As the Six Nations concludes this weekend with three teams still in with a chance to raise the trophy, we take a look at how the nations match up and predict their outcomes.
France vs. Ireland
The task for Ireland is simple: A win will almost inevitably seal them their first Six Nations title since 2009. Only a huge performance from England against the Italians, winning by a margin of more than 50 points, could prevent this.
France, on the other hand, must comfortably win the game and hope that the English struggle against the Italians.
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In short, both teams have hopes of the title, which should make for an enthralling match.
History is not on Ireland's side. The French have home advantage and have a formidable record against Ireland at the Stade Francais. Of the 44 matches played there, France have lost just 10. In fact, they have not lost at home against Ireland since March 2000, although Ireland will take heart from their most recent performance in Paris, which ended in a 17-17 draw.
Ireland and their coach Joe Schmidt will be hoping for one last performance from legend Brian O'Driscoll. His incredible hands were on display during Ireland's last match for Italy, and whether he starts or comes off the bench, he has the ability to win matches.
Such is his stature in the game that his retirement is as big an event as the title itself, and this will be his 133rd—and last—appearance for Ireland. They will, however, have to do without the services of Tommy Bowe who has been made available for Ulster this weekend.
France's loss to Wales and poor performance against Scotland will no doubt be demoralising for the squad, but coach Phillipe Saint-Andre will be hoping for a reaction from his players. Their centres, Mathieu Bastareaud and Wesley Fofana, have the ability to trouble any team, and Yoann Huget is in good form and will trouble the Irish with his speed down the wing.
Prediction: France to win by narrow margin.
England vs. Italy
Although on paper England should cruise to victory against the weaker Italian team, there is the potential for an upset in this match. Italy showed against Scotland last weekend their fighting qualities. With a possible wooden spoon on the line, they have plenty to play for.
On the other hand, England have a decision to make. If France beat Ireland, a controlled victory will be enough to take them to the title.
If Ireland win, then England need to make up a huge points deficit. This leaves coach Stuart Lancaster to decide if England go for broke in an attempt to score as many tries as possible against the Italians or play their normal game.
Lancaster has already suggested the England team will be unchanged so it's unlikely the side will suddenly cut loose against the Azzurri—although it may still be enough to overwhelm the Italians.
Manu Tuilagi seems likely to return to squad and he has the potential to change the game with his explosive power and pace if that is what the match situation requires.
Italy will be relying on their experienced players Martin Castrogiovanni and Sergio Parisse. If both play, they will again become Italy's joint most-capped players, having played 105 matches. Italy still have the capacity to cause England problems with the likes of full-back Luke McLean and winger Leonardo Sarto—who scored a fantastic individual try last week—as well as the reliable boot of Tommaso Allan all posing a threat.
Prediction: England to win by 30 points.
|15 March||12.30pm GMT||Italy vs. England|
|15 March||2.45pm GMT||Wales vs. Scotland|
|15 March||5pm GMT||France vs. Ireland|
All-in-all, it will be a thrilling final weekend with great matchups and a title that will go down to the wire.
Prediction: England to win the Six Nations.