ANDRE-PIERRE CRONJE previews all of the action ahead of the second round of the Six Nations tournament, picking out the key players to watch.
England vs Italy
England will be desperate to bounce back from the shock defeat by Scotland last week. Eddie Jones has opted to revert to his favoured 10-12 combination of George Ford and Owen Farrell in the hope that Ford’s return to the starting lineup will give England’s attack more direction.
In the pack, England welcome back Joe Marler and Kyle Sinkler in the front row where they are sure to add some serious grunt. Their inclusion suggests England will be looking to target a relatively inexperienced Italian pack at the set piece.
England have opted for a six-two bench split which indicates that they think the game is likely to be won up front. Courtney Lawes’ selection at blindside flank is further proof of England’s intention to physically overpower Italy.
Italy, for their part, have opted for continuity, making only two changes to the side that lost out to France last week. In the backline, Carlo Canna returns in the No 12 jersey where Italy will be relying on his playmaking abilities.
Italy come into the game as complete underdogs. If they are to have even a chance of causing an upset then the onus will be on their pack to match England up front and provide a platform for flyhalf Garbisi to release a dangerous backline.
Player to watch: Jack Willis
England – 15 Elliot Daly, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Owen Farrell (c), 11 Jonny May, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Tom Curry, 6 Courtney Lawes, 5 Jonny Hill, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Kyle Sinkler, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Subs: 16 Jamie George, 17 Ellis Genge, 18 Will Stuart, 19 Courtney Lawes, 20 Ben Earl, 21 Dan Robson, 22 George Ford, 23 Max Malins.
Italy – 15 Jacapo Trulla, 14 Luca Sperandio, 13 Ignacio Brex, 12 Carlo Canna, 11 Monty Ioane, 10 Paolo Garbisi, 9 Stephen Varney, 8 Michele Lamaro, 7 Johan Meyer, 6 Sebastian Negri, 5 David Sisi, 4 Marco Lazzaroni, 3 Marco Riccioni, 2 Luca Bigi (c), 1 Andrea Lovotti
Subs: 16 Gianmarco Luccesi, 17 Danilo Fischetti, 18 Giosue Zilocchi, 19 Niccolo Cannone, 20 Frederico Ruzza, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Tommaso Allan, 23 Frederico Mori.
Scotland vs Wales
Scotland have made the perfect start to their campaign after picking up an away win at Twickenham. They will look to carry that momentum into their second-round match at home against Wales.
Injuries mean that Scotland will be without talismanic flank Jaime Ritchie as well as wing Sean Maitland and centre Cameron Redpath. Redpath had a particularly blistering debut last weekend and will be replaced by James Lang, who will have big shoes to fill.
Wales managed to grind out a difficult victory against a spirited Irish side but will need to be better than that if they are to claim their second victory of the competition. They, too, have suffered a host of injuries and are, most significantly, without flank Josh Navidi.
A particularly interesting battle may ensue between Wales speedster Louis Rees-Zammit and opposite number Duhan van der Merwe. Though very different in size and playing style, both wings have the potential to deliver moments of brilliance; how they look to best each other this weekend is sure to make for fine viewing.
Though probably the favourites, if Scotland are to be successful they will need to be able to handle not just a fiery Wales side but also the unaccustomed expectation for them to win.
Player to watch: Duhan van der Merwe
Scotland – 15 Stuart Hogg (c), 14 Darcy Graham, 13 Chris Harris, 12 James Lang, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Ali Price, 8 Matt Fagerson, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Blade Thomson, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Scott Cummings, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 George Turner, 1 Rory Sutherland.
Subs: 16 David Cherry, 17 Oli Kebble, 18 WP Nel, 19 Richie Gray, 20 Gary Graham, 21 Scott Steele, 22 Jaco van der Walt, 23 Huw Jones.
Wales – 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Louis Rees-Zammit, 13 Owen Watkin, 12 Nick Tompkins, 11 Liam Williams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Aaron Wainwright, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (c), 4 Adam Beard, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Wyn Jones.
Subs: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Rhodri Jones, 18 Leon Brown, 19 Will Rowlands, 20 James Botham, 21 Kieran Hardy, 22 Callum Sheedy, 23 Willis Halaholo.
France vs Ireland
France come into the contest against Ireland after decimating Italy in the first round. Their confidence will be high but they will know they face a sterner test from the men in green.
Antoine Dupont, who masterfully orchestrated France’s opening-round victory, will likely be influential again as he is paired with Mathieu Jalibert. On the wing, Damien Penaud returns after an injury lay-off and will hope to quickly find the form that made him the pre-eminent wing in the world last season.
It’s all Saffas in the second row for France with Paul Willemse and Bernard Le Roux retaining their starting berths. They’ll doubtless provide some power in the engine room as France look to counteract a strong Irish scrum.
Ireland come into the game having suffered a narrow defeat by Wales in the first round. They performed valiantly despite having had Peter O’Mahony sent off within the first quarter and were unlucky not to come away with a victory.
This weekend, Ireland will be without a raft of first-choice players, most notably the half-back pairing of Johnny Sexton and Connor Murray. Jamieson Gibson-Park and Billy Burns take the nine and 10 jerseys, respectively.
Burns will be looking to make amends after he put a penalty kick dead-in-goal and deprived Ireland an opportunity to steal a win over Wales.
Player to watch: Damien Penaud
France – 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Damian Penaud, 13 Arthur Vincent, 12 Gael Fickou, 11 Gabin Villiere, 10 Matthieu Jalibert, 9 Antoine Dupont, 8 Gregory Alldritt, 7 Charles Ollivon (c), 6 Anthony Jelonch, 5 Paul Willemse, 4 Bernard le Roux, 3 Mohamed Haouas, 2 Julien Marchand, 1 Cyril Baille.
Subs: 16 Pierre Bourgarit, 17 Hassane Kolingar, 18 Uini Atonio, 19 Romain Taofifenua, 20 Dylan Cretin, 21 Baptiste Serin, 22 Anthony Bouthier, 23 Teddy Thomas.
Ireland – 15 Hugo Keenan, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 James Lowe, 10 Billy Burns, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 CJ Stander, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Rhys Ruddock, 5 Iain Henderson (c), 4 Tadhg Beirne, 3 Andrew Porter, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Cian Healy.
Subs: 16 Ronan Kelleher, 17 Ed Byrne, 18 Tadhg Furlong, 19 Ultan Dillane, 20 Will Connors, 21 Craig Casey, 22 Ross Byrne, 23 Jordan Larmour.