Six Nations Preview: Can Ireland seal the Grand Slam?

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Ireland may have claimed the Six Nations title with a round to spare, but there’s still plenty of interesting loose ends to be tied up as the tournament reaches its climax. Namely: can Joe Schmidt’s side secure a first Grand Slam and Triple Crown since 2009?

Here’s a look at the final round of fixtures…

Italy v Scotland, Saturday 10 March, 12:30

The weekend kicks off with the battle of the basement boys, as Scotland head to Rome looking to improve their desperate away record in this competition. The Scots have recorded just six away wins in 46 Six Nations games, and even if victory against the Italians will do little to quell concerns about that record, Gregor Townsend’s men will nonetheless welcome the chance to end a mixed campaign with a flourish.

Italian coach Conor O’Shea will surely be pinpointing this game as the potential breakthrough moment for a side who have yet to pick up a single Six Nations point under his two-year tenure. Despite once again emphatically claiming the Wooden Spoon, Italy have shown glimpses of potential in his tournament, particularly in the first half of their 38-14 defeat to Wales.

If they can replicate the tenacity shown in spells in that match for the full 80 minutes, this may just be their best chance of tasting Six Nations victory since 2015. Their opponents that day were also Scotland – can they repeat the trick on Saturday at Stadio Olimpico?

England v Ireland, Saturday 10 March, 14:45

Eddie Jones

This fixture has less riding on it following Eddie Jones’ side surprise surrender to an ordinary French outfit last week, but Irish fans will be hoping the celebrations at Twickenham continue long into the night as they look to seal Grand Slam bragging rights.

Recent results suggest they are hitting top form just at the right time, with the right blend of youth (Ryan, Stockdale, Ringrose) and experience (Kearney, Best, Murray) carrying them towards a potential clean sweep. At Twickenham, a lot will also rest on the kicking form of the talismanic Johnny Sexton. The 32-year-old looked more like his old self against Scotland after an erratic display against Wales.

Ireland haven’t had it all their own way in this competition – particularly evident in the tight opening day tussle with France – and will have to be at the top of their game to leave London with an unblemished Six Nations record, despite England’s recent struggles.

Eddie Jones may feel his side are back at square one after several undercooked performances over the last month. The Australian will be looking for an immediate response against the Irish to restore confidence and has shuffled the pack again to add extra intensity in attack after a static display at the Stade de France, dropping the ineffective George Ford to the bench.

Wales v FranceSaturday 10 March, 17:00

Wales overcame a sloppy first half display to pick off Italy with relative ease at the Principality Stadium last weekend, but will likely face a much harder tactical battle against Jacques Brunel’s rapidly improving French side.

The home side will turn to New Zealand-born Hadleigh Parkes to once again deploy canny game management as they look to secure a respectable runners-up berth which many pundits thought would beyond them at the start of the competition.

George North

Tries have been evenly spread throughout Warren Gatland’s side during his tournament – Davies, Evans, Halfpenny and North all scoring two apiece – an encouraging sign as they look to halt France’s current momentum.

Brunel will be looking to the inspirational Maxime Machenaud to continue his imperious form on Saturday in Cardiff. Eddie Jones pinpointed the Racing scrum-half as the potential danger man ahead of France’s clash with England, and those words came back to haunt the Australian as the best kicker in the competition notched up crucial match-winning points for Les Bleus in Paris.

 

Current standings

1 Ireland P4 W4 L0 D0 BP – 3 Pts – 19

2 Wales P4 W2 L2 D0 BP – 3 Pts – 11

3 England P4 W2 L2 D0 BP -2 Pts – 10

4 France P4 W2 L2 D0 BP – 2 Pts – 10

5 Scotland P4 W2 L2 D0 BP – 0 Pts – 8

6 Italy P4 W0 L4 D0 BP – 0 Pts – 0

All image sources from PA images

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