Ireland vs Italy- ITV, 13:30 (UK time) Saturday 12th, Aviva Stadium, Ireland
So to start the weekend off the win-less Azzurri take on the win-less Irish. The wooden spoon decider..? I would expect not, as most people are fairly certain the men in green will come out on top this weekend. Unfortunately it seems like it will be another year at the bottom for Italy.
For Ireland, this game is an opportunity for the young guns to put their hands up for shirts and to experience a home game at the Aviva stadium. Having impressed against England, I expect to see Josh Van der Flier and Stuart McCloskey in the side again and Ultan Dillane should at least retain his bench spot, if not get promoted to the starting XV. There are also potential opportunities for other fringe players, but I expect the side to be mixed with experience to ensure the win.
Italy went well against France and the first half against England. They also put huge pressure on Scotland, but despite their efforts they ended the game 16 points behind. For them, coming up against a potentially inexperienced Ireland side who are yet to win sounds promising on paper, but following three demoralising defeats, I don’t see them recovering.
Assuming both are selected, it has to be Henshaw against Campagnaro. Campagnaro has been a stand out for the Italians amongst some nasty results and is consistently one of their best players. Henshaw, although he doesn’t quite emulate Brian O’Driscoll, has been a main stay in the Irish centre’s ever since BOD’s departure, bringing a lot more physicality to the centre than Ireland have had previously and he too has been a solid performer for his country.
PREDICTION: Ireland by 7+ points.
England vs Wales- ITV, 16:00 (UK Time) Saturday 12th, Twickenham Stadium, England
The next game is arguably the Championship decider. England are undefeated and Wales have two wins and a draw to their name. Wales have to win to keep their fate in their own hands and their title hopes alive. An English win would keep that seemingly impossible first Grand Slam since 2003 on the cards, with France then being the only side left in their way thereafter.
So far both sides have been strong defensively. England have conceded only one try to the Irish, holding out the Italians and the Scots entirely. Wales have conceded just four tries to Ireland, Scotland and France. In attack, many have criticised Wales of looking one dimensional, playing their only game plan of Gatland ball. However you feel about this though, all of Wales tries have been well executed and they certainly haven’t wasted that many opportunities. On the other hand, England have looked exciting when they’re on the ball, but have struggled at times to do much with it. Indeed, Ireland were lucky to go into half time at Twickenham with a score line of 6-3 to England. If England can find that cutting edge for eighty minutes, they can cause Wales some real problems. After Wales beat England at Twickenham in the Rugby World Cup last time around, England won’t be short of motivation as they aim for revenge. Wales will also leave everything on the field in order to stay in the title race and to keep the bragging rights they gained in last time around.
This is a battle of the back-rows. There are so many match ups across these sides, it was hard to choose. However, under Eddie Jones, Billy Vunipola has really impressed, especially against Ireland. Opposing him is arguably one of the most consistent number eights in Europe at the moment, cousin Taulupe Faletau. He has been in good form for Wales too and I look forward to them going head to head.
PREDICTION: A tough one. England by a margin of around 3 points.
Scotland vs France- BBC One, 15:00 (UK Time) Sunday 13th, BT Murrayfield, Scotland
Round four and France have delivered two wins against Ireland and Italy and a defeat to the Welsh. Many would argue the French have played get out of jail free cards on both occasions. None the less, this keeps them in the running for the title and with Philippe Sant-Andre gone and replaced by Guy Noves, the French will be hoping to stay in the title race by beating the Scots at Murrayfield, a place where Les blues have not lost since 2006.
Scotland however, will be desperate to back up their impressive win over Italy. They improved from the previous two weeks to hold out the Italians whilst under an immense amount of pressure. For them it’s key to forget the history and just go for it. In their last three games, results have been tight. Pre-Rugby World Cup in Paris, Laidlaw had a kick which almost certainly would’ve drawn the game with France. Scotland opted for a tap and go which unfortunately ended in a knock on from new cap Hugh Blake, but the Scots have been closing in on an elusive French win with a string of close results. As was highlighted to me on Reddit though, France have heritage and have the most Championship wins of any side, (5 wins, the most recent in 2010) so will nonetheless be a stern test for Stern Vern’s men.
Maxime Medard and Stuart Hogg have both been highlights in their sides this Championship, bringing that level of class and skill to their sides to make for some exciting periods of play. Both have been key in getting the team on the front foot and I expect both to be crucial to their sides again this weekend.
PREDICTION: Another tough one, but I’m going to predict Scotland a 3-5 point win. Based on current form alone, I think Scotland just edge this one.
So there you have it. My look ahead to the weekend with some questionable predictions! Also, don’t forget to join me on Tuesday 15th at 20:00 UK time, as I guest host a popup version of Driving Maul’s #RugbyChat
Ps. If anyone wins money off the back of this article, let me know I did a good job!
The Scribbler, March 9th, 2016