Tuesday 24 October 2017 / 11:18 AM

Six Nations Preview: Week 2

The Six Nations is back this weekend, and if last week is anything to go by, we’re in for three more absorbing contests on Saturday and Sunday.

On the opening weekend we saw Wales stutter to a win over Italy to open proceedings, before England very nearly beat France in their own back yard losing out to a try two minutes before the final whistle while Ireland looked the most impressive of all with a comfortable victory over Scotland.

Let’s take a look at the games we’ve got in store this weekend:

Ireland v Wales

 

Wales again open the weekend of rugby action as they travel to Dublin to face an impressive-looking Irish side. If previous encounters between these two sides are anything to go by, this has all the makings of one of the games of this year’s tournament.

It’s fair to say that there hasn’t been a lot of love lost between Ireland and Wales in recent years, and the rivalry between these two sides is a fascinating subplot. Tensions have been bubbling over between the two Celtic nations ever since Warren Gatland revealed in 2009 that the Irish players were the set of players most disliked by the Welsh team.

This contention between the two sides continued in 2011 when Welsh hooker Matthew Rees and scrumhalf Mike Phillips conspired to score an illegal try that tipped the scales in their favour and won them the bragging rights against their Irish foes.

The bad blood between these sides reached a tipping point last summer when Welsh coach Warren Gatland (on duty for the Lions at the time) made the decision to drop Irish star player Brian O’Driscoll for the final and decisive Lions test. To say that the Irish reaction was overwhelmingly negative would be a huge understatement.

When one considers the subplot of this fixture, there is an awful lot at stake. Irish fans are desperate for O’Driscoll to right the wrongs of last summer by having a decisive role in an Irish win, and there’s no doubt that there will be a desire for retribution among the players too. The long and short of it is that the atmosphere at the Aviva is going to be electric, and sparks are highly likely to fly in the first game of the weekend.

Key Irish player: As much as Irish fans are still fiercely loyal to O’Driscoll, the centre is no longer the crucial cog that he once was. For me, the fullback Rob Kearney is the most dangerous Irish player, and Wales will be desperate to keep the ball away from him.

Key Welsh player: Captain Sam Warburton is back in the starting lineup, and given that this is likely to be an intensely physical and attritional battle, Warburton’s work at the breakdown is going to be crucial. When Warburton plays well, Wales usually win, and Gatland will hope his skipper is back to his best on Saturday.

Scotland v England

Stuart Lancaster’s England side head up to Murrayfield knowing that they were so close to an extremely valuable away win in Paris last week.

Nevertheless, England will fancy themselves against the Scots, particularly after having watched their dismal defeat to Ireland last weekend. England showed in their fightback that they have got the tools required to compete with most sides, and Lancaster will no doubt be hoping that his young side can start a little better this time around.

Although England are strong favourites for this Calcutta Cup clash, Lancaster will know only too well that when Scotland and England meet, form can often go out of the window. The Scots are more than capable of raising their game when they meet the old enemy, and although it’s been six years since they last beat their foe, they will believe that home advantage gives them a chance of claiming their first scalp of this year’s tournament.

Lancaster has chosen to go with the same team that came so agonisingly close to toppling France, and he will be hoping that he will be rewarded for his show of faith in his young charges. Conversely, Scotland have made three changes, with the dropping of captain Kelly Brown for the more dynamic openside Chris Fusaro the biggest call of them all. Fusaro is more in the poacher mould than Brown, and coach Scott Johnson will no doubt be hoping that Fusaro’s dynamism will give his side the edge at the breakdown.

Despite their changes, a victory still looks rather beyond this uninspiring Scottish side. With a wealth of talent in their back three, one would think that they’d have a decent chance of causing England some problems, but in recent years, Scotland have had severe trouble getting the ball to their danger men. Their lack of tries is a problem that Scott Johnson has failed to fix and Scottish fans will be hoping that Vern Cotter – their next coach who begins his tenure in June – will be able to remedy this.

Until then, Scotland are likely to continue to struggle, and despite their home advantage, it’s pretty difficult to look past England for this one.

Key Scottish player: When he gets the ball, Stuart Hogg is electric, but the issue for Scotland has been their inability to get him the ball. With this in mind, if Fusaro is able to show some guile and nous at the breakdown and steal some turnover ball for the Scots, he could be the answer to their struggling attack.

Key English player: Murrayfield is always a tough place to go, and often games up there are decided with kicks. With that in mind, the performance of Owen Farrell is crucial. He wasn’t at his best last week and will need to improve this time around.

France v Italy

 

A year ago, the reverse of this fixture ended in glory for the Italians and disaster for the French, as the Azzurri claimed their second Six Nations win against Les Bleus. Looking at recent form, it seems unlikely that this weekend’s clash will end in similar fashion.

The French rugby team is a bizarre animal. At times they are capable of looking so woefully inept that it seems as if any team in world rugby could comfortably defeat them. At other times – as in their glorious opening to the victory against England – it looks as if they are so imperious that even the All Blacks would struggle to overcome their threat. The beauty of watching the French is that you have no idea which side will turn up, making each fixture that they play a beautifully unpredictable affair.

Nevertheless, following their solid start against England, it seems highly improbable that France will lose at home to Italy, and although Jacques Brunel’s side will make life very difficult for the home team, a France victory looks decidedly on the cards.

Key French player: Louis Picamoles is a man mountain and the way that he can generate momentum is vital to the French gameplan. If Picamoles is on song, the Italians will have a very difficult job to stop the French on Sunday.

Key Italian player: Italian captain Sergio Parisse is always going to be the man named here. Italy’s one truly world class player, the Azzurri’s best chance of defeating the French will be the footballing number-eight.

 

 



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Seb Greenwood

CBS’s longest-serving contributor, Englishman Seb is our leading football correspondent, pulling no punches with his opinions on the Premier League and the international scene.

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