The Six Nations 2020 has been protracted, joining the sporting world in being brought to a halt by the coronavirus pandemic, but tomorrow sees the final three matches take place, and we will, at last, have our 2020 champions. In this analysis, we will look at the confirmed lineups of all six teams, picking out the key starters and the substitutes who could make a difference when they come on, and give some insight into how the game could go with regards to each team’s tactics.
Wales v Scotland
Location: Parc y Scarlets, Llanelli.
The key matchup in this game will be the wingers, with Wales’ Liam Williams and Josh Adams and Scotland’s Blair Kinghorn and Darcy Graham all capable of scoring plenty of tries, and all have done so in their careers so far. It is likely that the game will be decided on the wings for this reason.
Both sides have a presence at centre too, with Jonathan Davies and Chris Harris both capable of getting forward and creating opportunities in the middle of the pitch for their teams.
The last key matchup will be in the second row, especially when it comes to lineouts, with Wasps’ Will Rowlands and Exeter Chiefs’ Jonny Gray both dominant in the air for their clubs, so this will be a fascinating battle to see who wins more lineouts, and how this affects each side’s tactics when it comes to them.
Wales have Nick Tompkins on the bench for this game, with Owen Watkin starting in his place at centre alongside Jonathan Davies, who was the 2017 British and Irish Lions’ Player of the Series. However, Tompkins is another attacking centre who carries a try threat and likes to make runs in between defenders to gain ground for his side, and this could be a vital thing to have in reserve if Scotland are playing a good defensive game.
Cornell du Preez is likely to have an impact when he comes on for Scotland, having been one of Worcester Warriors’ best players over the last couple of seasons. He is a back row forward, and had a 90% tackle success rate for the 2019/2020 season, so he will be a player to come on and help defend against Wales’ strong attack if Scotland need an extra bit of strength at breakdown situations.
A lot is expected of star winger Duhan van der Merwe, who plays his club rugby for Edinburgh, and he could be the impact player to come on for any of the back line, with Kinghorn able to play at full-back if needed.
Scotland battered Georgia in their first game back after the restart last Friday, winning 48-7, and Georgia are a strong side knocking on the door of the Six Nations, if a promotion and relegation system is brought in. We have looked at the threat they have on the wings, and, if you add in full-back and captain Stuart Hogg to the equation, then this area is likely to be where they will be the strongest. Gloucester’s Chris Harris will also ask questions of the Wales defence, but the question really is whether they will have enough to beat Wales as the away side.
Wales, meanwhile, have named a very strong side, and will not underestimate the threat that Scotland will pose. However, looking at their squad, they should have enough across the team to get past them. Their back row looks very strong, with Justin Tipuric and Taulupe Faletau very experienced campaigners on the international stage, whilst Shane Lewis-Hughes will be making his debut in this game. Again, like Scotland, their wingers are serial try-scorers, but they lost badly to France in their warmup game last weekend, and haven’t had a great Six Nations this year anyway. It is Wayne Pivac’s first tournament in charge, so we can’t conclude anything yet, but there is work to be done, and this could be a tricky game for them.
As for a match prediction, Wales will likely win, but Scotland could well fight them all the way for it.
Italy v England
Location: Stadio Olimpico, Rome.
The wings will be a key area to watch in this game, with Edoardo Padovani and Mattia Bellini being two of Italy’s biggest threats in recent seasons. Both are capable of scoring tries, and we saw last weekend against Ireland how Padovani has great anticipation of where the ball is going, and can make interceptions.
The back rows of each team will be the most interesting thing to watch, with Tom Curry, Sam Underhill and Billy Vunipola going up against Sebastian Negri, Braam Steyn and Jake Polledri; all six are good tacklers, brilliant at the breakdown, and are capable of gaining ground for their team. It is very likely that this will be where the game is won or lost, because all six will need to play well to stop the other breaking through. As well as general play, having these players at the back of the scrum means that this also becomes an important part of the play.
Italy have decided to leave out full-back Jayden Hayward from their matchday squad, and don’t have a replacement fly-half. However, Carlo Canna has operated as a fly-half more often than a centre, so this is covered if Paolo Garbisi is taken off. What is interesting is that Italy have named six forwards on the bench, and only two backs, so it is clear that they will be putting everything into the scrum in this game, and will pin their hopes of beating England on dominating this area.
England have several notable players on their bench, but interestingly don’t have a replacement fly-half either, with George Ford out injured and Jacob Umaga overlooked for this game. However, their key substitutes will likely be back row forward Ben Earl, who was the joint-top try-scorer in the Premiership this season, with 11. The person he shared that with was Gloucester winger Ollie Thorley, who is also on the bench. Dan Robson adds a lot of quality at scrum-half, and Worcester centre Ollie Lawrence has really impressed this season, defending well, winning 77% of his tackles in the Premiership this season.
This is a game that looks very one-sided on paper, and it is hard to predict anything other than an England win when looking at the two squads. However, we know Italy will give it everything, and could dominate the early stages of the game, as they did against Ireland last weekend, but then slow down and concede more penalties.
England will need to be very wary of this, and ensure that they don’t concede cheap penalties themselves, because then they can take advantage of the ones they win to keep Italy going back towards their try line. England were the only team of the six playing tomorrow to not feature last weekend, after their game against the Barbarians last Sunday was cancelled. However, head coach Eddie Jones said they instead played a really competitive training match, so they will come into this having had some proper match preparation, but not to the extent that the other five have. It is unlikely that this will count against them in this game, but it could be interesting to see how quickly England can get it nonetheless.
For a match prediction, there seems to be no other logical thing other than an England win. The Roses do need a bonus point win to keep their title hopes alive, but it is likely that they will get this with little trouble.
France v Ireland
Location: Stade de France, Paris.
Both sides have some serious threat on the wings, with Vincent Rattez already showing this year that he can be a creative force for France when they need it. However, the loss of Teddy Thomas in the win against Wales last weekend will be a blow for Les Bleus, as he offers them a real threat on the wing. Hugo Keenan impressed for Ireland last weekend, and will cause France plenty of problems at the back, whilst Andrew Conway is constantly involved in much of Ireland’s good attacking play.
The engine room, if you like, of scrum-half and fly-half, will be a very important area for both teams, with the experience of Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray going up against the young talented duo of Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack, who have both established themselves as two of the best rugby players in France over the last couple of seasons. It will be interesting to watch these four, and what tactics they look to use against each other.
At Number 8, there will also be an interesting battle going on between Gregory Alldritt and CJ Stander, both of whom love to have the ball and gain ground for their team, and both are proven try scorers too.
France have two players in particular who are always dependable when France need them to be; scrum-half Baptiste Serin and full-back Thomas Ramos. Both come on regularly for France, and help them over the line if they are winning, or add a different quality if they aren’t, and slot into the French side very well. However, head coach Fabien Galthie has opted not to include a fly-half among the substitutes, meaning that they may be intending to keep Ntamack on for the whole game, given how important it will be in deciding who wins the Six Nations title for this year.
Ireland, meanwhile, have experience to fall back on if things aren’t going their way, with hooker Dave Heffernan having an impact last weekend against Italy, and Peter O’Mahony being one of their most important players over the last few seasons. Chris Farrell also brings a bit of strength to the back line, which will be important, especially as the Irish don’t have Garry Ringrose to call on this week, after he suffered a broken jaw against Italy and was replaced early in the first half by Robbie Henshaw, who starts in his place tomorrow.
This is a really tight one to call, as it could go either way. Ireland are in good form, and will be up for the fight, as a bonus-point victory against France will give them the Six Nations title, regardless of other results. However, they got past Italy and France defeated Wales, making them look quite ordinary in the process. This might just give France the edge in this game, but it could well come down to who starts the game the best and the quickest as to who goes on to win. One thing we do know is that France are a team on the up as far as results and performances go, and cannot be counted out of the game until the final whistle has been blown.
This preview has served to give us a flavour of what we can expect from all six teams in their final game of the 2020 Six Nations tournament. We have looked at the key matchups that could help to decide the outcomes of these games, as well as which players on the benches will come on and have the desired impact. Ultimately, though, it will be an interesting day, with England, France and Ireland all still in with a chance of taking the title, whilst Wales and Scotland will want to end their tournament with a win. Italy unfortunately are guaranteed to finish bottom, taking the Wooden Spoon for the fifth consecutive year.