The Six Nations returns this weekend, as Wales look to maintain their Grand Slam ambitions, whilst England and Ireland try to stay hot on their heels.
Scotland vs Wales – Murrayfield, 14.15 KO
Wales travel to Edinburgh for the first match of the weekend, knowing a win will take them one game away from the Slam. Their record against the Scots makes for good reading, as they have won 11 of the last 12 test matches against them and have only ever lost three games to Scotland in the Six Nations. However, they did lose on their last visit to Murrayfield, back in 2017.
Warren Gatland has made just one enforced change to the side that beat England a fortnight ago, as Adam Beard replaces the injured Cory Hill.
As for Scotland, they have somewhat underperformed this championship, as many thought they would be competing for the title. They have lost their last two games to Ireland and France, ruling them out of contention. They are renowned for being a very difficult team to beat at home, having lost just one Six Nations game at Murrayfield in the last three years.
Coach Gregor Townsend has made a few interesting changes, most interestingly, dropping captain Greig Laidlaw to the bench, with Ali Price getting the chance at scrum-half. Finn Russell has made a full recovery from the concussion he suffered whilst on club duty with Racing 92 to return at fly-half. Darcy Graham is given his first start in a Scottish shirt on the wing and influential prop, WP Nel returns from injury to start in the front-row.
Scotland remain without some of their key players in the back line and there is not a great deal of experience there either. They are coming up against a side they do not have a great record against and Wales are on a real roll. Just the one change means that this Welsh side are building real momentum and you fancy them to do the business here.
England vs Italy – Twickenham 16.45 KO
As for the later game, this is one that only ever goes one way, historically. Italy have never beaten England and this remains the only fixture in the competition that has only ever been won by one side.
England average around 40 points per game against Italy in the Six Nations and have scored 31 tries in the last five games against the Italians.
Italy have now lost 20 Six Nations games in a row – a championship record – but have looked an improved side this season so far, despite losing all three games.
Eddie Jones has gone for the physical approach in this one, with the inclusion of heavyweight inside centre Ben Te’o, a long side the powerful Manu Tuilagi. 6 ft 4 and 18 stone Bath winger, Joe Cockanasiga, gets his first Six Nations appearance on the wing and Ellis Genge is given the nod in the front-row. Brad Shields starts at 6 in the other change to the side that lost in Cardiff on matchday 3.
England are just two points off Wales and know that should Wales lose in the earlier game, Eddie Jones’ side could well be back on top by the end of the evening. But Italy have looked a far better outfit so far and could, maybe should, have beaten Ireland in Rome last time out.
Jones won’t be taken anything for granted here, but anything but a bonus-point win would be seen as a failure.