France will be looking to spring a surprise when they visit the Aviva Stadium on Saturday, writes BRENTON CHELIN.
IRELAND vs FRANCE (Saturday, 7pm, SuperSport 6)
The French were perhaps better than the 15-8 scoreline suggests against Scotland. After a difficult first half, they got their maul going and wrestled control from the plucky Scots. These improvements will need to continue if they're to challenge the defending champions on their own turf this weekend.
The Irish will welcome back a number of first-team regulars who missed the victory over Italy. Most notably, Jonny Sexton will start at flyhalf in place of Ian Keatley, although the return of loose forwards Sean O'Brian and Jamie Heaslip in the back row cannot be underestimated.
Philippe Saint-André has bucked the trend of recent times and has named a largely unchanged side for the match in Dublin, with prop Eddy Ben Arous replacing the injured Alexandre Menini in the only change.
Saint-André has never beaten Ireland as a coach, although France are yet to lose at the Aviva Stadium since it's completion in 2010.
A win will go a long way toward silencing the doubters ahead of a World Cup meeting later this year, but with Ireland at almost full strength, Saint-André will need his change of tactics to bring with it a change of fortunes.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Ireland 30, France 55, Draw 7
In Dublin: Ireland 19, France 21, Draw 5
Ireland – 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Jared Payne, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sean O'Brien, 6 Peter O'Mahony, 5 Paul O'Connell (c), 4 Devin Toner, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Jack McGrath.
Subs: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Martin Moore, 19 Iain Henderson, 20 Jordi Murphy, 21 Isaac Boss, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Felix Jones.
France – 15 Scott Spedding, 14 Yoann Huget, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Teddy Thomas, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Rory Kockott, 8 Bernard Le Roux, 7 Damien Chouly, 6 Thierry Dusautoir (c), 5 Pascal Papé, 4 Yoann Maestri, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Guilhem Guirado, 1 Eddy Ben Arous.
Subs: 16 Benjamin Kayser, 17 Uini Atonio, 18 Vincent Debaty, 19 Romain Taofifenua, 20 Loann Goujon, 21 Morgan Parra, 22 Remi Tales, 23 Rémi Lamerat.
ENGLAND vs ITALY (Saturday, 4:30pm, SuperSport 6)
England must now be considered one of the favourites for the title after their impressive performance in Cardiff last week. They showed great depth to get a result against what was a full-strength Welsh side.
Coach Stuart Lancaster has retained faith in the players who got the job done in the opener, naming an unchanged side for the match at Twickenham. Jamie Joseph, the match-winner against Wales, will make his first start at the home of English rugby, along with lock George Kruis.
Italy have made some changes for the trip across the channel, with 35-year-old Mauro Bergamasco returning at flank. Elsewhere in the pack, Joshua Furno will make way for Marco Bortolami in the second row, while Albert De Marchi comes in for Matias Aguero at loosehead prop.
Coach Jacques Brunel has also tweaked his backline, with Andrea Masi shifting to inside centre after Michele Campagnaro was ruled out through injury. Luke McLean will take his place at fullback, while Giovambattista Venditti will slot in on the left wing.
England have never lost to Italy in a Test match, and based on the evidence of both team's performances last week, they aren't about to start now.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: England 20, Italy 0
In London: England 11, Italy 0
England – 15 Mike Brown, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 Jonny May, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Chris Robshaw (c), 6 James Haskell, 5 George Kruis, 4 Dave Attwood, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley, 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 Tom Youngs, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Kieran Brookes, 19 Nick Easter, 20 Tom Croft, 21 Richard Wigglesworth, 22 Danny Cipriani, 23 Billy Twelvetrees.
Italy – 15 Luke McLean, 14 Leonardo Sarto, 13 Luca Morisi, 12 Andrea Masi, 11 Giovambattista Venditti, 10 Kelly Haimona, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Francesco Minto, 6 Mauro Bergamasco, 5 Marco Bortolami, 4 George Fabio Biagi, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Alberto De Marchi.
Subs: 16 Andrea Manici, 17 Matias Aguero, 18 Dario Chistolini, 19 Joshua Furno, 20 Samuela Vunisa, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Tommaso Allan, 23 Giulio Bisegni
SCOTLAND vs WALES (Sunday, 5pm, SuperSport 1)
Wales were thorougly disappointing in their defeat to England, as they failed to match the physicality of their opponents, despite a bright start. In contrast, Scotland can take heart from their defeat in Paris, where they competed with the French for long periods to earn a bonus point for finishing within seven points.
Coach Vern Cotter has stuck largely to the side that impressed in defeat, with just two enforced changes to speak of. They will be boosted by the experience of Sean Lamont on the wing, while Geoff Cross will start in place of Euan Murray, who misses the match for religious reasons.
Wales have made just one change for the must-win match, with Liam Williams replacing George North on the left wing. North will miss the match as a precaution after suffering two blows to the head during the defeat to England.
The Welsh have a good recent record at Murrayfield – they have been successful on their last three visits. They will be hurting after their humbling at the hands of the English, and will need a swift response if they're to retain any hopes of claiming the championship.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Scotland 48, Wales 68, Draw 3
In Edinburgh: Scotland 32, Wales 24, Draw 3
Scotland – 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Sean Lamont, 13 Mark Bennett, 12 Alex Dunbar, 11 Tim Visser, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Greig Laidlaw (c), 8 Johnnie Beattie, 7 Blair Cowan, 6 Rob Harley, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Geoff Cross, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Alasdair Dickinson.
Subs: 16 Fraser Brown, 17 Gordon Reid, 18 Jon Welsh, 19 Jim Hamilton, 20 Alasdair Strokosch, 21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 22 Greig Tonks, 23 Matt Scott.
Wales – 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Liam Williams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Toby Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (c), 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Jake Ball, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Subs: 16 Scott Baldwin, 17 Paul James, 18 Aaron Jarvis, 19 Luke Charteris, 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Mike Phillips, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 Scott Williams.
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