Match 1: Wales v Scotland, Saturday 2.15pm
Wales have made four changes from last weekend’s defeat in Dublin, with Josh Adams ruled out through injury, Aaron Wainwright moved to the bench and Johnny McNicholl and Ellis Jenkins left out altogether. Former Exeter Chiefs winger Alex Cuthbert has come in to make his first appearance for Wales since 2017, whilst Owen Watkin partners Nick Tompkins in the midfield. In the back row, Taine Basham, who was Wales’ best player last weekend, is joined by Ross Moriarty and Jac Morgan, who will make his international debut after impressing for Ospreys so far this season. Captain Dan Biggar will play his 100th international game, and influential centre Jonathan Davies will join him in reaching that milestone if he comes off the bench.
Scotland have made five alterations from their Calcutta Cup win against England on Saturday evening. Centre Sam Johnson replaced by Edinburgh’s Sione Tuipulotu, whilst there is also a brand new front row for the trip to Cardiff, as props Pierre Schoeman and WP Nel start either side of hooker Stuart McInally. The last change is enforced, as flanker Jamie Ritchie will miss the rest of the tournament with the injury sustained at Murrayfield on Saturday, and his place is taken by Exeter’s Sam Skinner.
Keep an eye on….
The speed at the breakdown, as this will be essential in keeping possession during the game. Therefore, both back rows will need to very good at getting over the ball and preventing their opponents from jackling it. Fortunately, both Wales and Scotland have a player who has demonstrated particular skill in this area of the game, as Hamish Watson was the star of last year’s tournament, whilst Jac Morgan is a newcomer with a physicality that will suit what could be a hard-fought encounter, and has been excellent this season when the ball is on the ground. That is not to say that they are the only ones who can get over the ball well, and it will be interesting to see which team registers the most turnovers and which has more success when holding onto the ball.
Match 2: France v Ireland, Saturday 4.45pm
France have made two changes from the team that defeated Italy in Paris last weekend, as centre Jonathan Danty is injured and flanker Dylan Cretin drops to the bench, so Bordeaux’s Yoram Moefana partners Gael Fickou in the midfield, whilst Toulouse’s Francois Cros, who was on the bench last weekend, is named in the pack. Full-back Mathieu Jaminet, winger Damian Penaud, lock Cameron Woki and flanker Anthony Jelonch all impressed last weekend, and are all likely to play a big role in this game too, as France look to prevent Ireland from winning a 10th successive game.
Ireland have only made one change from last weekend, and it is one they didn’t want to be making. However, captain and fly-half Johnny Sexton has been ruled out with a hamstring injury sustained in training this week, so Munster’s Joey Carbery will start in his place, and Connacht’s Jack Carty, who has been so impressive for his province this season, will be Carbery’s understudy on the bench. Other than that, Ireland have the same starting XV as last week, and there is more good news on the bench, as Leinster centre Robbie Henshaw and Ulster captain Iain Henderson have both been passed fit after missing last weekend’s match, and are both named among the replacements.
Keep an eye on….
The supporting runs from the middle of the field. We have often mentioned the importance of having quick wingers who can score tries, and a fly-half who can create opportunities around the field, and those are both things that France and Ireland have in abundance. However, something else that will be just as vital will be the speed that the centres show in getting up the field when the team has possession. Gael Fickou is a veteran of the Six Nations, whilst Bundee Aki and Garry Ringrose are two of the best in their positions, and this game could be decided by who manages to move the ball around at a higher speed, taking advantage of gaps in the opposing defensive line. This was something that Ireland showed plenty of last weekend, allowing them to open Wales up on so many occasions, and it could be key in deciding who wins this game too.
Match 3: Italy v England, Sunday 3pm
Italy have only made three changes to their starting XV, with tighthead prop Tiziano Pasquali and flanker Sebastien Negri both dropping to the bench and being replaced by Pietro Ceccarelli and Braam Steyn respectively. However, the surprise omission is that of Benetton winger Tommaso Menoncello, who scored the opening try last weekend at the Stade de France. He is not even on the bench, with Federico Mori his replacement in the XV, whilst there is no centre, winger or full-back among the replacements. Stephen Varney and Paolo Garbisi continue their half-back partnership, whilst Michele Lamaro captains the team from the back row.
England have made six changes to the team that lost to Scotland last Saturday, with versatile back Elliott Daly, scrum-half Ben Youngs, hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie, tighthead prop Kyle Sinckler and number 8 Sam Simmonds all dropping to the bench, whilst Northampton Saints captain Lewis Ludlam is left out altogether. Joe Marchant moves to centre and partners Henry Slade, whilst Jack Nowell, who was on the bench last week, is given the wing role that the Harlequins back had last weekend. Bristol Bears’ Harry Randall takes Youngs’ place at scrum-half, giving England even more creativity in the middle of the field, whilst Jamie George, Will Stuart, Charlie Ewels and Alex Dombrandt also come in, starting at hooker, tighthead, lock and number 8 respectively. Bath captain Ewels’ inclusion comes as Itoje switches from lock to flanker.
Keep an eye on….
The set-pieces. Italy have gone with a forward-dominated bench, because they feel that they can target England at set-pieces. We did see a few moments against Scotland when England fell apart at lineouts, conceding a few too many penalties, so it could be interesting to watch how the visitors look to tidy these areas of the game up, and how Italy’s relatively new-look front row cope when competing against England’s Ellis Genge, Jamie George and Will Stuart at scrums.