The blockbuster kicks off the weekend’s action with Scotland welcoming Wales to Murrayfield in the other fixture on Saturday, while a desperate England host Italy at Twickenham on Sunday.
Ireland v France
Saturday, 11 February – 16:15
It’s the king-maker clash. The number one ranked team in the world playing host to the number two ranked team. Many believe France, Grand Slam winners and unbeaten in all of 2022, are the true kings of the global game. Saturday’s mouth-watering war will reveal who are rugby’s rightful rulers and will see the victors take a massive leap toward the Six Nations title.
Ireland were their clinical selves straight out of the shoot, walloping Wales 34-10 in Cardiff and highlighting why they’re the favourites to claim the crown. It was as good an opening performance as you get, although Andy Farrell will demand an 80-minute performance from his troops against Les Bleus.
France received a serious wake-up call in Rome, surviving a massive scare thanks to a late Matthieu Jalibert try. Having shaken off the rust, they’ll be much improved in the potential championship decider. Having said that, their rucking and ill-discipline are a serious cause for concern. Usually a strength of their game, they conceded double-digit turnovers and can expect to be hit by a green tsunami led by World Player of the Year Josh van der Flier.
France have the bigger, stronger pack but Ireland’s front eight have greater experience and balance as a unit as well as individual skill. Both teams have excellent game drivers in captains Johnny Sexton and Antoine Dupont and here you’d have to give the edge to Ireland’s general with his knowledge of the local conditions.
In the end, Ireland’s unrivalled cohesion and home-ground advantage should see them edge an epic.
Scotland v Wales
Saturday, 11 February – 18:45
The boisterous Scots will run out to a heroes’ welcome after completing a first Calcutta Cup hat-trick since 1972 with a famous 29-23 triumph at Twickenham last weekend.
Wales, in contrast, have to rethink and dig deep after Warren Gatland’s second term at the helm got off to the worst possible start. To turn things around, they’ll have to turn it into a set-piece-to-set-piece chess match to not allow surging Scotland to find their mojo.
The hosts are a well-oiled machine in comparison with the transitioning Welsh and they have all the tools and momentum to back up last week’s heroics with another win.
England v Italy
Sunday, 12 February – 17:00
Usually, a date with the Azzurri is just what the doctor ordered for a Six Nations side to bounce back from a disappointing defeat but the tussle at Twickenham is no foregone conclusion. Italy were so good and ferocious in their near-upset of France that they’ll fancy their chances of clinching a first-ever win over England.
That gutsy display, though, came at home. Their only away victory in all competitions/series in the last seven years was last year’s thrilling 22-21 win over Wales in Cardiff.
A second straight loss to start the Steve Borthwick era would be a catastrophe and England will leave no stone unturned to rectify the defeat to Scotland.
Italy will start strong but England will eventually put daylight between the sides. I do see the Italians covering the spread, though.