We trust you are all rested after your enforced layoff? Time to climb back into the Six Nations saddle for Round 3 with your guide Chimpie.
2019 Six Nations Preview Round
Six Nations 2019
Sat 14:15 Scotland vs France
TV: BBC ONE
Venue: Stade de France, Paris
Referee: Nick Berry (AUS)
How best to describe this? Injured vs. Inept? Hapless vs. Hopeless? France come back to Paris after a calamitous visit to Twickenham where they suffered a spectacular first half implosion, before which they had a calamitous second half implosion against Wales after a promising first half. There has been some glimmer of promise in an attacking sense from France but this has been outweighed by lack of organisation and some hopeless defending, particularly of kicks to the back field. This time out the team-sheet suggests a freshening up of the team, with some of the old guard (Parra, Lopez) binned in favour of promising young talent and—shock, horror, outrage!—backs played in their actual positions. Rumours abound of a player revolt after general cluelessness and lack of defensive organisation against England. Last time this happened France made a world cup final.
The Scotland team hasn’t been announced at the time of writing, and it’s a question currently of who’s left standing with a slew of injuries turning into a torrent. Hooker was a problem position at the start of the 6N with McInally being the only top 4 choice hooker left. This has eased somewhat with Brown back in harness, but the centre injury list has grown even longer with the addition of Jones, and possibly the two key players in the form of Hogg and Russell out. Oh, and the back row injury list has also been extended with the loss of Wilson. Hopefully everyone will remember their passports. Leaving aside the injury list Scotland have not convinced so far in the 6N, a competent first 60 minutes against Italy was undone by some late defensive laxness although the result was not in serious jeopardy. Against Ireland, Scotland were undone by a handling brain fart gifting easy points early on and an inability to cope with Ireland’s pressure game in the second half.
So a France in the doldrums after a long string of losses meet an injury-ridden and somewhat out of sorts Scotland in Paris. Scotland’s record here is woeful, having last won 20 years ago, and France will be desperate to stop the rot against a team they haven’t lost to at home for a long time. However, much will depend on whether the French pack can front up and their young half backs can provide any control. Unless France have improved their back field organisation they can be undone by a good kicking game, but with Finn out the back ups don’t have his toolkit, and Scotland’s most potent attacking threats are missing.
Prediction: France always present a physical challenge at home and will be up for this: while it will be close, Scotland are missing too much firepower to get over the line. France by 4.
Sat 16:45 Wales vs England
TV: BBC ONE, S4C
Venue: Principality Stadium, Cardiff
Referee: Jaco Peyper (SA)
The key question of later on Saturday afternoon is, as ever, will the roof be open or shut? It’s a wonderful opportunity for some Gats vs Jones ‘mind games’, but it isn’t certain at the moment whether they’ll act out of character and not take their opportunity for some pointless jousting over what is essentially an irrelevance. Apparently there’ll be some rugby played as well.
Wales have been pootling along on a long winning streak without that much comment, while England have gone from next to bottom of last year’s 6N table to champions elect if you listen to the more rabid corners of the internet. England’s form is, without a doubt, good, having despatched Ireland competently in Dublin and thoroughly discombobulated France in London. They have the tools and the players to go and get the win, however Wales may have something to say about that.
Welsh form hasn’t hit the obvious heights of England’s, however they chalked up a narrow win in Paris after fighting back from a poor first half, and put Italy away with a comfortable looking scoreline without being totally convincing. This is a team which does have a habit of winning and which has finally got the Australian monkey of their collective back: it should not be underestimated, especially at the Principality Stadium.
Prediction: It’s going to be a seriously tough, physical battle with some fascinating match-ups across the pitch. Wales are missing a few players and won’t necessarily have the ascendancy in the pack and subsequent control at half back. England to sneak it by a few.
Sun 15:00 Ireland vs Italy
TV: ITV ONE
Venue: Stadio Olimpico, Rome
Referee: Glen Jackson (NZ)
OK, it’s at the Stadio Olimpico but this is going to be another tough game for Italy. Ireland are not hitting recent heights having been convincingly beaten at home by England, followed by a hard-fought victory over Scotland away, but they are still the second ranked team in the world, and the top ranked northern hemisphere team. For the moment. They are settled, with strength in depth and a game plan they are familiar with.
Italy, on the other hand, are languishing in the world ranking mid-teens and are on a horrible run of 6N losses. Conor O’Shea is trying to get them playing a new style and some attacking flair is evident, however the other 6N teams are possibly improving more quickly. Benetton’s league improvement isn’t showing any sign of feeding through to the national team, but maybe structural improvements in the Italian professional set up will feed through in future years.
Prediction: Not going to be a happy day for Italy again, sadly, as Ireland will be too strong and run out winners by 20 to 30 points. Will they smile while scoring though?
Please all be upstanding to toast Chimpie for the excellent preview.
Weekend TV Matches
Only 18 games to watch this weekend. Free to air broadcasts are in bold.
Friday 22nd February
06:35 Highlanders 36 v 31 Reds, SR (Sky Sports Action)
19:05 Wales v England, U20 6N (S4C)
19:35 Glasgow v Connacht, Pro14 (Premier Sports 2)
19:35 Ospreys v Munster, Pro14 (Premier Sports 1, TG4)
19:45 Gloucester v Saracens, GPR (BT Sport 1)
19:55 Leinster v Southern Kings, Pro14 (Premier Sports 1)
Saturday 23rd February
04:15 Sunwolves v Waratahs, SR (Sky Sports Arena)
06:35 Crusaders v Hurricanes, SR (Sky Sports Action)
08:45 Brumbies v Chiefs, SR (Sky Sports Action)
13:00 Treviso v Dragons, Pro14 (Premier Sports 1, S4C)
13:05 Sharks v Blues, SR (Sky Sports Action)
14:15 France v Scotland, 6N (BBC ONE)
15:15 Stormers v Lions, SR (Sky Sports Arena/Main Event/Mix)
16:45 Wales v England, 6N (BBC ONE, S4C)
18:30 Italy v Ireland, Women’s 6N (BBC Connected TV, S4C)
19:35 Edinburgh v Cardiff, Pro14 (Premier Sports 2)
19:35 Ulster v Zebre, Pro14 (Premier Sports 1)
19:45 La Rochelle v Stade Français, Top14 (Sky Sports Arena)
19:50 France v Scotland, Women’s 6N (BBC Connected TV)
21:40 Los Jaguares v Bulls, SR (Sky Sports Arena)
Sunday 24th February
12:30 Wales v England, Women’s 6N (Sky Sports Arena/Mix, S4C)
13:00 Worcester v Leicester, GPR (BT Sport 2)
15:00 Italy v Ireland, 6N (ITV ONE)
15:50 Lyon v Clermont Auvergne, Top14 (Sky Sports Action)
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