The Six Nations tournament is a relentless event, with audiences as tireless as the players involved when it comes to keeping up with the stacked European schedule.
This weekend, the competition returns for Week 2 of the 2014 edition, and the stakes are as high as ever, with teams looking to either maintain their encouraging start or simply get a first win on the board.
Both the title chase and efforts to distance one's self from the Wooden Spoon are primed to take some impacting turns this weekend. The next segment of this year's onslaught is previewed ahead.
|2014 Six Nations: Week 2 Predictions|
|Saturday, Feb. 8||2:30 p.m. GMT/9:30 a.m. ET||Ireland vs. Wales||Aviva Stadium||Wales by 6|
|Saturday, Feb. 8||5 p.m. GMT/12 p.m. ET||Scotland vs. England||Murrayfield||England by 12|
|Sunday, Feb. 9||3 p.m. GMT/10 a.m. ET||France vs. Italy||Stade de France||France by 22|
Ireland vs. Wales
Sam Warburton returns to the field as captain for Saturday's trip to the Aviva Stadium, having started the win over Italy on the bench with Alun-Wyn Jones deputising as leader in his stead.
It's a big boost for Warren Gatland, as his team look to overcome an Irish team that never really got out of second gear during their 28-6 win over Scotland last weekend, and it is currently coping with the loss of its own superstar, No. 7 Sean O'Brien.
Chris Henry did a fine job of filling in last weekend, but Saturday's test against the reigning champions is no occasion for half measures, where the slight deficiencies in Joe Schmidt's still-evolving line-up could be exposed.
One dramatic change is Gordon D'Arcy coming back into the squad for Luke Marshall, which Rugby World's Paul Williams says is for a very particular purpose:
Ireland have a great deal of experience in their squad, with Leinster, Munster, Ulster and the odd Racing Metro all boasting their share of European wisdom, but there's a very tenacious feel to Gatland's outside weapons right now.
Dublin will be a harsh environment for the visitors to play in, but this Welsh team hasn't won back-to-back championships by crumbling when it comes to the big occasion.
Prediction: Wales win by 6
Scotland vs. England
Thursday brought the news that Scotland's Kelly Brown was a shock drop from Johnson's squad, with Chris Fusaro taking his spot at open-side flanker instead, per BBC Sport.
It's mixed news for the English, who may undoubtedly be glad to see the back of the Saracens back rower, but they will still line up against a formidable breakdown technician in the shape of Fusaro.
Rugby World's Charlie Morgan has questioned the squad selection:
And that's where a lot of this encounter may be decided, for although the transformed Scots have taken to a flashier way of things with ball in hand, their approach to the ground game remains one of their strongest traits.
The England back row have a tough day ahead of them, but Stuart Lancaster's unchanged XV from the two-point loss to France still looks capable of emerging from Murrayfield Stadium, where the backs will get an easier opportunity at forming some attacking cohesion.
Prediction: England win by 12
France vs. Italy
Italy's nightmare start to the Six Nations couldn't have been scripted with more daunting prospects, with their first-round loss at the Millennium Stadium quickly followed up by a visit to the Stade de France.
Sergio Parisse and Michele Campagnaro did their best to spark some form of revolution in Cardiff, but it was a lack of depth pitch-wide that meant the Azzurri were left wanting against Gatland's side.
Although Italy managed a surprise win over Les Bleus in last year's tournament, Philippe Saint-Andre has assembled a squad of different proportions this time around, a statement of intent sent out by last week's win over the English.
France, as usual, have quality in all areas, but it's showing an efficiency in applying those strengths that wasn't always seen throughout 2013.
Louis Picamoles and Yannick Nyanga will certainly do their best to quell the threat of Parisse, but the Paris hosts have more than enough in their tank to see through the threat, if not obliterate it entirely should complacency subside.
Prediction: France win by 22
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