Six Nations 2014: Predictions, TV Info and Key Battles for Round 4

Dan Brett@@DanBrett90Contributor IIIMarch 3, 2014

Ireland will look to see off Italy with comfort in Round 4.
Ireland will look to see off Italy with comfort in Round 4.David Cannon/Getty Images

As the penultimate round of fixtures roll around, four sides remain in the hunt to take the lead in the race for the RBS Six Nations trophy.    

Top-of-the-table Ireland host Italy in their fourth match, and on the back of a 13-10 defeat by England last time out, Joe Schmidt’s side will be looking to get back to winning ways as they look to maintain their place in top spot.

Meanwhile, France travel to Scotland as they look to quickly forget their 27-6 defeat against Wales. It was a match that highlighted France's inability to respond in the second period, with all six points scored in the first 40 minutes.

It's a make-or-break affair at Twickenham as Wales travel to London. With both sides recording victories last time out, a win for either side would put them one foot toward lifting the trophy.

RBS Six Nations: Round 4 Dates, Times and Predictions
DateTimeFixturePredictionTV Info
March 82.30 p.m. GMT, 9.30 a.m. ETIreland v Italy30-10BBC One
March 85 p.m. GMT, 12 p.m. ETScotland v France22-24BBC One
March 93 p.m. GMT, 10 a.m. ETEngland v Wales22-20BBC One
RBS Six Nations: Round 4 Table

Can England Stop Halfpenny?

Leigh Halfpenny kicks for glory against France.
Leigh Halfpenny kicks for glory against France.David Rogers/Getty Images

If there's going to be a man to stop in Round 4, it's going to be Wales' Leigh Halfpenny. The full-back scored five penalties and one conversion as his side demolished France in Cardiff.

Sitting with 74 points in this year's tournament, Halfpenny has made a telling contribution to his side's charge up the table and also sits at the top of the point-scoring charts, 13 points above Scotland's Greig Laidlaw.

It's Halfpenny's consistency with the boot, excellent accuracy, power and calmness in pressure situations that England will have to contend with if they're to profit at Twickenham.

As shown below, Halfpenny has proven his prowess with the boot across the field against France:

England have their own talisman, though, with Owen Farrell hitting two penalties and a conversion of his own against Ireland.

Speaking with Sky Sports, Farrell is looking to use Wales' win last year as England's springboard for success this time around:

Once the pain faded a bit after a few days, I realised it was actually a chance to improve. You watch every champion team, and they have to go through things like that to get to where they want. That's what you've got to realise, and get on with it.

I think that experience will help us become what we want to be, but you never want to get beaten like that again. You need to make sure that you use it to get better, then see where you are the next game, then use that to get better and see where you're at the next time.

If you look at our games since that Grand Slam loss, I think that's what we've done. But you never forget how you came away feeling that gutted.

Wales' high points haul over France showed that they will give England's back line a hard time. If the visitors look to continue the trial haul of George North, the hosts will have to hope that Halfpenny leaves his kicking boots at home.

It will be a tough match for England, with Wales in fine form. But with home advantage on their side and knowledge that Wales' last match away from Cardiff resulted in a 26-3 defeat against Ireland, it's up to England to put the pressure on and feed their own kick-king to enable a home win.

Could Scotland Scupper France's Title Dreams?

Duncan Weird secures victory with a last-minute drop goal against Italy.
Duncan Weird secures victory with a last-minute drop goal against Italy.Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

Scotland picked up their first win of the campaign last time out, with a 21-20 win at Stadio Olimpico, which saw a last-gasp drop goal from Duncan Weir steal the victory.

Weir, who had scored a conversion from Alex Dunbar's try just 20 minutes earlier, stepped up to hit between the sticks at a time when it looked all too certain that Italy's first win had been secured:

With France still smarting from their heavy defeat in Cardiff, the side will hope to get back to winning ways against fifth-placed Scotland. But with nothing to lose as the hosts go into the match, it could be Scotland who could still have an important influence in the fate of any Six Nations winner.

Luke Marshall's concussion looks set to rule him out of the match with France, as tweeted by's Patrick McCarry:

But who will be key for victory for either side?

Well, Jean-Marc Doussain's ability with the boot has been influential for his side this year, picking up six penalties and three conversions across the tournament so far, and there's a fair bet that if Scotland fail to deal with France's run rate, it'll be Doussain to punish them.

Greig Laidlaw makes it four scorers to highlight in this article, and his four penalties for Scotland this year have added to Alex Dunbar's top-scoring two penalties as the side have struggled to find their feet.

But Scotland must start looking to get tries on the board, with Dunbar providing the side's total two tries in the tournament so far.

It'll be a tough match and, with more to play for, France will use their ascendancy in the tournament as a platform to see off Scotland and give opportunity to win the title.

Can Italy Match Ireland's Power?

Ireland look to burst through in the Six Nations.
Ireland look to burst through in the Six Nations.Peter Morrison/Associated Press

Perhaps one of the more routine-looking fixtures in Round 4 is Italy's trip to the Aviva Stadium.

Bottom-placed Italy are without a single point in this year's competition and will be disheartened after seeing victory snatched from their grasp at the last moment by Scotland.

Meanwhile, Ireland will be looking to quickly forget a defeat of their own, after a three-point loss away to England:

Jonathan Sexton kicked twice, with one conversion and one penalty, but his side could not muster the chances to see off England, who turned the game on its head on 53 minutes.

Two kicks for Farrell saw the game won for England, but for Italy to even dream of causing an upset in Dublin, they'll have to stop two-try scorer Rob Kearney.

Italy's firepower has been non-existent so far in the tournament. With Ireland sitting at the top of the league and knowing victory would give them one foot toward the title, there will be no room for error from Schmidt's men.