By Jake Goodwill
- England still have a lot to play for
- Will Ireland spoil the party?
RBS 6 NATIONS – There is still a lot to play for this weekend, despite England wrapping up the tournament as we count down for the final round of the RBS 6 Nations 2017
Despite England wrapping up the tournament at the weekend, there remains a lot to play for in the final round of the 2017 Six Nations. A Grand Slam, a world recording winning streak, Lions’ places and World Cup group defining World Rankings ensure this weekend’s fixtures are far from a dead rubber.
Scotland vs. Italy
The Scottish side will be eager to rectify the embarrassing beating they took at Twickenham in the fourth round. It is Vern Cotter’s last game in charge of Scotland which will provide extra incentive for the players to perform and show their appreciation for the progress driven by Cotter. A win for the Scots will result in a successful tournament and they should have far too much for a lacklustre Italy side. A number of Lions’ contenders, namely Jonny & Richie Gray and Tommy Seymour, were shown up against England and will feel they need a big performance to remind Warren Gatland what they can offer.
Italy have struggled bar the odd half here and there. A win in the last round would provide them with a much needed boost going forward and salvage their tournament. However away from home this seems extremely unlikely. The inability of the Italians to compete in the second half of matches will once again prove costly. That is if they can survive the early onslaught from the Scots who have tended to start fast in the tournament so far.
Prediction: Scotland will win comfortably and secure a bonus point victory.
France vs. Wales
This will be an extremely close game. France and Wales are well matched with both sides winning two games in the tournament thus far. The French have demonstrated promise in the tournament but are yet to put together a complete performance. However their backline is starting to develop cohesion and potency with consistent selection. The threats of Gael Fickou, Virimi Vakatawa and Brice Dulin will keep Wales on their toes. The enormous French pack led by the talismanic Louis Picamoles will need to be stopped on the gain line for Wales to gain a foothold in the match. If Wales can stifle French go forward then they have a great chance.
Wales will be full of confidence after an excellent performance against Ireland. The big names of Sam Warburton, Rhys Webb and George North stood up and led the Welsh in physical contest. The big question is whether they can back it up. Wales have failed to do this so far.
A big shift against England was followed up by a poor performance against Scotland. Playing away from Cardiff will pose an additional challenge for Rob Howley’s side who have a tendency to raise their game at home. Yet if Wales can hold firm at the set piece they will have every chance of victory with their backline finally looking like it can cause some damage.
The bonus of the opportunity to move up to number 4 in the World Rankings, if they win and Ireland lose, will be an additional motivation. This would ensure they avoided New Zealand, England and Australia in the group stages of the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
Prediction: England aside, this Six Nations there has been a trend for home teams to win the tight games. However I am going for a Wales win. The momentum from the Ireland result and the return to form for key players will mean they will have too much for a French side still finding their feet under Guy Noves. Wales by a score.
Ireland vs. England
England have the opportunity to make history. Not only could they win their first back to back Grand Slams since 1991 and 1992, but England could also break New Zealand’s record of most consecutive wins by a Tier 1 nation. Eddie Jones’ side have equalled the All Blacks with 18 straight wins and will look to go one better than the world’s premier side. Although it should be noted that it was Ireland who ended New Zealand’s 18 run streak in Chicago in 2016.
Ireland’s tournament is hanging in the balance. If they were to lose then the Six Nations would be a disappointing step backwards after a sterling autumn. However a win against England would see the optimism flood back to Irish rugby.
At home they certainly have the capability of beating England. Their pack is extremely powerful and can go toe to toe with the abrasive English pack. It is in the backs where the test will come.
Ireland’s execution against Wales was uncharacteristically poor. Questions over the form of Simon Zebo, the experience of Garry Ringrose and the fitness of Johnny Sexton remain. The loss of Conor Murray is a huge blow as his masterful game control will be hard to replace. The responsibility falls to 25 year-old Kieran Marmion who has little experience at international level. How the Connacht scrum-half copes with the situation will be pivotal.
Ireland have picked a pack full of ball carriers with Iain Henderson given the start to bolster the already impressive options of Tadhg Furlong, CJ Stander, Sean O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip. Front foot ball from the pack will allow the Irish backline to generate some rhythm and tempo. If they can do this then the game will be extremely close.
England are bolstered with the return of the seismic Billy Vunipola and Anthony Watson to the starting line-up. They are the form side, full of confidence and most importantly they have forgotten how to lose. This will be England’s toughest test of the tournament as winning in Dublin for an away side is always incredibly difficult.
It is hard to see England being blown away by Ireland and in tight games England always find a way to come out on top. The finishing ability provided by Elliot Daly, Jonathan Joseph and Watson provides England with potency in the wide channels that the Irish cannot match. Assuming England’s platform remains strong they will be confident of securing victory.
Prediction: England to win by 5 points. It will be a tight match but England’s ability to edge tight games will see them through in the last 20 minutes.
|Scotland v Italy||Saturday 18 March 12:30|
|France v Wales||Saturday 18 March 14:45|
|Ireland v England||Saturday 18 March 17:00|
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