Triple Crown on the line at Twickenham
March 7, 2014
Lancaster: No easy games
Four teams have a realistic chance of winning the Six Nations with Ireland in the box seat due to a superior points difference. With just two rounds left in the 2014 championship, the intensity cranks up a notch and ESPN brings you a preview of the weekend's action.
England v WalesSunday, 3pm, Twickenham, BBC One
This match will be ruthless. Both teams are chasing a championship and while Wales have moved to play down notions they "hate" the English, the rivalry is likely to boil over at some stage on Sunday. For Stuart Lancaster's side, they have made plenty of noise this week saying they have learnt lessons from their humbling in Cardiff last year but they will need to prove this on the pitch.
Lancaster has gone with consistency in the 2014 championship with the team showing just one change with Ben Morgan in for the injured Billy Vunipola. It is testament to the strength in depth England have that Manu Tuilagi and Marland Yarde have not made the matchday squad. Such has been the turnaround in England personnel, just six remain in the XV from the team that started their 30-3 loss last March.
For Wales, Warren Gatland has done his best to crank up the war of words this week but if ever there is someone to ignore that sort of thing, it is Lancaster. Wales are bolstered by the returning Jonathan Davies in the centres and Alun Wyn Jones in the locks. They are a settled unit and if they find their rhythm, their style of rugby, labelled 'Warrenball', can cut apart any defence. It should be a titanic battle.
Weather: It should be perfect conditions at Twickenham with the temperature pushing 15°C.
Odds: England are priced at 4/7 with Wales at 11/8.
Prediction: England are favourites with the bookies but we are going for a narrow away win.
Ireland v ItalySaturday, 2.30pm, Dublin, BBC One
With Ireland leading the Six Nations table by a superior points difference of 21 over England, Joe Schmidt will hope his team add to that on Saturday. Italy, who are without inspirational skipper and their best player Sergio Parisse, are yet to win a game in this year's competition and look destined for the Wooden Spoon. Despite the early championship promise of their half-backs Edoardo Gori and Tommaso Allan, Jacques Brunel has wielded the axe and named a new-look No.9 and No.10 axis. The old gremlins of Italian instability in that area seem to be creeping back in.
For Ireland, they have a settled look with Jonathan Sexton making a miraculous recovery to start despite his club side Racing Metro previously ruling him out for anything between 10 days and six weeks in the wake of their loss to England. The superb Peter O'Mahony misses out but Iain Henderson will fancy his chances against an under-strength Ireland back-row.
As they look to continue their charge towards what could be their first Six Nations title since 2009, Dublin will rise as one to salute Brian O'Driscoll in what looks likely to be his final appearance on home turf for Ireland. It is fitting that he will break the world appearance record on Saturday when he wins his 140th cap, beating George Gregan's tally by one.
Weather: It will be a comfortable 12°C in Dublin
Odds: Ireland are a huge 1/66 to beat Italy with the visitors priced at 25/1
Prediction: Ireland by 25
Scotland v FranceSaturday, 5pm, Edinburgh, BBC One
Finally, it looks like Scotland have picked their best possible team with Kelly Brown, David Denton and Richie Gray all starting. Scott Johnson's selection policy has come in for plenty of criticism in the earlier rounds but this looks to be a solid Scottish outfit with Brown back skippering the team. The power of the bench has also been increased with the presence of Euan Murray while Matt Scott and Alex Dunbar will hope to continue developing what looks to be a promising centre partnership.
So while Scotland, buoyed by their last-gasp win over Italy in round three, may come into this game with a little bit of swagger - though any care-free strutting is likely to be impossible due to the sorry state of their pitch - France are all over the place. Philippe Saint-Andre has called his team "cry babies" this week and has made seven changes to the team.
There is no place for Hugo Bonneval, an individual who has provided some moments of class, while Louis Picamoles is dropped for sarcastically applauding Alain Rolland when he was sin-binned against Wales. France will hope to bounce back from their round three hammering at the hands of Warren Gatland's men but the new-look side will need to find some cohesion and understanding quickly.
Weather: They will be playing in 10°C in Edinburgh
Odds: Scotland are 13/5 with France at 1/3
Prediction: A fairly bold shout but we are going for a narrow Scotland win
What the coaches have said
"We had too many cry babies [in Cardiff], too many players who spoke and made things difficult for the captain Pascal Pape" - Philippe Saint-Andre on his team's performance against Wales
"All the talk is that the boys have turned into men and they have grown up and learned. Time will tell, won't it? We will see on Sunday" - Warren Gatland cranks up the pressure on England
"I never said Kelly's career was over."- Scott Johnson on recalling Kelly Brown
Three match-ups to watch
Luther Burrell v Jonathan Davies - Davies does not have a huge amount of game time under his belt and Burrell will target him.
David Denton v Damien Chouly - Denton is back in the team and will look to take the frustration of being dropped against Italy out on France's Chouly.
Chris Henry v Paul Derbyshire - This looks one-sided with Ireland's Henry likely to shade this match-up. The breakdown will be key to Saturday's match in Dublin.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.
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