The 2022 Guinness Six Nations Championship reaches its climax on Saturday with France and Ireland in title contention.
France, who face England in Paris, know that victory will give them a first Six Nations title and Grand Slam since 2010, while Ireland must beat Scotland – then hope England topple Les Bleus – to deny them silverware.
Here, we look at some of the key talking points heading into so-called Super Saturday.
It has been a long time between drinks for France as they chase Six Nations silverware and a clean sweep 12 years after they were last crowned kings of Europe. On that occasion, England were their opponents at Stade de France, with Les Bleus claiming a nervy 12-10 victory against a team containing the likes of Mike Tindall, Chris Ashton, Danny Care, Dylan Hartley and Lewis Moody. France have toppled England on seven of the previous 11 Six Nations encounters in Paris, but pressure will be ramped up as they target title glory 18 months before hosting the World Cup. Home advantage and an 81,000 capacity crowd suggests everything is in France’s favour, though, on what will be a white-hot occasion.
Eddie Jones’ team have not enjoyed a vintage campaign, losing to Scotland and Ireland, while edging past Wales despite conceding three tries and claiming a routine victory over Italy. They finished fifth in last season’s tournament and that could also be where they end up this time around, but their performance in adversity against Ireland will have given France plenty of food for thought. Despite having lock Charlie Ewels sent off inside two minutes, England’s 14 men were inspired, being level at 15-15 until their opponents pulled away late in the final quarter. England will need to go toe-to-toe with Les Bleus – as Wales did against them last week – get them rattled and instil self-doubt.
Ireland are second into action on Saturday, hosting Scotland in Dublin after Wales and Italy have concluded business at the Principality Stadium. Ireland are two points behind France, so a fourth win of this season’s competition would put them top of the pile more than an hour before Les Bleus kick off. Defeat to the Scots, though – and no more than one losing bonus point – would mean France being crowned champions before running out in Paris. Given that Ireland have won 10 of their last 11 games against Scotland and are unbeaten at home in the fixture since 2010, a Scottish success seems unlikely. If it goes to form, then all Andy Farrell’s men can do is then sit, watch and wait.
For the second time in nine months, Wales’ second-row talisman has defied medical predictions. Last summer, it was an odds-defying quick return from a shoulder injury to lead the British and Irish Lions in their Test series against South Africa, then, after suffering another shoulder injury in October, undergoing two operations and forecasts that he would not play again until much later this season, Jones was back with the Wales squad and available for selection against Italy. It presents an interesting selection call for Wales head coach Wayne Pivac, but it has to be ‘less is more’ in terms of getting 36-year-old Jones to the 2023 World Cup. Will Rowlands and Adam Beard have excelled in Jones’ absence, with Seb Davies another lock option, so even though Jones’ 150th Wales appearance beckons, it might not be this weekend.
The Six Nations promotion and relegation debate has not gone away, which is hardly surprising given Italy’s continued struggle. They have not won a match in the tournament since 2015, losing their last 36 Six Nations Tests, with nearly half of those losses being by 30 points or more. The wooden spoon is theirs for a seventh-successive campaign and they will arrive in Cardiff on Saturday having lost by an average scoreline of 39-11 across their previous Six Nations visits. Wales know that a bonus-point victory could haul them into the top three and they will be fired up after a 13-9 loss to France last time out that left captain Dan Biggar “annoyed”. It does not auger well for the Azzurri.
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