The finishing line for the 2013 Six Nations tournament is almost in sight and we can look forward to a thrilling last few match weekends.
We have one team within a shout of the Grand Slam—England, which still face a couple of big mountains. Meanwhile the race to avoid the Wooden Spoon is proving equally exciting this year.
There is no arguing that England has been the best side so far during the tournament.
They go into this weekend with three wins to their name against Scotland, Ireland and France, and they need just two more for their first Grand Slam since 2003. Stuart Lancaster’s men have shown their class and resilience during the first three games and they face Italy this weekend with every chance of making it four straight wins.
The Italians head to Twickenham with little hope, having won just one of their three games and most expect England to secure the victory with relative ease.
If England sweep aside Italy as predicted, it would set up a blockbuster last-weekend clash away in Cardiff against the Wales to win the Grand Slam.
Wales would love nothing more than to stop their biggest rivals completing the clean sweep, which they themselves won last year. After losing their opening game to Ireland, Wales have come back to form over the last few games with two successive wins on the road over France and Italy.
They are still harboring hopes of defending their crown.
Wales do have the small matter of playing Scotland in Edinburgh to deal with before the England clash, though, and that match is likely to be make-or-break for both sides.
The Scots have also picked up two wins to date and a win for them against Wales would all but constitute their best performance since the inception of the Six Nations in 2000. Scotland last won the competition when it was the Five Nations, back in 1999.
If they were to end that wait this year, they would have to win their last two matches, including Wales on Saturday, and hope that England lose their final two games.
At the other end of the spectrum, it is France that surprisingly find themselves at the foot of the table after three successive losses.
The pre-tournament favorites are now realistic contenders for the Wooden Spoon. Les Bleus head to Dublin this weekend to face a wounded Irish side while their last match will be at home against a rejuvenated Scottish side in Paris in the final round.
It is not beyond the realms of possibilities that the French could go through the tournament without a win to their name.
All eyes though are on England with Lancaster seemingly building something special at Twickenham right now. While the Rugby Union World Cup does not take place for another two years, that will be the ultimate aim, especially with England the host nation.
In the short term, England look near certainties to win the 2013 Six Nations tournament as long as they beat Italy and anything less than a Grand Slam would surely be considered a disappointment at this stage.
A last-day clash at the Millennium Stadium against old foes is a mouth-watering prospect for rugby fans across the world with everything on the line and for England—this could be the start of a renaissance.