Heading into the third round of games in this year’s Six Nations, there are three fascinating ties, each for their own reasons. Scotland play Wales in Edinburgh, Ireland host France, while Italy make the trip to Twickenham to face England. The second will most likely be the tie of the round, with particular attention being drawn to the inclusion of Johnny Sexton at 10 for the men in green. While that shall be the focus of most of this blog, there are two other games, so I’ll start with them.
Beginning in Murrayfield with Scotland versus Wales, there’s a clash between two sides who fell just short last time out, against France and England respectively. The Scots will be hit hard with the loss of talismanic captain Greg Laidlaw, who gives them an extra dimension in attack and with the boot, both off the tee and out of hand. Both will be hurting after narrow losses, but I can’t envisage Wales committing as many woeful mistakes as France did two weeks ago. If Vern Cotter’s side have a similarly mistake-ridden game on Saturday, Wales have the firepower to punish them and should do so. In probably the least enticing game of the weekend, England should give Italy a bit of a mauling at home, especially with the momentum they’ve gathered. Expect a bonus point win for Jones’ men.
While it sounds cliché, one of the main factors in deciding the outcome of the match at the Aviva Stadium is what mood the French are in. It seems to be a penchant of France to raise their game against Ireland, while they will be buoyed by their win a fortnight ago against Scotland. Joe Schmidt had a genuine dilemma as to who to play at out-half for this game, as the form of Paddy Jackson has been reeling in the plaudits in recent weeks. He’s given the nod to Sexton, most likely because of his proven big-game experience and because of the leadership and direction he gives the team, in attack and defence. It may be harsh on Jackson, but I think having him on the bench is more of an assuring thought than having a Sexton who isn’t match fit and is unfortunately always a liability for lasting until the final whistle. It’s not an ideal situation to be in, but it’s arguably necessary to have a back-up for Sexton, which means if he’s to be included in the 23-man squad, he has to start.
If both sides replicate their performances from the last round of games, Ireland will walk this, because the only reason the game between France and Scotland was any bit close was because of how fraught with errors it was. In the last few years, it seems to be a feature of France’s tactics against Ireland that they will target Sexton, hit him hard and see how long his body will last against the relentless tackling. This year, they are attempting to get back to the French flair that make neutrals fall in love with them, but it seems they simply don’t have the quality to back that up. If Ireland stick to their game-plan, if the back row can secure enough penalties and unless the French discover the fourth and fifth gears they potentially have in their reserves, it should be another home win for Schmidt’s troops. Regardless, a captivating weekend of international rugby is in store.