England have an opportunity to put one hand on the Six Nations trophy when they take on Wales at Twickenham this Saturday, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
England have made the ideal start to the Eddie Jones era, clinching comfortable wins over Scotland and Italy before recently overcoming defending champs Ireland in their greatest test to date.
Jones has rewarded player performances, ensuring no one can rest on their laurels, and there has certainly been a sense that England are beginning to rediscover the sort of swagger that was so clearly missing at last year's World Cup.
Three wins, coupled with the up-and-down form of title rivals Wales, Ireland and France has enabled them to establish a one-point lead at the top of the log. The Welsh are snapping at their heels, though, and that's why Saturday's clash is shaping up as a potential title decider.
Third-placed France are two points behind England, but have a considerably poorer points difference (54 points currently separate them). England and France will go head to head in next weekend's final round of action, while Wales will take on winless Italy.
The Welsh shouldn’t have too much trouble in that final fixture, and it’s for this reason that England will be absolutely desperate to secure their fourth successive win and keep their Grand Slam dream alive.
As it stands, the title is theirs to lose, while Wales will come to London with a point to prove, knowing that a loss would end their hopes of reclaiming the Six Nations trophy.
Both England and Wales have named unchanged starting lineups for Saturday's clash.
England – 15 Mike Brown, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Jack Nowell, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 James Haskell, 6 Chris Robshaw, 5 George Kruis, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley (c), 1 Joe Marler.
Subs: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Kieran Brookes, 19 Joe Launchbury, 20 Jack Clifford, 21 Danny Care, 22 Manu Tuilagi, 23 Elliot Daly.
Wales – 15 Liam Williams, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 George North, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (c), 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Rob Evans.
Subs: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Paul James, 18 Tom Francis, 19 Luke Charteris, 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Rhys Webb, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 Gareth Anscombe.
Scotland vs France
France will be aiming to secure their third win of the tournament when they face Scotland in Edinburgh on Sunday.
After victories over Italy and Ireland, France suffered a loss to Wales in the last round of action, which has left their slim title hopes hanging by a thread.
They will be keeping a close eye on the England-Wales game on Saturday, and then will hope to do the business against the Scots, but they won't be too fazed by log permutations.
For Les Bleus, this campaign has been all about redemption after years of underachievement in the Six Nations. A second or third place finish would be a superb return, but considering they will finish the tournament with a challenging fixture against England, Sunday's clash against the Scots will be viewed as a must-win.
Scotland – 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Duncan Taylor, 12 Alex Dunbar, 11 Tim Visser, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Greig Laidlaw (c), 8 Josh Strauss, 7 John Hardie, 6 John Barclay, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Willem Nel, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Alasdair Dickinson.
Subs: 16 Stuart McInally, 17 Rory Sutherland, 18 Moray Low, 19 Tim Swinson, 20 Ryan Wilson, 21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 22 Pete Horne, 23 Sean Lamont.
France – 15 Scott Spedding,14 Virimi Vakatawa, 13 Gaël Fickou, 12 Maxime Mermoz, 11 Wesley Fofana, 10 François Trinh-Duc, 9 Machenaud Machenaud, 8 Damien Chouly, 7 Yacouba Camara, 6 Wenceslas Lauret, 5 Alexandre Flanquart, 4 Yoann Maestri, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Guilhem Guirado (c), 1 Jefferson Poirot.
Subs: 16 Camille Chat, 17 Vincent Pelo, 18 Uini Atonio, 19 Sebastien Vahaamahina, 20 Loann Goujon, 21 Sébastien Bézy, 22 Jules Plisson, Maxime Médard.
Ireland vs Italy
Ireland will be desperately searching for their first victory of the season when they take on winless Italy in Dublin on Saturday.
The defending champions have only managed a draw and two losses from their first three matches this year, but after a tough start to the tournament, they will finish with matches against Italy and Scotland.
There have been calls for Ireland to inject some fresh blood into their playing group after the side's slide down the world rankings and a disappointing start to their Six Nations title defence, but that will probably need to wait until the end of the competition.
A couple of changes have been made to Ireland's backline for Saturday's clash, though, with Jared Payne most notably returning at outside centre, and despite their poor form, they should have little trouble in condemning Italy to the wooden spoon.
Italy – 15 David Odiete, 14 Leonardo Sarto, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Gonzalo Garcia, 11 Mattia Bellini, 10 Edoardo Padovani, 9 Guglielmo Palazzani, 8 Sergio Parisse, 7 Alessandro Zanni, 6 Francesco Minto, 5 Marco Fuser, 4 George Biagi, 3 Lorenzo Cittadini, 2 Davide Giazzon, 1 Andrea Lovotti.
Subs: 16 Oliviero Fabiani, 17 Matteo Zanusso, 18 Dario Chistolini, 19 Quintin Geldenhuys, 20 Abraham Steyn, 21 Alberto Lucchese, 22 Kelly Haimona, 23 Luke McLean.
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