Ireland need to beat Wales to remain in the Six Nations title race while England are on the verge of a record-equalling win, writes JON CARDINELLI.
WALES vs IRELAND (Friday, 22:05 SA time)
It’s do or die for Ireland in Cardiff on Friday. A loss for Ireland and a win for England would allow the latter to claim the Six Nations title with a round to spare. Joe Schmidt’s charges have to beat Wales to ensure that they remain in the championship race.
Wales and Ireland have made no changes to their respective starting lineups ahead of the clash. Wales are coming off a 29-13 loss to Scotland in Edinburgh, while Ireland recently beat France 19-9 in Dublin.
The smart money is on Ireland – a team some tipped as pre-tournament favourites – to bank the victory. The power of Ireland’s pack as well as the tactical strength of Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton will be difficult to match.
Wales – 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Scott Williams, 11 Liam Williams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Ross Moriarty, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Sam Warburton, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (c), 4 Jake Ball, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Rob Evans.
Subs: 16 Scott Baldwin, 17 Nicky Smith, 18 Samson Lee, 19 Luke Charteris, 20 Taulupe Faletau, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Sam Davies, 23 Jamie Roberts.
Ireland – 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sean O’Brien, 6 CJ Stander, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Donnacha Ryan, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Rory Best (c), 1 Jack McGrath.
Subs: 16 Niall Scannell, 17 Cian Healy, 18 John Ryan, 19 Iain Henderson, 20 Peter O’Mahony, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Paddy Jackson, 23 Tommy Bowe.
ITALY vs FRANCE (Saturday, 15:30 SA time)
Italy rocked England with their innovative tactics in the first half of the recent clash at Twickenham. It was not enough, however, as England adjusted in the second stanza and went on to win by 19 points.
Italy may fancy their chances against France at home. While the French have produced some powerful performances over the course of this campaign, they have not been convincing in other areas.
France will be desperate for wins against Italy and Wales in the final weeks of this tournament, wins that will allow them to finish slightly higher on the Six Nations table.
Italy – 15 Edoardo Padovani, 14 Angelo Esposito, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Luke McLean, 11 Giovanbattista Venditti, 10 Carla Canna, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Sergio Parisse(c), 7 Simone Favaro, 6 Abraham Steyn, 5 Dries van Schalkwyk, 4 Marco Fuser, 3 Lorenzo Cittadini, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Andrea Lovotti.
Subs: 16 Tommaso D’Apice, 17 Sami Panico, 18 Dario Chistolini, 19 George Biagi, 20 Maxime Mbanda, 21 Giorgio Bronzini, 22 Tommaso Benvenuti, 23 Luca Sperandio.
France – 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Nao Nakaitaci, 13 Remi Lamerat, 12 Gaél Fickou, 11 Virimi Vakatawa, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Baptiste Serin, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Kevin Gourdon, 6 Fabien Sanconnie, 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Julien Le Devedec, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Guilhem Guirado (c), 1 Cyril Baille.
Subs: 16 Christopher Tolofua, 17 Uini Atonio, 18 Eddy Ben Arous, 19 Paul Jedrasiak, 20 Berhard le Roux, 21 Antoine Dupont, 22 François Trinh Duc, 23 Yoann Huget.
ENGLAND vs SCOTLAND (18:00, SA time)
Both of these teams are still in the running for the Six Nations title. England are undefeated after three rounds, while Scotland have picked up two unexpected wins against Ireland and Wales.
This weekend, Scotland will have the chance to win the Triple Crown. Following the battle against the English, Scotland will host Italy in the final round of the tournament.
The odds are against a Scotland win at Twickenham, though. Indeed, the Bravehearts haven’t beaten England at this venue since 1983.
The England side that battled to a 36-15 win against Italy was without several stars. Coach Eddie Jones has selected his strongest available team for the crunch clash against the Scots.
A win would take England one step closer to a second successive Grand Slam title. It would also see them drawing level with the All Blacks for the most consecutive tier-one Test wins (18).
England – 15 Mike Brown, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Elliot Daly, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Nathan Hughes, 7 James Haskell, 6 Maro Itoje, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley (c), 1 Joe Marler.
Subs: 16 Jamie George, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Kyle Sinckler, 19 Tom Wood, 20 Billy Vunipola, 21 Danny Care, 22 Ben Te’o, 23 Anthony Watson.
Scotland – 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Alex Dunbar, 11 Tim Visser, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Ali Price, 8 Ryan Wilson, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 John Barclay (c), 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 Fraser Brown, 1 Gordon Reid.
Subs: 16 Ross Ford, 17 Allan Dell, 18 Simon Berghan, 19 Tim Swinson, 20 Cornell du Preez, 21 Henry Pyrgos, 22 Duncan Weir, 23 Mark Bennett.
Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Getty Images