Wales can take another step towards a Grand Slam by beating Scotland at Murrayfield on Saturday, writes MARIETTE ADAMS.
SCOTLAND vs WALES (Saturday, 4:15pm)
Only Scotland and defending champions Ireland stand between Wales and an unexpected Six Nations Grand Slam.
In this penultimate round, Warren Gatland’s men head to Murrayfield to face a Scottish side desperate to bounce back from a shock 27-10 defeat to France a fortnight ago that left them languishing in fifth place on the table.
While a win for the Scots would blow the title race wide open, history and form suggest Wales are favourites. They have won 11 of their last 12 games against Scotland and their last 12 Tests in a row.
Both sides have scored seven tries in this year’s tournament, but Wales have conceded five and Scotland 10. The Scots will also need to improve their discipline – they’ve conceded 30 penalties, more than any other side in the competition.
Gatland has made only one change to his side, with lock Adam Beard replacing the injured Cory Hill.
Gatland’s persistence with Gareth Anscombe at flyhalf at the expense of the in-form Dan Biggar has been a big talking point. Anscombe started their two previous games, but Biggar has made a bigger impact when coming on.
Scotland – 15 Blair Kinghorn, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Nick Grigg, 12 Pete Horne, 11 Darcy Graham, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Ali Price, 8 Josh Strauss, 7 Jamie Ritchie, 6 Magnus Bradbury, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Grant Gilchrist, 3 WP Nel, 2 Stuart McInally (c), 1 Allan Dell.
Subs: 16 Fraser Brown, 17 Gordon Reid, 18 Simon Berghan, 19 Ben Toolis, 20 Hamish Watson, 21 Greig Laidlaw, 22 Adam Hastings, 23 Byron McGuigan.
Wales – 15 Liam Williams, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Ross Moriarty, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Josh Navidi, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (c), 4 Adam Beard, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Rob Evans.
Subs: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Nicky Smith, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Jake Ball, 20 Aaron Wainwright, 21 Aled Davies, 22 Dan Biggar, 23 Owen Watkin.
ENGLAND vs ITALY (Saturday, 6:45pm)
England are set to get their title challenge back on track against Italy, following their defeat to Wales in Cardiff two weeks ago.
The English have scored the most tries in this year’s Six Nations (11), yet Italy coach Conor O’Shea has opted to drop his best defensive player, Leonardo Ghiraldini. The hooker has made 57 tackles, the third-most in the tournament, behind England’s Mark Wilson (67) and Tom Curry (61).
However, Italy do welcome back Sergio Parisse from injury and the captain will be keen to make a massive contribution to their cause.
Expect the visitors to make the odd charge at the tryline, but for the hosts to claim a runaway win.
England – 15 Elliot Daly, 14 Joe Cokanasiga, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 Ben Te’o, 11 Johnny May, 10 Owen Farrell (c), 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Tom Curry, 6 Brad Shields, 5 George Kruis, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Jamie George, 1 Ellis Genge.
Subs: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Dan Cole, 19 Nathan Hughes, 20 Mark Wilson, 21 Dan Robson, 22 George Ford, 23 Henry Slade.
Italy – 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Edoardo Padovani, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Luca Morisi, 11 Angelo Esposito, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Tito Tebaldi, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Braam Steyn, 6 Sebastian Negri, 5 Dean Budd, 4 Federico Ruzza, 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Luca Bigi, 1 Andrea Lovotti.
Subs: 16 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 17 Cherif Traore, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 David Sisi, 20 Jake Polledri, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Ian McKinley, 23 Tommaso Castello.
IRELAND vs FRANCE (Sunday, 5pm)
Ireland needed a last-gasp drop goal from Johnny Sexton to beat France 15-13 in Paris last year. If these sides conjure anything close to that thriller, we’re in for another fascinating contest.
France suffered a 24-19 defeat against Wales in their opening match of this year’s tournament, before plumbing new depths in a 44-8 drubbing against England. They then registered a deserved win against Scotland to regain some pride.
However, France’s failure to safely negate high balls and kicks in behind their back three remains a concern. Wings Damian Penaud and Yoann Huget, whose defensive frailties were heavily exposed by Wales and England and Wales, will start against the Irish, and they will need to up their game if they are to keep the likes of Jacob Stockdale at bay. The wing has made 365 running metres in three games, while Ireland boast the highest possession percentage (57) in this year’s tournament.
Depending on other results, a defeat could end Ireland’s title aspirations, while a win could set them up for a title-deciding encounter with Wales at the Millennium Stadium in the final round next week.
Ireland – 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 CJ Stander, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 James Ryan, 4 Iain Henderson, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Rory Best (c), 1 Cian Healy.
Subs: 16 Niall Scannell, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 John Ryan, 19 Ultan Dillane, 20 Jack Conan, 21 John Cooney, 22 Jack Carty, 23 Jordan Larmour.
France – 15 Thomas Ramos, 14 Damian Penaud, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Gaël Fickou, 11 Yoann Huget, 10 Romain Ntamack, 9 Antoine Dupont, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Arthur Iturria, 6 Wenceslas Lauret, 5 Félix Lambey, 4 Sébastien Vahaamahina, 3 Demba Bamba, 2 Guilhem Guirado (c), 1 Jefferson Poirot.
Subs: 16 Camille Chat, 17 Etienne Falgoux, 18 Dorian Aldegheri, 19 Paul Willemse, 20 Gregory Alldritt, 21 Baptiste Serin, 22 Anthony Belleau, 23 Maxime Medard.
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