Italy v Ireland (Sat @ 2:30 GMT)
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: Romain Poite (France), Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Television match official: Jim Yuille (Scotland)
Ireland: R Kearney, C Gilroy, B O'Driscoll, L Marshall, K Earls, P Jackson, C Murray; C Healy, R Best, M Ross, M McCarthy, D Ryan, P O'Mahony, S O'Brien, J Heaslip.
Replacements: S Cronin, D Kilcoyne, S Archer, D Toner, I Henderson, P Marshall, I Madigan, L Fitzgerald.
Italy: Andrea Masi; Giovanbattista Venditti: Gonzalo Canale: Gonzalo Garcia; Luke McLean; Luciano Orquera; Edoardo Gori; Andrea Lo Cicero; Leonardo Ghiraldini; Lorenzo Cittadini; Quintin Geldenhuys; Joshua Furno; Alessandro Zanni; Simone Favaro; Sergio Parisse (capt).
Replacements: Davide Giazzo; Michele Rizzo; Alberto de Marchi; Antonio Pavanello; Franceso Minto; Paul Derbyshire; Tobias Botes; Tommaso Benvenuti.
The eyes of the world were firmly fixed on Rome this week. A group of old men meeting in a solemn conclave to choose who will be the next top man is to many, an archaic and outdated practice but who are we to question the ways of the IRFU committee and how they go about deciding Declan Kidney’s future? Regardless of the result on Saturday the general consensus seems to be that we won’t be waiting too long for the white smoke to emerge in the appointment of the Corkman’s successor.
The only previous time that Italy have won two games during a Six Nations campaign was in 2007. The physical style they employ usually means they are a spent force come the final weekend. They have averaged more carries per game (127) than any other side in the tournament and have enjoyed more possession (on average) than any other team in the tournament, (19:33 minutes). They have won in Round 5 just twice before: both against Scotland in 2008 and 2012. Ireland are winless in their last three Six Nations encounters, their worst run in Six Nations history and have won only one of their last ten away Test matches over the past two years Italy have never beaten Ireland in 13 Six Nations attempts but will surely not have a better opportunity than Saturday. Ireland showed a lot of resilience last weekend but failed to score in the second half for the second game running. A repeat of this trend would almost certainly result in defeat. If Ireland can stay relatively injury-free and shut down Parisse they should just about sneak home.
History; 2001 (22-41), 2003 (13-37), 2005 (17-28), 2007 (24-51), 2009 (09-38), 2011 (11-13)
Bookies – Ireland by 7.
2Stat – Ireland by 3.
Wales v England (Sat @5)
Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)
Assistant referees: Craig Joubert (South Africa), John Lacey (Ireland)
Television match official: Marshall Kilgore (Ireland)
Wales: L Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues); A Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues), J Davies (Scarlets), J Roberts (Cardiff Blues), G North (Scarlets); D Biggar (Ospreys), M Phillips (Bayonne); G Jenkins (Toulon, capt), R Hibbard (Ospreys), A Jones (Ospreys), A-W Jones (Ospreys), I Evans (Ospreys), S Warburton (Cardiff Blues), J Tipuric (Ospreys), T Faletau (Newport Gwent Dragons).
Replacements: K Owens (Scarlets), P James (Bath), S Andrews (Cardiff Blues), A Coombs (Newport Gwent Dragons), A Shingler (Scarlets), L Williams (Cardiff Blues), J Hook (Perpignan), S Williams (Scarlets).
England: A Goode (Saracens); C Ashton (Saracens), M Tuilagi (Leicester), B Barritt (Saracens), M Brown (Harlequins); O Farrell (Saracens), B Youngs (Leicester); J Marler (Harlequins), T Youngs (Leicester), D Cole (Leicester), J Launchbury (Wasps), G Parling (Leicester), T Croft (Leicester), C Robshaw (Harlequins, capt), T Wood (Northampton).
Replacements: D Hartley (Northampton), D Wilson (Bath), M Vunipola (Saracens), C Lawes (Northampton), J Haskell (Wasps), D Care (Harlequins), T Flood (Leicester), B Twelvetrees (Gloucester).
An England victory by any margin would secure a first GRAND SLAM triumph in a decade.
An England defeat by six points or fewer would be enough for ENGLAND TO WIN THE TITLE.
If England lose by seven points but outscore Wales by three tries or more, ENGLAND WIN THE TITLE.
A Wales victory by seven points or more, providing they stay ahead of England on tournament tries (7 to 5 so far), would see WALES RETAIN THE TITLE.
If Wales win by seven points but England score two more tries then the title would be shared.
Wales retain the same starting backline for the fifth game in a row while England make four changes to the side that started last week’s tighter than expected victory over Italy. Amazingly England have failed to capture a Grand Slam since the World Cup winning year of 2003 (their only Grand Slam in the professional era) with the far less consistent Welsh managing a perfect season on three occasions (2005, 2008 and 2012). In the professional era England have gone into a Grand Slam decider on the final day four times (v Wales in 1999, v Scotland in 2000, v Ireland in 2003 and v Ireland in 2011) with the 2003 clash in Lansdowne Road being their only success. You suspect that the Welsh, at the back of their minds, will go into the game chasing that seven point win which could affect their concentration, whereas England have the goal of simply winning. This mindset of chasing winning margins can have a serious impact on a team’s focus as displayed by England against Italy.
Stuart Lancaster apparently had his side studying footage of Barcelona’s 4-0 defeat of AC Milan during the week. (Being typically English, this was done for the purposes of studying the Catalan giant’s defensive patterns!) They are going to need to conjure up some Lionel Messi-style inspiration from somewhere as they have failed to score tries against both Ireland and Italy. Unbelievably the last man to score a try against Wales was Brian O’Driscoll for Ireland early in the second half of the opening weekend and the Welsh are just 42 minutes away from a championship record for not conceding a try. This will be extremely tight and the nerveless goal kicking of Owen Farrell could be a major factor.
History: 2001 (15-44), 2003 (09-26), 2005 (11-09), 2007 (27-18), 2009 (23-15), 2011 (19-26)
Bookies: England by 2
2Stat: England by 3.
France v Scotland (Sat @8 GMT)
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: George Clancy (Ireland), Lourens van der Merwe (South Africa)
Television match official: Carlo Damasco (Italy)
France: 15-Yoann Huget; 14-Vincent Clerc, 13-Mathieu Bastareaud, 12-Wesley Fofana, 11-Maxime Medard; 10-Frederic Michalak, 9-Morgan Parra; 1-Thomas Domingo, 2-Benjamin Kayser, 3-Nicolas Mas, 4-Sebastien Vahaamahina, 5-Yoann Maestri, 6-Antonie Claassen, 7-Thierry Dusautoir (captain), 8-Louis Picamoles
Replacements: 16-Guilhem Guirado, 17-Vincent Debaty, 18-Luc Ducalcon, 19-Christophe Samson, 20-Yannick Nyanga, 21-Maxime Machenaud, 22-Francois Trinh-Duc, 23-Florian Fritz or Gael Fickou
Scotland: 15-Stuart Hogg; 14-Sean Maitland, 13-Sean Lamont, 12-Matt Scott, 11-Tim Visser; 10-Duncan Weir, 9-Greig Laidlaw; 1-Ryan Grant, 2-Ross Ford, 3-Euan Murray, 4-Grant Gilchrist, 5-Jim Hamilton, 6-Alasdair Strokosch, 7-Kelly Brown (captain), 8-Johnnie Beattie
Replacements: 16-Dougie Hall, 17-Moray Low, 18-Geoff Cross, 19-Alastair Kellock, 20-Ryan Wilson, 21-Henry Pyrgos, 22-Ruaridh Jackson, 23-Max Evans
Scotland Coach Scott Johnson, an immensely positive if slightly deluded character, stated during the week that his side have “the ability to put teams to bed”. He might be stretching things a bit but certainly those in attendance at Murrayfield last week were struggling to stay awake in what amounted to a goal kicking/scrum re-setting snooze fest. Having opened their campaign with six tries in two games, Scotland have failed to score in their last two. They have also only won four of their 34 Six Nations games away from home and have never won in France in the Six Nations.
France on the other hand have retained last week’s saboteur Freddie Michalak. Philippe Saint-André laughed off criticism of his selection policy by Clive Woodward saying that the former World Cup winning coach “probably does not know that 80 percent of the fly-halves in the Top 14 are foreigners”. It is highly probable that Woodward, along with Francois Trinh-Duc (a member of the 20% Club unlike Toulon scrum half Michalak) is well aware of this fact. Les Bleus have an impressive record against the Scots in the Six Nations and have won the last six, as well as 13 of the last 14 meetings with last year's 23-17 win being France's tightest winning margin. France are without a win in their last seven Six Nations games and the last time they failed to win a game in the tournament was in 1969. France should win but the expected bad weather in Paris combined with the side’s general lack of confidence will probably dictate it will not be by a massive margin.
Bookies: France by 12
2Stat: France by 11.
History: 2001 (16-06), 2003 (38-03), 2005 (16-09), 2007 (46-19), 2009 (22-13), 2011 (34-21)