Ireland V Wales:
Despite winning last weekend this is a fulcrum game for both teams. A loss next Saturday and Ireland head to Twickenham in Round 3 trying to save their Championship bid. Wales also have to head to Twickenham, albeit in Round 4, so next Saturday’s result for them is just as significant as it is to Ireland.
Both sides are evenly matched although Wales’ recent record should give them the edge. But it is not that simple. Apart from Ireland’s victory last year in Cardiff this time around Ireland may have the edge in a couple of areas.
Firstly, the loss of Luke Charteris and Ian Evans from the 2nd row will put huge pressure on Wales’ line-out. Rhys Priestland could also be vulnerable under pressure and Ireland will surely test him to see how he reacts.
It is unlikely either team will get a distinct advantage in the scrum, so the back-row battle is a crucial area and should decide the outcome of the game. Effectively the team that wins the breakdown will likely win the game. And that means winning the breakdown both in attack to create quick ruck ball and in defence to slow the ruck ball for the opposition.
The weather may also play it’s part and a wet windy day would make it more difficult for Wales to bring their power runners out wide into the game. Home advantage should see Ireland home in a very tight affair.
Scotland V England:
For the remainder of the Championship England are in the “last chance saloon” as regards winning the tournament. They have too much firepower for Scotland with their physicality and continuity game. Scotland struggled last week when Ireland won collisions and held onto the ball. It does not get any easier for the Scots in that department this weekend.
Also, Scotland were unable to break down the Irish defence and their inability to score tries has been a bugbear for a while now. It is hard to see where they can break England down, regardless of where are how they attack.
The much talked about quagmire the Murrayfield pitch has become, does nothing to help either team, but will discommode Scotland more than England. When it comes to moving the ball around, as Scotland must do against this big English side, the soggy surface will make the going heavy.
Also, England must get their Championship bid back on track and losing in Edinburgh is just not an option for them.
France V Italy:
Italy’s performance in Cardiff last week was quite unexpected, but not as unexpected as their victory over France last season. France are still smarting from that defeat in Rome, which consigned them to the bottom of the 6 Nations Championship for the first time in their history.
France’s victory last week against England was deceptive in that over the eighty minutes England were the better team. France also had the benefit of a couple of lucky bounces that seemed to put them in a winning position at half-time.
England responded brilliantly and looked to have turned the game only to have France land the vital sucker punch with a piece of individual brilliance, as the clock ran out. Individual brilliance is France’s modus operandi at this moment in time. But apart from that they struggled with the pace of the game, their defence was sloppy and they failed to produce quick ruck ball.
Despite all that with revenge for last year on their minds and playing at home it is extremely unlikely Italy will be allowed repeat the heroics of last year in Rome.