Ireland seek to derail Wales
February 7, 2014
It's Brian O'Driscoll's last championship - time for one final, glorious hurrah? © Getty Images
For three teams, dreams of a Grand Slam are still very much alive. Wins for Wales, Ireland and France on the opening weekend will come as timely boosts to their championship prospects. On the flip side, Scotland, England and Italy know that they have to win this weekend if they are to stand a realistic chance of lifting the Six Nations. ESPN brings you a rundown of the complete picture ahead of round two.
Ireland v WalesSaturday, 2.30pm, BBC One
Something will have to give in Dublin. Both teams recorded wins on the opening weekend and while Wales are gunning for their third consecutive title, Ireland are showing some green shoots of optimism under Joe Schmidt - when the final whistle blows in the Aviva Stadium either the men wearing green or those in red will still be chasing a Grand Slam.
Much has been made of a certain rivalry in the run up to the Test as Brian O'Driscoll comes face-to-face with Warren Gatland, the man who unceremoniously dropped him from the third British & Irish Lions Test back in July. But both have been quick to dismiss any notion of this Test being about their battle - much more is on the line than mere personal pride.
For Ireland, Paul O'Connell returns after he sat out their opening win over Scotland with a chest infection. Gordon D'Arcy is also named at inside centre with Schmidt no doubt looking for a way to counter the bulldozing threat of Jamie Roberts. Wales have recalled Sam Warburton at openside with Gethin Jenkins and Andrew Coombs both starting in the pack.
Weather: It looks like rain for Saturday's match with the temperature a cool 7°C.
Odds: Ireland are favourites at 4/5 with Wales priced at 23/20. Brian O'Driscoll is 14/1 to score the first try.
Key Stat: Taulupe Faletau and Peter O'Mahony were the best "pilferers" last weekend, each claiming three turnovers for their side.
Prediction: Ireland by three
Scotland v EnglandSaturday, 5pm, BBC One
It was a valiant defeat for England in round one but Stuart Lancaster's men need more than that now with just 19 games until the 2015 World Cup. England got themselves in a position to beat France, at 24-19 up, but failed to cancel out Gael Fickou as he broke their hearts late on. For England, the focus this weekend is on their start to the match - early tries were shipped in their previous two Tests.
Whether there will be any tries on Saturday is another matter. The Murrayfield turf is widely expected to be a mud bath with parasites eating away at the Edinburgh turf. Joe Marler is unperturbed by the terrible conditions but it is likely to put paid to any semblance of entertaining running rugby.
While England are unchanged, Scotland have made three changes with the most notable seeing captain Kelly Brown dropped with Chris Fusaro starting. Tommy Seymour comes in for the crocked Sean Maitland while Matt Scott gets the inside centre berth.
Weather: Expect some precipitation on Saturday with temperature around the 5°C.
Odds: England are 1/6 favourites for the Calcutta Cup clash with Scotland at 9/2. Jack Nowell is 9/1 to score first.
Key Stat: England have lost their opening two matches of a Championship campaign only once since 1988. That came in 2005 when they lost to Wales, France and Ireland in the opening three rounds.
Prediction: England by 10.
France v ItalySunday, BBC One, 3pm
For all the world, this looks like it will be a French victory, but while France are unpredictable, so too are the Italians. Last year Italy recorded a famous win over Les Bleus in Rome so they know exactly what it takes to beat the French. In the opening weekend of this year's Six Nations they acquitted themselves well against Wales with Michele Campagnaro announcing himself on the northern hemisphere Tests scene but again, similar to England, it was a case of Italy receiving praise in the face of defeat.
For France, they stunned England with a pair of early tries in their opener but then tailed off. But the mark of a good team is one that does not switch off until the full-time whistle and Fickou's late try was just-reward for a team who waited for an opportunity and then pounced. After their woeful 2013, a two-win start to the 2014 championship will alleviate much of the pressure on Philippe Saint-Andre's shoulders.
Weather: There's a chance of rain but it should be a nice 8°C.
Odds: France are clear favourites at 1/25 while Italy are 14/1.
Key Stat: The Italians only four away wins since 2007 have all been in the Americas: beating Uruguay, Argentina, Canada and the USA.
Prediction: France by 20
What the coaches have said
"Certainly the match and a good performance is far more important for Brian and everyone internally. It's a non-issue for us to be honest. It's something that happened over the summer, there's a lot of water under the bridge since then." - Ireland boss Joe Schmidt on the Warren Gatland v Brian O'Driscoll subplot
"Gats' has been no different this week to any other, experienced and astute, talking to players he feels he needs to speak to and making sure our environment is ready for the players to be the best they can be on Saturday afternoon." - Wales assistant coach Rob Howley
"We are in the people's business and if you don't care for people you shouldn't be in it. I care for him and it was a tough decision." - Scotland boss Scott Johnson on dropping Kelly Brown
Four match-ups to watch
Mathieu Bastareaud v Michele Campagnaro: Campagnaro danced and dazzled his way past the Welsh defence last weekend, but Bastareaud with all his bulk will have him in his sights.
Chris Fusaro v Chris Robshaw: Fusaro is a fetcher while Robshaw is more a hybrid back-row. England dealt with Matt Hopper with ease during the autumn Tests and will look to do the same against Fusaro.
Gordon D'Arcy v Jamie Roberts: If Ireland can cancel out the gainline-breaking brilliance of Roberts, it's advantage to the home side.
Sergio Parisse v Louis Picamoles: The best two No.8s in the northern hemisphere face each other on Sunday.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.
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