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Six Nations Preview 2011 - Weekend Five

Saturday, 19 March 2011

  • Scotland v Italy, Murrayfield, 14:30
  • Ireland v England, Aviva Stadium, 17:00
  • France v Wales, Stade de France, 19:45

In what's been a pretty grim tournament all round in terms of quality and entertainment, the last half hour of the Italy - France match went some way towards restoring our faith in the Six Nations Championship. Up to that point, it hadn't been a great match and France looked on their way to a comfortable if unconvincing win. However when Andrea Masi scored his try, the game came to life and it was fantastic to see the joy on the faces of the Italians at the end.

Italy now travel to Murrayfield confident that they can win and avoid the wooden spoon. Scotland will be desperate to win themselves to avoid a Six Nations whitewash but they've received a blow with the news that Max Evans, their most dangerous back, is out injured. In fairness to the Scots they put in a good effort against England, only losing narrowly. Their needs are greater and it should be enough to get them a narrow win.

The final game of the championship is the France-Wales match in the evening. After losing to Italy, French coach Marc Lievremont gave a bizarre interview in which he questioned his players' character. He blamed everything on them and it's hard to see how he can have their full backing at this stage. He's made five changes to the team dropping Yannick Jauzion, Aurelien Rougerie, Yoann Huget, Sylvain Marconnet and Sebastien Chabal. He's still named a strong side though but you've got to wonder what state the team's fragile temperament is in.

Wales are in buoyant mood after winning three in a row and they still have an outside chance of winning the championship. Shane Williams and Craig Mitchell are injured and are replaced by George North and Adam Jones. They were fortunate to be awarded that infamous try against Ireland but they probably just about deserved to win. They did kick the ball quite a bit though and you'd hope they will play some more positive rugby against France. If they do that, they might just snag a win.

The big match of the weekend is in Dublin though, where England play Ireland. England are virtually certain to win the championship but they'll be looking to win to complete their first Grand Slam in eight years. They've lost their captain Mike Tindall to injury so Dan Banahan starts in the centre. He's a huge man but he hasn't played that much rugby in midfield so Ireland will look to exploit him.

For Ireland, tomorrow is the chance to get something from what has been a desperately disappointing campaign. Once again they started well against Wales, but they couldn't keep it going. Sadly, the obsession with kicking the ball in the media seemed to get to the players and they spent most of the day hoofing the ball away.

Ireland have made two changes to the team with Luke Fitzgerald finally paying the price for his poor form at full back. Keith Earls takes the number fifteen jersey and Andrew Trimble comes in on the wing. Earls played well against Wales but it's a long time since he played full back and it's a worry that we could just be replacing one uncertain full back with another. The other change is the return of Jonny Sexton at out-half in place of Ronan O'Gara. Hopefully Sexton will relax and go out and play his own game.

The Ireland team will be smarting at the coverage of the game in England where they seem certain they will win. Man for man, Ireland are still a better team than England and they've grown used to beating them recently, winning six out of the last seven meetings. If Ireland can get their act together, they can go out and win but it all depends on their attitude. They need to be brave enough to go out and play and not resort to kicking the ball away the whole time.

Hopefully they can go out and do it and put a smile back on the face of Irish rugby.

by Jim O'Connor, © 2011-03-18