Six Nations Championship 2014: Biggest Storylines Heading into Round 4

Dan Brett@@DanBrett90Contributor IIIMarch 6, 2014

Leigh Halfpenny knows that England will be out for revenge.
Leigh Halfpenny knows that England will be out for revenge.Jon Super/Associated Press

With it all to play for at the summit of the Six Nations table, four sides go into Round 4 with a chance of placing themselves one step closer to lifting the title.

Ireland, England, Wales and France are all tied on four points, separated by just points difference as they compete for the 2014 trophy.

But shocks could be in store as Italy travel to Ireland and Scotland take on France at Murrayfield, leaving England and Wales to battle at Twickenham.

RBS Six Nations: Round 4 Dates, Times, Fixtures and TV Info
DateTimeFixtureTV Info
March 82.30 p.m. GMT, 9.30 a.m. ETIreland v ItalyBBC One
March 85 p.m. GMT, 3 a.m. ETScotland v FranceBBC One
March 93 p.m. GMT, 10 a.m. ETEngland v WalesBBC One
BBC Sport
RBS Six Nations: Latest Table

Could Two Upsets Be on the Cards?

Scotland will be hoping for more magic like seen in Italy.
Scotland will be hoping for more magic like seen in Italy.Andrew Medichini/Associated Press

You can never bet against the underdog, and with the chance to place one foot toward lifting the Six Nations trophy, neither Italy nor France can afford to underestimate their Round 4 opponents.

Italy will be smarting from their last-minute defeat at home to Scotland, after Duncan Weir's drop-goal at the death won the match. However, Ireland are sitting pretty at the top of the table, thanks to their large points haul with wins against Scotland and Wales.

But Joe Schmidt's side will be looking to get back to winning ways themselves, after seeing his side lose 13-10 against England.

Back in the side: Sebastien Vahamaahina.
Back in the side: Sebastien Vahamaahina.Christophe Ena/Associated Press

According to the Press Association, via The Guardian, Jonathan Sexton has been passed fit and named in Ireland's starting XV, which will come as a boost as the hosts look to increase their lead in top spot.

Meanwhile, Italy coach Jacques Brunel has been forced to make five changes ahead of the trip to Dublin, with captain Sergio Parisse missing out through injury.

However, speaking at a press conference, Brunel was quick to point out that Parisse's exclusion was not due to the side's final-day clash with England, according to RBS Six Nations' website:

The choices made are not in relation to next Saturday's game in Rome against England but based on consistency that we want to have. The next match is against Ireland and we have prepared for the match against that opponent.

Brunel continued, adding his belief that Ireland's squad is much better than what was on offer last year:

Ireland is certainly a better squad than last year. But we have to remember that we beat them barely a year ago in Rome and in a rather convincing fashion. We have the chance to do so again.

It won't be such plain sailing for Italy this time, as the side remain rooted to the bottom of the table and still yet to record their first win in this year's tournament. But with a chance to end Ireland's title hopes at the Aviva Stadium, in front of a packed Irish crowd, Brunel's men won't take too much building up before kick-off.

With pride to play for, too, there's no doubt that the Italians will want to, finally, give their fans something to shout about.

A similar story could be told as France take on Scotland at Murrayfield, with Scott Johnson's men remaining jubilant after their last-gasp win over Italy.

France need to come back strong after defeat in Wales.
France need to come back strong after defeat in Wales.Jon Super/Associated Press

Weir's drop-goal capped an exhilarating comeback at Stadio Olimpico and finally gave fans something to cheer about after leapfrogging Italy at the bottom of the table. Knowing that they can't win the title, but could still have a major say on who picks up this year's trophy, Scotland will be out to punish France.

France coach Philippe Saint-Andre must make his pre-match team talk count if he's to see a marked improvement from the side's 27-6 defeat by Wales, as his side failed to deal with the onslaught in Cardiff.

Sky Sports Rugby tweeted of the mood inside the Scotland camp, as revenge is on the menu for the hosts:

France have it all to lose in Edinburgh and must be cautious of their possession against a rampant Scots side, while mindful of seven changes to their starting side.

The side will feature a new-look back row with Sebastien Vahaamahina joining Alexandre Lapandry and Damien Chouly, per Daily Mail's Mike Dawes.

It will be key that France maintain a slow and steady approach from the start, as the side look to gel on-pitch while dealing with the Scots' desire to end their title hopes.

England Take on Wales in Six Nations Six-Pointer

Kicking for glory: England's Owen Farrell.
Kicking for glory: England's Owen Farrell.Scott Heppell/Associated Press

Wales' chances of winning a third successive Six Nations title will come under pressure as they take on second-placed England.

Both sides recorded wins last time out with Wales beating France, while England overcame Ireland on home soil.

The match is set to be a high-paced battle in London, as both sides know that their chances of winning this year's title will be ended with defeat. It will also see a match of the kick-kings, as England's Owen Farrell and Welshman Leigh Halfpenny look to continue their excellent form with the boot.

Halfpenny told The Guardian's Paul Rees that he's mindful of England's desire for revenge after last year's Grand Slam defeat:

Wales against England is always a massive game, one that we all get excited about. I expect a great atmosphere at Twickenham, and they are going to be hurting from the last game. They are going to come out and really bring it to us. We are going to have to be prepared for that and it is going to be a big battle.

As for England being the favourites, we are just focusing on ourselves, doing our preparation and our homework on England. We are going to Twickenham as Six Nations champions and we are looking to defend our title. tweeted of Wales coach Owen Gatland's confidence as the sides prepare to go to war for a chance at glory in Round 5:

But it could be a case of empty words for Gatland, who will face an in-form England at Twickenham. And as proved by the side's win over Ireland, it is no easy place to come.

Wales' 30-3 demolition of England in last year's Six Nations may give the boss plenty to be positive about before match, but he must be careful not to cause a stir amongst England's players.

For, if you tell a man that he can't do something, he'll do it twice as well to prove you wrong.