Match 1: Wales v Italy, Saturday 2.15pm
Wales have rung the changes ahead of their final game against Italy, with head coach Wayne Pivac making seven in all as he looks to end what has been a disappointing campaign on a high. Lock Will Rowlands drops to the bench, whilst full-back Liam Williams, winger Alex Cuthbert, centre Jonathan Davies, scrum-half Tomos Williams, hooker Ryan Elias and tighthead prop Tomas Francis have all been left out. Dewi Lake and Dillon Lewis come off the bench to join Gareth Thomas in a new front row, whilst Gloucester winger Louis Rees-Zammit is also promoted. The new names in the starting XI are Gareth Davies, who partners Dan Biggar at half-back, Uilisi Halaholo, who comes into the midfield, and Johnny McNicholl, who starts at full-back. There is also a very welcome return for Alun Wyn Jones, who makes his first appearance at this year’s Championship.
Italy have opted to stick with largely the same team as last weekend, with the only two alterations seeing lock Niccolo Cannone drop out of the team and take his place among the replacements, whilst winger Pierre Bruno picked up an injury in the second half against Scotland and misses out altogether. Newcastle Falcons’ Marco Fuser comes into the second row, whilst Edoardo Padovani switches to the wing and exciting full-back Ange Capuozzo gets his first start, having impressed after coming on as a substitute last weekend. On the bench, loosehead prop Cherif Traore replaces Benetton teammate Ivan Nemer, whilst back rower Braam Steyn is set to win his 50th cap.
Keep an eye on….
The second rows. Both teams have made changes in this area and added some experience, with Alun Wyn Jones picking up his 150th cap for Wales and Marco Fuser having been around the Italian team since 2012. This will be very important at set-pieces, particularly lineouts, as dominating these situations will lead to possession, so it will be interesting to see who is the more dominant aerially. It is also telling that Italy have named two locks on the bench, in David Sisi and Niccolo Cannone, which shows that they recognise how important this battle could be.
Match 2: Ireland v Scotland, Saturday 4.45pm
Ireland have made three changes to the team that defeated England at Twickenham last Saturday, with lock James Ryan ruled out after his head collision in that game, whilst winger Andrew Conway picked up a knee injury in the week. Connacht star Mack Hansen returns to the matchday squad after being left out last weekend, whilst Ulster captain Iain Henderson is also given a start, partnering Tadhg Beirne in the second row. The other change is in the back row, with Caelan Doris moving to flanker from number 8 and Jack Conan coming in. Peter O’Mahony is the one who makes way for him, and he will join a list of replacements that looks largely the same as last weekend, with Ulster lock Kieran Treadwell being the only new inclusion.
Scotland have only made two changes from the hard-fought win against Italy, none of which were enforced. Exeter Chiefs lock Sam Skinner, who will join Edinburgh in the summer, and Racing 92 star Finn Russell have both moved to the bench, with Skinner being replaced by club teammate Jonny Gray, whilst Blair Kinghorn comes in to partner Ali Price at half-back, having been Russell’s understudy for most of this year’s Championship. There are also plenty of new players on the bench, as head coach Gregor Townsend looks to rotate his squad and give opportunities to as many players as possible. Hooker Fraser Brown, Bath back rower Josh Bayliss, scrum-half Ben White and centre Mark Bennett are all included.
Keep an eye on….
The back rows. We already know that Hamish Watson and Matt Fagerson excel at making tackles and getting over the ball when it hits the ground, whilst Glasgow Warriors’ Rory Darge has shown himself to be a solid replacement for the injured Jamie Ritchie, adding a try-scoring threat from close range. For Ireland, Caelan Doris is their main tackler and is also excellent at the breakdown, whilst Jack Conan is one of the best in the world at scoring short-range tries, so will always be a threat inside Scotland’s 22. Add to that the pace and agility of Josh van der Flier, who loves to run in from distance and break through opposing defences, and they have a really well-balanced lineup. Both in attack and defence, whichever of these trios has the better game could well decide who wins this contest.
Match 3: France v England, Saturday 8pm
France have been forced into making one change from the team that narrowly edged Wales in Cardiff, as they aim to seal a first Six Nations title and Grand Slam since 2010. Winger Yoram Moefana, one of the stars of this year’s Championship, has been ruled out with a knee injury sustained last Friday night, so the return of Damian Penaud after his recovery from Covid-19 is a welcome one. Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack once again form the half-back partnership, with Dupont captaining the side, whilst Melvyn Jaminet will hope to have his best shooting boots on in order to kick France to the title. The only other change to the matchday squad sees Toulon lock Romain Taofifenua return to the bench after his own positive Covid test, with Matthis Lebel making way.
With England’s title hopes ending after last weekend’s defeat to Ireland, head coach Eddie Jones has made five changes to the team. Bath captain Charlie Ewels is suspended, following his red card at Twickenham, whilst Bristol Bears duo Kyle Sinckler and Harry Randall drop to the bench. Tom Curry is not involved after his injury and Max Malins is also left out, with Leicester Tigers’ Freddie Steward switching to the wing and Northampton Saints’ George Furbank coming in at full-back in a tactical alteration. Elsewhere, Ben Youngs starts at scrum-half, having been on the bench for the last couple of games, whilst Bath’s Will Stuart replaces Sinckler in the front row, Nick Isiekwe starts at lock and Sam Underhill comes into the back row.
Keep an eye on….
The four props. We could see a lot of clashes between them in this game and getting on top of scrums will be crucial in gaining ground and winning penalties. Ellis Genge is an excellent scrummager, and his battle with Uini Atonio, the heaviest player in the Six Nations this year, will be really interesting to watch. On the other side, Will Stuart will go up against Cyril Baille, with both being slightly more mobile props, so we could see them look to make carries and support attacks in open play.