A dangerous Scotland side with an axe to grind are hell-bent on taking down England as the Six Nations returns this weekend, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
Up first on Saturday, Ireland will look to continue their perfect start to the championship when they welcome Wales to the Aviva Stadium, and then it’s time for the blockbuster at Murrayfield.
The round concludes on Sunday when France will seek to get back to their best against Italy in Lille.
Ireland v Wales
Saturday, 24 February – 16:15
Ireland have been imperious, following up their statement 38-17 smashing of France in the opening round with a 36-0 shutout of Italy to collect the maximum 10 log points and earn the top spot.
They’ve come out with fire and energy, putting their World Cup disappointment behind them with complete performances that suggest they’ll march to a Grand Slam. Andy Farrell’s men won’t be getting ahead of themselves, though, and won’t take Wales lightly.
For all their inexperience, Wales have the type of grit and focus on the basics that allowed them to compete and nearly beat both Scotland and England. Their defence was much improved from the first game and their work at the breakdown, particularly in slowing England’s ball down, will be a key factor Ireland will need to address.
At the end of the day, the Dragons don’t have the attacking edge to threaten an upset, but it won’t be quite the blowout that the line suggests.
Scotland v England
Saturday, 24 February – 18:45
With England two points behind Ireland in second place (8) and Scotland (5) in third place, this is a crucial clash to determine who puts some kind of pressure on the red-hot Irish.
Can Scotland get over the hump? That’s the question after they let a famous win over France slip last time out. Yes, they were unlucky that the controversial was-it-or-was-it-not-a-try call that cost them the game went against them, but they shouldn’t have been in that position after being the better team for most of the match.
England, on the other hand, did the opposite, digging themselves out of trouble to edge Wales 16-14. Much of their struggles were self-imposed, poor discipline that saw them concede two yellow cards and elementary errors being at the heart of their affliction.
There’s much to like about the Scots, who’ll be riled up after feeling they were robbed, whereas England have been winning without setting the world alight. With the belief in the Scottish camp, sound structures, an in-form Finn Russell and a chip on their shoulder, Gregor Townsend’s troops should edge it.
France v Italy
Sunday, 25 February – 17:00
This game comes at a perfect time for France to finally recover from their World Cup hangover. Les Bleus have been stuck in first gear and been too passive on defence, both of which can be attributed to the change in assistant coaches handling attack and defence after the global showpiece.
Italy did well to rally back and push England close in their opening game, but after being whitewashed by Ireland, it’s clear that they won’t trouble France. Instead, Fabien Galthie’s men will find their mojo and pick up the full five log points. Having said that, I don’t think they’ll quite cover the spread.