Match 1: Scotland v France, Saturday 2.15pm
Scotland have made just three changes to the side that narrowly lost to Wales two weeks ago, with back rower Matt Fagerson joining Jamie Ritchie on the injury list, alongside Exeter Chiefs lock Jonny Gray. Sam Skinner moves to the second row to cover Gray’s absence, having been at flanker in Cardiff, which allows Glasgow Warriors’ Rory Darge to make his first international start, alongside Magnus Bradbury, who is in the XV for the first time since 2020. The other change is more straightforward, with tighthead prop WP Nel dropping to the bench and being replaced by Zander Fagerson, who came on for Nel against Wales. There are no changes amongst the backs.
France, meanwhile, have only made one change to their starting XV, with winger Gabin Villiere suffering an injury against Ireland in their last game. That means that Jonathan Danty, who has himself recovered from an injury, reclaims his place at centre, whilst Bordeaux’s Yoram Moefana switches to the wing. Other than that, France have no major concerns ahead of the game, with the likes of Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont, Damian Penaud and Melvyn Jaminet all named in the XV and likely to add a threat from the back.
Keep an eye on….
The two second row partnerships. These four players could be critical in deciding who has more possession and is more clinical in the game, as both Sam Skinner and Cameron Woki are excellent when in close range of the try line, so we can expect them to be involved in any phases of play around that area of the pitch. Meanwhile, the ability of both sides to win the ball in the air at lineouts will determine who has more opportunities to attack, so we can expect these battles to be closely contested and there to be some steals as both try to have as much possession as possible.
Match 2: England v Wales, Saturday 4.45pm
England had originally named Manu Tuilagi at centre ahead of their first home game of this year’s Championship, but his subsequent injury in training means that they will now confirm their starting XV on Saturday. It is likely that Harlequins’ Joe Marchant will take Tuilagi’s place, having been called back to training after originally being dropped from the matchday squad, and this is the most sensible replacement for England to make with such little notice. Northampton Saints’ Courtney Lawes will make his return from injury and will take over the captaincy from Sale Sharks flanker Tom Curry, whilst Harry Randall and Marcus Smith are likely to feature as the half-back pairing. That means that Leicester Tigers’ Ben Youngs will have to wait to win his 115th cap, breaking the record set by 2003 World Cup-winning prop Jason Leonard, as the scrum-half will start on the bench.
Wales have confirmed their starting XV, and it shows just two changes from the side that scraped past Scotland in their last outing. Flanker Jac Morgan moves to the bench and winger Louis Rees-Zammit is released to play for Gloucester against Leicester Tigers this weekend, with Josh Adams and Taulupe Faletau both returning from injury to start on the wing and in the back row respectively. Captain Dan Biggar is partnered once again by Tomos Williams, whilst props Wyn Jones and Tomas Francis will provide a stern test for England’s forwards during scrums. Ospreys winger Alex Cuthbert is set to win his 50th international cap.
Keep an eye on….
The tactics used by both sides during the game. We can expect this to be a match dominated by both sides trying to outdo the other in every area of the game, given that they each have one win and one loss in the tournament so far, and both will be desperate to find areas of weakness and exploit them as much as possible. As a result, different kicks, a range of passes, the two number 8s picking the ball up from the back of scrums and uncontested lineouts may all appear at some stage in the game, as each looks to find the best way to break down the other.
Match 3: Ireland v Italy, Sunday 3pm
Ireland have made six changes after their loss in Paris the weekend before last. Full-back Hugo Keenan and centre Bundee Aki have both dropped out of the squad altogether, lock James Ryan is injured and Ronan Kelleher will miss the rest of the tournament. In come Ulster’s Michael Lowry for his international debut, whilst Leinster winger James Lowe joins him in the backs after recovering from injury, and Robbie Henshaw regains his place in the midfield. The new arrivals in the pack see Leinster’s Dan Sheehan come in at hooker and Ryan Baird start at lock, whilst Peter O’Mahony will captain the side from flanker, with Caelan Doris moving across to number 8 and Jack Conan dropping to the replacements. Despite recovering from injury, Johnny Sexton is only named on the bench, with Munster standoff Joey Carbery keeping his place at fly-half.
Italy have changed their squad around too, with three alterations made as they look to recover from the 33-0 home loss to England last time out. Centre Marco Zanon is moved to the bench and winger Federico Mori misses out altogether, with Leonardo Marin and Pierre Bruno taking their respective places, whilst flanker Braam Steyn is also named among the replacements, with Giovanni Pettinelli starting instead. Young half-back pairing Stephen Varney and Paolo Garbisi will once again look to control things from the middle of the field, whilst Michele Lamaro continues to impress as captain.
Keep an eye on….
Some of the debutants. Both sides have players capable of providing some excitement on Sunday afternoon, with Ireland full-back Michael Lowry a quick runner and immense threat in the opposing 22, having been involved in plenty of Ulster’s offensive play this season. On the Italian side, Leonardo Marin is a player that Italian fans hope will give them a different type of threat among the backs, as he is a centre or a fly-half, so is not as powerful as some of their other options in that position. However, he is a good player to have on the ball, with late drop goals against both Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors securing wins for club side Benetton this season, so he will ask questions of the Irish defence.