Set-pieces are an area which England will look to utilise through the likes of Maro Itoje.
Jones has made two changes to the side who beat Italy, with hooker Jamie George coming in for Luke Cowan-Dickie while flanker Mark Wilson has replaced the injured Courtney Lawes.
Meanwhile George North will make his 100th appearance for Wales after returning from injury as one of five changes Wayne Pivac has made.
The lack of home crowd means the fixture could be one of the tightest contests of the competition and is likely to go to the wire.
Wales: 15. Liam Williams, 14. Louis Rees-Zammit, 13. George North, 12. Jonathan Davies, 11. Josh Adams, 10. Dan Biggar, 9. Kieran Hardy, 1. Wyn Jones, 2. Ken Owens, 3. Tomas Francis, 4. Adam Beard, 5. Alun Wyn Jones (capt), 6. Josh Navidi, 7. Justin Tipuric, 8. Taulupe Faletau.
Replacements: 16. Elliot Dee, 17. Rhodri Jones, 18. Leon Brown, 19. Cory Hill, 20. James Botham, 21. Gareth Davies, 22. Callum Sheedy, 23. Uilisi Halaholo.
England: 15. Elliot Daly, 14. Anthony Watson, 13. Henry Slade, 12. Owen Farrell (capt), 11. Jonny May, 10. George Ford, 9. Ben Youngs, 1. Mako Vunipola, 2. Jamie George, 3. Kyle Sinckler, 4. Maro Itoje, 5. Jonny Hill, 6. Mark Wilson 7. Tom Curry, 8. Billy Vunipola.
Replacements : 16. Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17. Ellis Genge, 18. Will Stuart, 19. Charlie Ewels, 20. George Martin, 21. Ben Earl, 22. Dan Robson, 23. Max Malins.
Italy v Ireland
This bottom-of-the-table clash between Italy and Ireland is more interesting than it would appear to be on paper.
Neither had realistic designs on the trophy when the tournament kicked off – in Italy’s case a win would suffice – and both went for polar opposite approaches in their selection.
Azzurri head coach Franco Smith went for youth and flair in a bid to stop the rot, while Ireland’s Andy Farrell opted for experience and a back-to-basics approach.
It’s fair to say the results have been mixed. Both sides have suffered successive defeats but both can point to better performances than their standing would suggest.
Ireland might have won against Wales on the opening weekend had Peter O’Mahony not been sent off in the 14th minute and still went 13-6 up, while a 13-15 reverse to France is no insult with Les Bleus on top form – even if that slightly flattered Ireland.
Meanwhile Italy’s young half-backs Paolo Garbisi and Stephen Varney have shown hugely promising signs in attack despite the perennial underdogs recording their 28th and 29th straight defeats against France and England.
In fact, the Azzurri have been in better form going forward than Ireland, with more tries, line breaks and offloads in the first two rounds of action.
It is in defence where they have fallen apart with a host of missed tackles, something Ireland will look to take advantage of at the Stadio Olimpico on Saturday.
Smith has named an unchanged side with Marco Zanon and Cherif Traore back in the squad, while Farrell has made seven changes to the team who lost to France and is boosted by the return of Johnny Sexton and James Ryan.
Ireland are firm favourites, but Italy will not have a better chance this tournament to cast off their woeful form.
Italy: 15. Jacopo Trulla, 14. Luca Sperandio, 13. Juan Ignacio Brex, 12. Carlo Canna, 11. Montanna Ioane, 10. Paolo Garbisi, 9. Stephen Varney, 1. Andrea Lovotti, 2. Luca Bigi (capt), 3. Marco Riccioni, 4. Marco Lazzaroni, 5. David Sisi, 6. Sebastian Negri, 7. Johan Meyer, 8. Michele Lamaro.
Replacements: 16. Gianmarco Lucchesi, 17 Cherif Traore, 18. Giosuè Zilocchi, 19. Niccolò Cannone, 20. Maxime Mbanda, 21. Callum Braley, 22. Federico Mori, 23. Mattia Bellini.
Ireland: 15. Hugo Keenan, 14. Jordan Larmour, 13. Garry Ringrose, 12. Robbie Henshaw, 11. James Lowe, 10. Jonathan Sexton (capt), 9. Jamison Gibson Park, 1. Dave Kilcoyne, 2. Ronan Kelleher, 3. Tadhg Furlong, 4. Iain Henderson, 5. James Ryan, 6. Tadhg Beirne, 7. Will Connors, 8. CJ Stander.
Replacements: 16. Rob Herring, 17. Cian Healy, 18. Andrew Porter, 19. Ryan Baird, 20. Jack Conan, 21. Craig Casey, 22. Billy Burns, 23. Keith Earls.
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