• Six Nations preview (Round 5)

    The Six Nations will come to a thrilling conclusion with four sides still in the running for the title, writes BRENTON CHELIN.

    ITALY vs WALES (Saturday, 2:30pm, SuperSport 6)

    Wales' victory over Ireland in Cardiff means the race for the Six Nations remains wide open heading into the final round of matches. Warren Gatland's side are third on the log with a points different of +12, and will require a comprehensive win in Rome if they're to stand any chance of overhauling the two sides above them (England and Wales have points differences of +37 and +33 respectively). If France's 29-0 win in Rome is anything to go by, Wales should have no problem.

    The scales tilt further in the visitors' favour with the news that Italy's talismanic skipper, Sergio Parisse, will miss the match with a foot injury. Leonardo Ghiraldini will take over the captaincy, while Mauro Bergamasco comes into the starting XV, with Samuela Vunisa shifting to No 8. Martin Castrogiovanni will make a return in the front row, while Kelly Haimona is fit to start at flyhalf.

    Wales have made two injury-enforced changes, both in the front row, as Rob Evans and Aaron Jarvis come into the starting XV in place of Gethin Jenkins and Samson Lee. Gatland has also decided to freshen things up on the bench, with Jake Ball and Justin Tipuric returning from injury, while Gareth Davies' club form has been rewarded with a call-up.

    The Welsh would be wise to follow France's blueprint from last weekend. Italy found themselves behind early and tried too much in a bid to work their way back into the match. If Wales can build a lead, they have the firepower on the bench to secure the points needed to bring them into title contention.

    HEAD TO HEAD
    Overall: Italy 2, Wales 18, Draw 1
    In Rome: Italy 2, Wales 7

    Italy – 5 Luke McLean, 14 Leonardo Sarto, 13 Luca Morisi, 12 Andrea Masi, 11 Giovambattista Venditti, 10 Kelly Haimona, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Samuela Vunisa, 7 Mauro Bergamasco, 6 Francesco Minto, 5 Joshua Furno, 4 George Fabio Biagi, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini (c), 1 Michele Rizzo.
    Subs: 16 Andrea Manici, 17 Alberto De Marchi, 18 Dario Chistolini, 19 Quintin Geldenhuys, 20 Robert Barbieri, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Luciano Orquera, 23 Enrico Bacchin.

    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 Rob Evans, 18 Aaron Jarvis, 19 Jake Ball, 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Mike Phillips, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 Scott Williams.

    SCOTLAND vs IRELAND (Saturday, 4:30pm, SuperSport 6)

    Ireland will be rueing their missed opportunity in Wales. They dominated possession and territory, but a combination of dogged Welsh defence and poor finishing cost them dearly. Now they face a tricky trip to Edinburgh, as they look to overhaul the points difference between themselves and England.

    Scotland are doomed to finish at the foot of the table barring a miraculous performance against the Irish. They've made two changes from the team that went down to England, with Ryan Grant coming in at prop and Adam Ashe slotting in on the side of the scrum.

    The Irish have also made a change up front, where Cian Healy makes his first start of the tournament. In the only other change, wing Luke Fitzgerald makes his first international appearance in four years in place of Simon Zebo.

    Scotland have won the last two meetings between these two at Murrayfield, both by a four-point margin. With so much at stake, the Irish need to find a way past the notoriously stubborn Scots, or they'll make England's job a lot easier.

    HEAD TO HEAD
    Overall: Scotland 66, Ireland 58, Draw 5
    In Edinburgh: Scotland 39, Ireland 26, Draw 1

    Scotland – 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Dougie Fife, 13 Mark Bennett, 12 Matt Scott, 11 Tommy Seymour, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Greig Laidlaw (c), 8 David Denton, 7 Blair Cowan, 6 Adam Ashe, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Jim Hamilton, 3 Euan Murray, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Ryan Grant.
    Subs: 16 Fraser Brown, 17 Alasdair Dickinson, 18 Geoff Cross, 19 Tim Swinson, 20 Rob Harley, 21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 22 Greig Tonks, 23 Tim Visser.

    Ireland – 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Jared Payne, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Luke Fitzgerald, 10 Johnny 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 Cian Healy.
    Subs: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Martin Moore, 19 Iain Henderson, 20 Jordi Murphy, 21 Eoin Reddan, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Felix Jones.

    ENGLAND vs FRANCE (Saturday, 7pm, SuperSport 6)

    France have been terrible during the Six Nations, yet somehow still find themselves in with a shot of the title, albeit a slim one. England will go into the final weekend as favourites. They hold a narrow lead at the top of the table courtesy of their points difference, are playing at home, and will know exactly what is required of them when they take to the Twickenham pitch.

    Stuart Lancaster also has the benefit of naming a settled side, with the return of Geoff Parling in the second row the only change to the side that saw off Scotland.

    Meanwhile, France have made two injury-enforced changes to their side, with flyhalf Jules Plisson and prop Vincent Debaty replacing Camille Lopez and Eddy Ben Arous respectively.

    The French would love nothing better than to wreck England's title hopes, although they've only won twice on English soil in the past 15 years.

    England have been the most attack-minded side in this year's competition, and have scored more tries than Wales and Ireland combined. Playing last, the odds remain stacked in their favour, and they look likely to end their four-year wait for a title.

    HEAD TO HEAD
    Overall: England 53, France 38, Draw 7
    In London: England 30, France 11, Draw 5

    England – 15 Mike Brown, 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 Courtney Lawes, 4 Geoff Parling, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley, 1 Joe Marler.
    Subs: 16 Tom Youngs, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Kieran Brookes, 19 Nick Easter, 20 Tom Wood, 21 Richard Wigglesworth, 22 Danny Cipriani, 23 Billy Twelvetrees.

    France – 15 Scott Spedding, 14 Yoann Huget, 13 Gaël Fickou, 12 Maxime Mermoz, 11 Noa Nakaitaci, 10 Jules Plisson, 9 Sébastian Tillous-Borde, 8 Loann Goujon, 7 Bernard le Roux, 6 Thierry Dusautoir (c), 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Alexandre Flanquart, 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 Guilhem Guirado, 1 Vincent Debaty.
    Subs: 16 Benjamin Kayser, 17 Rabah Slimani, 18 Uini Atonio 19 Romain Taofifenua, 20 Damien Chouly, 21 Rory Kockott, 22 Rémi Talès, 23 Mathieu Bastareaud.

    Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images