Sunday's Six Nations meeting between England and Ireland will go a long way in deciding where the trophy will reside for the next year, writes BRENTON CHELIN.
IRELAND vs ENGLAND (Sunday, 5pm, SuperSport 1)
The competition's two remaining unbeaten sides face off at the Aviva Stadium with Grand Slam and Triple Crown ambitions at stake. For the hosts, victory will all but ensure they retain the crown they won so memorably in France last year. In their way – an England side that has already shown themselves capable away from home in this year's competition with victory over Wales.
Ireland have made just one injury-enforced change for this crunch clash, with Jordi Murphy replacing Jamie Heaslip at the base of the scrum.
For England, coach Stuart Lancaster has made just two changes to the side that eased past Italy – both in the backline. The loss of Mike Brown through concussion will be a massive blow to England's attacking ambitions, with Alex Goode coming in at fullback. Meanwhile, Jack Nowell replaces the ineffective Jonny May on the wing.
The English have won the last four meetings between these two, including a 12-6 victory on their last visit to Dublin. Ireland, however, are a very different side to the one that fell to four Owen Farrell penalties in the driving rain that day.
In Johnny Sexton, the Irish have one of the form players in world rugby at present, and if their forward pack manage to match their English counterparts, he has the ability to dominate proceedings with the boot and ensure they move one step closer to defending their title.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Ireland 46, England 74, Draw 8
In Dublin: Ireland 29, England 32, Draw 4
Ireland – 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Jared Payne, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jordi Murphy, 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 Tommy O'Donnell, 21 Eoin Reddan, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Felix Jones.
England – 15 Alex Goode, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 Jack Nowell, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Chris Robshaw (c), 6 James Haskell, 5 George Kruis, 4 David Attwood, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley, 1 Joe Marler.
Subs: 16 Tom Youngs, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Henry Thomas, 19 Nick Easter, 20 Tom Croft, 21 Richard Wigglesworth, 22 Danny Cipriani, 23 Billy Twelvetrees.
SCOTLAND vs ITALY (Saturday, 4:30pm, SuperSport 6)
The meeting between Scotland and Italy in Edinburgh will likely decide who finishes with the wooden spoon in this year's competition. Both teams showed improvements in their second match, with the Italians grabbing three tries in defeat at Twickenham, while the Scots ran the Welsh close at Murrayfield.
Scotland coach Vern Cotter has been forced to reshuffle things with the suspension of flyhalf Finn Russell and an injury to lock Richie Gray. Peter Horne and Tim Swinson come in, as do Tommy Seymour on the wing and Euan Murray at prop.
Italy will be without Martin Castrogiovanni, who is ruled out after he was bitten by a friend's dog. He is replaced in the front row by Dario Chistolini in one of six changes to the side. Injuries to Andrea Masi and Leonardo Sarto has necessitated a reshuffle at the back, with Michele Visentin and Enrico Bacchi set for their international debuts.
Scotland have shown promise during the tournament so far, but will be hoping to turn in a convincing showing against Italy, who have managed just one win on Scottish soil in their history. If they can string together an 80-minute performance, then they should run out comfortable winners.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Scotland 15, Italy 7
In Edinburgh: Scotland 10, Italy 1
Scotland – 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Sean Lamont, 13 Alex Dunbar, 12 Mark Bennett, 11 Tommy Seymour, 10 Peter Horne, 9 Greig Laidlaw (c), 8 Johnnie Beattie, 7 Blair Cowan, 6 Rob Harley, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Tim Swinson, 3 Euan Murray, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Alasdair Dickinson.
Subs: 16 Fraser Brown, 17 Ryan Grant, 18 Geoff Cross, 19 Ben Toolis, 20 Hamish Watson, 21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 22 Greig Tonks, 23 Matt Scott.
Italy – 15 Luke McLean, 14 Michele Visentin, 13 Luca Morisi, 12 Enrico Bacchin, 11 Giovambattista Venditti, 10 Kelly Haimona, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Simone Favaro, 6 Francesco Minto, 5 Joshua Furno, 4 George Fabio Biagi, 3 Dario Chistolini, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Matias Aguero.
Subs: 16 Andrea Manici, 17 Alberto De Marchi, 18 Lorenzo Cittadini, 19 Marco Fuser, 20 Samuela Vunisa, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Tommaso Allan, 23 Giulio Bisegni.
FRANCE vs WALES (Saturday, 7pm, SuperSport 6)
France and Wales have once again flattered to deceive in this year's tournament. High hopes and little in the way of delivery, both sides will view Saturday's match in Paris as a 'must-win'.
After opting for continuity against Ireland, Philippe Saint-André is back to his old tricks, making five changes for this one. Gone are South African-born duo Rory Kockott and Scott Spedding, replaced by Morgan Parra and Brice Dulin respectively. Romain Taofifenua replaces the suspended Pascal Papé, while Rémi Lamerat comes in for Mathieu Bastereaud.
Wales coach Warren Gatland has gone one better, making six changes to his side. Winger George North, lock Luke Charteris, prop Samson Lee and hooker Scott Baldwin all come into the starting XV, while there is no place in the match-day squad for Alex Cuthbert.
France have failed to score a try in any of the last four meetings between these two, resulting in defeat on each occasion. Saint-André will need to find a way to spark his misfiring team, or risk yet another failure here.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: France 44, Wales 47, Draw 3
In Paris: France 25, Wales 18, Draw 1
France – 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Yoann Huget, 13 Rémi Lamerat, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Sofiane Guitoune, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Damien Chouly, 7 Bernard Le Roux, 6 Thierry Dusautoir (c), 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Romain Taofifenua, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Guilhem Guirado, 1 Eddy Ben Arous.
Subs: 16 Benjamin Kayser, 17 Uini Atonio, 18 Vincent Debaty, 19 Jocelino Suta, 20 Loann Goujon, 21 Sebastien Tillous-Borde, 22 Rémi Talès, 23 Mathieu Bastareaud.
Wales – 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 George North, 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 Luke Charteris, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Subs: 16 Richard Hibbard, 17 Paul James, 18 Aaron Jarvis, 19 Bradley Davies, 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Mike Phillips, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 Scott Williams.
Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images