Prediction – Wales by a score
Wales face England on Saturday in what many see as the Six Nations title eliminator. Elsewhere, France are home to Scotland and Ireland take on Italy.
Here, we take a look at the key highlights ahead of each game.
FRANCE V SCOTLAND
Talking point – Tale of two tactics?
Jacuqes Brunel’s side have kept it tight in the first two matches while Scotland like to spread it wide at every opportunity.
However, without star man Finn Russell, the Scots could struggle against an imposing French side who have looked rudderless in the opening two rounds.
Brunel though has opted for Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack at nine and ten as he aims to breed confidence and sharpness in their attacking play.
Both youngsters are stars of the future and this fixture presents them with an opportunity to showcase their vast talents.
Decision making and execution of skills will be key to which side prevails in Paris.
Key battle – Antoine Dupont v Greig Laidlaw
The young colt against the experienced mare. The 22-year-old Dupont is a classy operator and beat the most defenders (9), made the most clean breaks (5) and threw the most offloads (4) in his 34 minute cameo against England two weeks ago.
He has the passing game, running and kicking game to shine on home turf, and based on recent displays, looks to be the man Les Bleus will build a game around for future campaigns.
Although his opposite number possesses similar attributes, minus the attacking game, Laidlaw does have the experience and game management to make the right decisions without committing too many errors. The Clermont man will push his team on and try to put them into formidable attacking positions.
An interesting match up.
Prediction – France by 5 points
The loss of Russell will prevent a serious amount of attacking creativity and with France hurting after two miserable defeats, this could be the game where they finally grind out a scrappy win.
WALES V ENGLAND
Talking point – Grand Slam decider?
There may be still three games to go but this has been billed as the Grand Slam deciding encounter since England’s comprehensive win over Ireland in round one.
Both sides have recorded two wins from two but come into this tie on the back of contrasting form. Wales may have equalled their national record of 11 wins, dating back to 1910, but have looked far from fluid against France and Italy.
And after a disastrous 2018 campaign, in which they lost six games, England are looking like world beaters again after commanding displays against Ireland and France.
The Red Rose may come into this fixture as firm favourites, but we are yet to see the best of Wales, and Saturday could be the perfect time for them to unleash their fire power.
Key battle – Gareth Anscombe v Owen Farrell
Selecting Gareth Anscombe at 10 could deliver a greater variety in attack and put the foundations in place for a clear and expansive game plan against an England side who have thrived with their ability to pin opponents back with a clever kicking game.
Both Anscombe – if picked ahead of Dan Biggar – and Owen Farrell will be key to putting accurately weighted kicks in behind for their back-three to chase.
Jonny May, Jack Nowell and Elliot Daly up against George North, Liam Williams and Josh Adams will be worth the admission price alone.
Whoever wins this battle will be a key factor to deciding this contest.
Prediction – Wales by a score
Warren Gatland may have come under criticism for the raft of changes he made against Italy in round two, but expect Wales to peak for this match in Cardiff.
England always brings the fire out of the Dragons.
ITALY V IRELAND
Talking point – What side will Schmidt go for?
In past years, Ireland have opted for a largely changed team against the Italians, but with another break in the fixture list next week, Schmidt needs to play his key men to avoid rustiness against France in round four.
If, for example, Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray, Peter O’Mahony and Tadhg Furlong do not feature, that would mean nearly a month without a competitive game.
The Kiwi needs to select close to his best XV to keep the momentum rolling in a bid to finish the campaign on a positive note.
Key battle – Braam Steyn v Sean O’Brien
The Azzurri back-rower looked a class apart from his other team-mates in the narrow defeat to Wales, making 29 tackles and carrying strongly throughout.
In O’Brien, Ireland have one of their star men back to their best and he will be key to getting them over the gain line in Dublin.
Against Scotland, the 32-year-old looked superb, bringing some fearless ball-carrying, clever ruck play and superb tackling ability to the contest.
Both players are key to their respective sides, but the battle will be won and lost on the gain line.
Prediction – Ireland by 20 points
It’s hard not to back an Ireland bonus point victory. The Azzurri may nick a try or two but will ultimately struggle to stop the class of Jacob Stockdale, Jordan Larmour and Sexton.
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