As the tournament reaches its penultimate weekend, The Six Nations title can still go to anyone of four teams, although Wales, still with a 100% record in the six nations standings and with the Triple Crown already in the trophy cabinet, are deserved favourites to win not only the title but also the Grand Slam.
Wales entertain the plucky Italians in Cardiff on Saturday in what should be a comfortable win, which would leave only the French to play their final game and first Grand Slam success since 2008.
Wales will be without skipper Sam Warburton for the match who has a knee injury and will be replaced at open side flanker by Ospreys Justin Tipuric, with the captain’s armband going to prop Gethin Jenkins. Matthew Rees also returns as hooker where for the first time this season he will pack down with his British Lions front row colleagues, Jenkins and Adam Jones.
Head Coach, Warren Gatland, is well aware that after winning the Triple Crown (wins against England, Scotland and Ireland) in a thriller at Twickenham a fortnight ago, his team cannot afford to be complacent against Italy. He has therefore urged a display full of ruthless intent insisting that Wales produce a wide points margin victory. The team look certain to answer his call and should win by 25 Points and more.
Scotland will go into Saturday’s match against Ireland at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin in good heart, believing that they can do to the Irish what they achieved two years ago in Dublin when they ran out 23-20 winners. That however was their first win in Dublin since 1998 and they were beaten by Ireland last time they met in the Six Nations at Murrayfield a year ago.
Ireland in overall terms will be disappointed with their performances in 2012, particularly after only managing a 17-17 draw against France last week in Paris when they held a comfortable 17-6 half time lead. They will be aware that they still have an outside chance of winning the Six Nations this year however but can only do so with wins over Scotland this week and a win at Twickenham on St Patricks Day. Even then, it will depend on the outcomes of the two remaining Wales games and the England v France encounter on Sunday.
Scotland will not want to go into their final game against Italy in Rome playing to avoid the “wooden spoon” which will happen should they and Italy both lose this weekend. That prospect should be a big enough motivating factor for them to put in a big performance which should make this match a hugely exciting one. However, Ireland by playing at home will have most of the advantages and should run out eventual winners with the prediction being a home win by 6-10 points.
The final game of the weekend sees France welcome England to Paris and these days, this is the one six nations game that both teams want to win more than any other and it has come at a time when the two sides are still in contention to win the Championship.
France got out of jail last week with a forceful second half performance which saw them come back from 6-17 down at half time to draw with Ireland 17-17. The result maintained their unbeaten record this season but know that to win the tournament outright they must maintain that against both England and then their final game against Wales at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on 17th March.
England of coursed were beaten by Wales in Match 3, courtesy of a converted late try but know that the match could have gone either way had they been awarded an even later try. That decision went against them however but they will be pleased by their overall performance in what was a thriller of a Game at Twickenham which saw them threaten the Welsh line time and time again with some superb running rugby. Defensively, they were sound too and any improvement on that display should provide them with a great chance to win on Sunday and an England win by between 1-5 points looks the most likely outcome.
As it stands, the current 6nations betting has Wales as the 2/5 favourites to win the competition, with slightly bigger odds of 1/2 about them landing the Grand Slam. France are the most likely challengers and can clinch the title if they beat both England and Wales and are 5/2 to do so whilst England are as big as 40/1 and Ireland the rank outsider of the four left with chances at 250/1.