It’s the final round of this year’s Six Nations and there remains three (realistically two) teams who can take the title. Ireland are in the box seats to take the title but have to overcome a poor record in Paris to be champions. England are on their heels but will find themselves cheering for a French win if they are to pip Brian O Driscoll et al to a perfect swansong.
The pressure is also on our Director of Rugby to come up with three correct predictions. He so far as a record of 10 from 12 and needs a full house from this final round to set a new highest score having started the blog 3 years ago.
So the pressure is on, in more ways than one!
Italy vs England (12.30pm)
England go into this fixture knowing that a comfortable win still might not be enough to take the title. With Ireland sitting on +81 and England on +32 in terms of point’s difference, it is unlikely that England can close the gap and set Ireland a winning point’s margin requirement. Hence they will more than likely need a French win to give them the title. But first and foremost they need to get the win in Rome.
This should be relatively straightforward. Italy have once again faded as the tournament as gone on and this is indicative of their lack of strength in depth. They are bolstered by the return of Parisse but he too has struggled in this campaign. England are settled, motivated and consistent and will play at a pace beyond the Italians. I expect the first 40 minutes to be about laying the foundations to a comfortable win with England coming on strong in the last 30 minutes as the home team fades. It could be a similar score line to Dublin last weekend and I take England to win by 30-35 points.
Wales vs Scotland (2.45pm)
This could be a close encounter. Wales received a fair degree of criticism for their negative display last weekend and this questions what their approach will be. Try and implement an altered game plan with limited preparation time and they could leave themselves open to a disjointed display and being picked off by the Scots. Scottish confidence levels are improved after two positive displays and they should come to Cardiff under little pressure.
The opening 20 will be interesting should the visitors get points up on the board. Scotland need to show that they have established a cutting edge that can create whoever the opposition is and that they can cut out the silly errors that cost them against France. Games between the two are usually high scoring and whilst Wales have much to ponder for their future, I think they are still a class above the Scots. Wales to win by 10-12 points.
France vs Ireland (5pm)
And so to the grand finale in Paris. Ireland will know the size of their task before the game kicks off and it is likely to be that a win will still be good enough to take the title. How France have even an outside chance of taking the title is mystifying. It could be argued that they have been worse in this season’s tournament than they were when finishing bottom in 2013.
Despite this their selection for this game looks better that during the tournament to date. Machenaud and Tales at half back would have been the chosen pairing throughout if Tales hadn’t been injured whilst the back line looks to carry some threat with Fickou finally given a start. Up front the pack looks the best selection they have had to date although Picamoles selection at flanker is typically French. Whilst I think France may provide their best performance on the biggest stage, I doubt it will be enough to stop Ireland taking the title. Ireland have been strong throughout the tournament and have to reward the talismanic BOD with a title on his last appearance.
Sport sometimes has a clever way of coming full circle and Paris is where it really all started for O Driscoll on the international stage. BOD apart, Ireland look strong in every department and the big game preparation expertise of Schmidt should mean Ireland deal with the occasion and ensure they deliver the right performance at the right time. Expect big games from the likes of Healy, Best, O Connell, O Mahoney and Heaslip to set the tone and for O Driscoll to apply the coup de grace. Ireland to pull away by the end after a fright from a much improved France. Ireland to win by 8-10 points.