Wales versus Ireland set up for a war of attrition and other key Six Nations highlights

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Wales face a tough task as they welcome reigning Six Nations champions Ireland to Cardiff for a Grand Slam decider.

Only Ireland stand in the way of Wales achieving a remarkable third Six Nations clean sweep during head coach Warren Gatland’s reign.

It is Gatland’s final Six Nations encounter as Dragons boss before stepping down from his post after the World Cup later this year.

Ireland can still win the championship, while England – who host Scotland at Twickenham this weekend – are also in the title mix.

Here, we look at the key talking points ahead of Saturday’s games.

ITALY V FRANCE (Saturday, 16:30)

Talking point: What France will turn up?

The French were absolutely shocking in their 26-14 defeat to Ireland. The scoreline itself may suggest a different story, but Ireland should have put more points on the board and France were lucky to cross for two late tries.

They have no game plan, no structure and look disinterested. Their lack of consistency is shown in the way they failed to turn up for the first half against Wales and then nearly won the game. The following week they were hammered by England and then ground out a dour victory against Scotland in round three.

It’s frustrating to watch a side with so many talented players who choose not to perform in their international shirt. In saying that, they will probably end up winning well against Italy, given the Azzurri’s lack of organisation this tournament.

But something needs to change post this tournament.

Key Battle: Sergio Parisse v Louis Picamoles

Both players were largely unconvincing in the last round and will be determined to finish their respective campaigns on a high with strong performances.

Parisse is the heartbeat of the Azzurri side and has proved to be a menace with and without the ball over the years, with his strong carrying ability sure to put France under pressure.

A lot of weight will be on the 35-year-old to step up, similar to Les Bleus powerhouse Picamoles.

The Montpellier man struggled against Ireland, with just two carries, but will be one of the main men Les Bleus will look to get over the gain line at Stade de Olimpico.

Prediction: France to win by 10

It’s hard to see anything but a French victory in Rome. Italy may put it up to them for different spells of the game, but Les Bleus should record a second win of the campaign.


Talking point: Can Ireland stop Wales?

Joe Schmidt has yet to win in Cardiff, but Ireland have a knack for derailing teams on the cusp of Grand Slam glory.

James Ryan, Garry Ringrose, Cian Healy and Johnny Sexton all looked in stunning form against France and will be central to Ireland’s game plan against the Dragons.

But the home side have plenty of stars of their own and will be determined to achieve a first Grand Slam in seven years.

Form and hunger of late suggests Wales have more in their armoury, but they need to show more attacking-wise rather than grind Ireland down defensively. A tactic they did exceptionally well in the second half against Scotland when the home side enjoyed the bulk of possession.

A belter of a test awaits.

Key Battle: Alun Wyn Jones v James Ryan

This weekend’s most fascinating duel.

Both players are at different ends of their respective careers but are dynamic, industrious, have superb control on the ball, look like real leaders and central to their success at line-out time.

Jones is the clear lieutenant whether it’s for club or country and consistently produces sterling displays. Ryan may be 11 years younger but the Leinster man is regularly the best player on the field and always steps up in the big games.

Whoever gets on top in the line-out will be key to deciding the outcome of this match.

Prediction: Ireland to win by 2

It’s going to be a hugely physical contest. With both teams at close to full strength, it is set up to be the match of the tournament. Wales are brimming with confidence and Ireland are looking back to their best. Gatland and Schmidt will want to bow out of their last Six Nations on a high. A score will be the difference of this thriller.


Talking point: Hard to see a repeat of 2018

Scotland shocked England last year with a thrilling win at Murrayfield, but the Scots have not won at Twickenham since 1983.

And judging by their current form, it looks unlikely they will repeat last year’s heroics, especially with their spate of injuries this campaign.

England, despite their second-half performance against the Dragons, have dazzled with class and look to have far too much creativity, accuracy and determination in defence to see off the hosts.

Key Battle: Finn Russell v Owen Farrell

A lot of reliance will fall on the shoulders of Russell. The Racing man has superb delivery and is clever from the boot, similar to the ilk of Farrell. If the 27-year-old can dominate the game early on then Scotland have a chance.

But without a host of key names, it will be difficult for Scotland to beat their neighbours for a second successive year. Gregor Townsend side’s biggest problem is staying switched on for 80 minutes. They normally dip at some point and that is where the talisman Farrell can capitalise.

The England skipper has constantly exposed the opposition’s positioning with his clever kicks, vision and solid distribution – all of which have been keys to the Red Rose’s success this campaign.

On form, no one can currently rival him.

Prediction: England to win by 18

It’s going to take a couple of big moments for Scotland to turn this around. The first 20 minutes will be crucial to deciding the outcome of the match. But with the sparkling form of Joe Cokanasiga, Manu Tuilagi, Tom Curry, Owen Farrell and Jonny May, the Red Rose have too much in the tank.

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