France will have to negotiate a slippery slope on their road to the Six Nations rugby champions title when they come up against Scotland at Murrayfield on Saturday, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
The crunch clash in Edinburgh is followed by another mouth-watering match-up with England welcoming Wales to Twickenham, while Ireland host Italy to wrap up Round Three on Sunday.
Scotland v France
Saturday, 26 February – 16:15
Fresh off passing a major test in the form of Ireland, France face another stiff challenge, one that’s both physical and psychological as it were the Scots who denied Les Bleus the title and Grand Slam last year with a 27-23 upset in the final match of the championship.
That painful lesson in Paris steeled France, who used that heartbreak as fuel to grow and head into the 2022 meeting on a five-match winning streak. Ironically, Murrayfield being the battleground benefits France after home comforts contributed to last year’s costly defeat.
The Murrayfield factor eliminates complacency and demands complete focus from any visiting team. Scotland’s contrasting results this campaign are evidence of Murrayfield’s magic. A spirited performance propelled them to a 20-17 win over England at home, but they were unable to match that intensity on the road, falling to Wales by the same scoreline.
France enter with not only momentum on their side following a potential championship-deciding 30-24 win over Ireland, but continuity as well. Scotland, in turn, have been rocked by injuries with Rory Sutherland, Jonny Gray, Javan Sebastian, Scott Cummings and Cam Redpath all ruled out.
Gusting winds will be an added challenge France will have to overcome, but Les Bleus should be too strong for a weakened Scottish side.
England v Wales
Saturday, 26 February – 18:45
Teams on the same trajectory collide in a must-win clash to keep their title hopes alive. England whitewashed Italy 33-0 to recover from their above-mentioned loss to Scotland, while Wales bounced back from a heavy defeat to Ireland with a 20-17 win over the Scots.
It was a minor upset by the defending champions, despite playing at home, and more than anything was a gutsy display by a team without several frontline players in this campaign. They righted many of the wrongs of the 29-7 loss to the Irish but replicating that performance on the road is a different story.
The tension will be through the roof as neither team nor coach can afford to lose. It could, therefore, be a tentative Test match, which would count in Wales’ favour. Eddie Jones’ best option would be to back his players to push the pace and put pressure on the Dragons’ defence rather than restricting them because of the fear of failure.
Bolstered by Courtney Lawes and with more weapons in their arsenal, England should take it by two scores.
Ireland v Italy
Sunday, 27 February – 17:00
After having their nine-match unbeaten streak snapped by France, Ireland are primed to pile on the points against an Italy outfit who are woefully out of their depth.
Bonus-point victories are now expected against the Azzurri, who haven’t won a Six Nations clash in seven years, and you can bank on Ireland claiming a full-house to stay in touch with Les Bleus.
That said, even the listless Italians should be able to cover the massive 39.5-point spread.