As the RBS Six Nations reaches its penultimate fixtures, it's all to play for at the top of the table.
Ireland, England, Wales and France all sit level on four points in an exhilarating tournament which could still be won by fifth-placed Scotland.
Italy remain rooted to the foot of the table without a single point; however, a final-day match against England could still see the side play a pivotal role in this year's competition.
Wales face the prospect of winning the Six Nations for a record third time in succession, but this week's match against an in-form England could make or break their chances of title retention.
|2014 Six Nations - Latest Table:|
|2014 Six Nations Fixture List and Viewing Information: Round 4|
|Saturday, Feb. 8||2.30 p.m. GMT, 9.30 a.m. ET||Ireland v Italy||Aviva Stadium||BBC One||BBC Sport website|
|Saturday, Feb. 8||5 p.m. GMT, 12 p.m. ET||Scotland v France||Murrayfield||BBC One||BBC Sport website|
|Sunday, Feb. 9||3 p.m. GMT, 10 a.m. ET||England v Wales||Twickenham||BBC One||BBC Sport website|
Ireland v Italy
After Ireland's 13-10 defeat by England in Round 3, the onus is on the hosts to get back to winning ways if they are to keep their place at the top of the table:
Joe Schmidt's side sit at the summit of the league on an impressive points difference of 42—with a 21-point difference over second-placed England.
Jonathan Sexton continued his points haul at Twickenham with one conversion and a penalty, adding to Rob Kearney's try in a frantic second-half in London.
Despite a thumb injury against England, Sexton looks set to feature against Italy after being passed fit in an Ireland camp statement, as reported by Rugby365:
The Ireland medical team have had a consultant hand specialist review Johnny and his scans.
The ligament damage sustained does not warrant surgery and if Johnny continues his current rate of improvement we would be confident that he will be available for selection against Italy.
Brian O'Driscoll also limped off during the Twickenham defeat, but no statement has yet been passed on his fitness ahead of the Italy match.
The visitors will be looking to gain their first tournament point at the Aviva Stadium after a disappointing tournament has left them hoping to cause an upset to other sides' title hopes, rather than accelerate their own chances.
Italy cannot mathematically win the tournament any longer, but with matches against Ireland and a final-day match with England, they could hand Wales a golden opportunity to retain the title—should their own form increase.
The Italians looked set to record their first win of this year's tournament against Scotland; however, a last-minute drop goal from Duncan Weir gave the Scots a one-point win in a thrilling 20-21 finale at Stadio Olimpico.
Jacques Brunel's side could move off bottom with a win in Dublin and with a French victory over Scotland.
Scotland v France
After the last-minute win against Italy, Scotland coach Scott Johnson must keep his side's feet firmly on the ground if they're to record a win against France:
The visitors still harbour title ambitions and know a win at Murrayfield could boost their chances of taking a vital lead in the race for supremacy, while holding on to hopes of an Italy win and a draw between England and Wales.
Johnson spoke with the Daily Record's Gary Ralston after his side's win in Rome, refusing to get carried away with the win:
They showed good resolve, great character and I’m proud of them but I’m not going to get carried away – and I wouldn’t get carried away with a loss either.
There were good things in our game and I was glad for the boys that good fortune came their way. But we’ll work on the things we still need to improve.
When they scored just before half-time, similar to Ireland, and with a 10-2 penalty count against us I wasn’t sure how to face them in the changing room. But we talked about what we needed to do and they showed a bit of composure.
It was good for Dunky to get the final kick. He hasn’t been in that position before and I’m glad he has learned he can do that because I can’t teach it.
France will have to continue their jaunt towards the title without Wesley Fofana, after Eurosport tweeted of the Frenchman's injury setback:
Morgan Parra will also miss the rest of the tournament after being banned by Ligue De National Rugby after his headbutt on Rene Ranger during domestic competition for Clermont.
Marc Andreu has joined up with the squad ahead of the match with Scotland and will pick up vital experience of major tournament pressure as his side face two gruelling and potentially troublesome fixtures ahead.
England v Wales
Both sides recorded victories last time out, and England will be looking to make it two wins on the bounce at Twickenham as Wales come to town.
Owen Farrell's conversion and two penalties helped his side to victory against Ireland, with Danny Care's try on 56 minutes giving Farrell opportunity to convert the eventual winner.
Wales assistant coach Rob Howley spoke to Sky Sports of his praise for Care and Farrell and admitted he was wary of their ability to turn a match on its head:
I think they are two fantastic players. Their ability to make individual decisions, they've got a great combination between them and they complement each other.
Danny Care is a key player. He is instrumental when he plays for Harlequins in terms of the speed and tempo he brings to the game. His ability to implement a good kicking game is really important to England and his ability to speed up the game. He brings other players into the game. Care brings a zest and an energy and a tempo to the England game. He certainly brings the forwards into the game and asks questions around that guard and defensive line.
We just have to be on our wits because defensively we were really good against France. But Care, as well as Owen's running game, can certainly ask a lot more questions. Having worked with Owen Farrell, his kick-pass-run decision-making is very good. He has obviously got a great kicking game.
Wales' 27-5 win over France in Cardiff was a lot more straightforward, however, as two first-half penalties from Jean Marc Doussain and Jules Pilsson couldn't stop the Welsh onslaught from denting their chance to take a two-point lead over the chasing pack.
Leigh Halfpenny's stock continued to grow with his five-penalty haul and one conversion, and George North's try helped the side take full advantage of home comforts against an out-of-character French outfit:
Albeit resilient at home, Wales' last trip out of the nation led to a 26-3 defeat by Ireland in a match which highlighted that Wales struggled to cope with action away from the Millennium Stadium—a trait that they must overcome if they're to pick up a win against England.
The final round of fixtures will see Italy host England, Wales take on Scotland and Ireland travel to Italy. A potential top-of-the-table match between France and Ireland could open the door for England or Wales to snatch top spot.
However, if they are to do that, one of these sides must reign supreme at Twickenham and hope that Italy and Scotland muster the courage to take their respective games to the sword and cause table-turning upsets.
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