Ireland have flexed their muscles in the opening two weeks of the Six Nations to stake their claim for the Grand Slam. After their disappointing exit at the World Cup and the departure of Joe Schmidt, there were fears that Ireland would not be able to compete for the title.
However, their performances under the tenure of new coach Andy Farrell have suggested that they will be vying for the crown come the end of the competition. Ireland are backed in the rugby union betting odds at 2/1 to triumph in the Six Nations, although they also have a price of 5/1 for the Grand Slam. Given that they have to play both England and France away from home it might not seem plausible, but Farrell has found a tune out of his team in the early stages of his reign.
Ireland suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of New Zealand in the quarter-finals of the World Cup, exiting the tournament in the last eight for the third time in a row. The Irish were the number one ranked side heading into the World Cup and had previously recorded victories over the All Blacks in two of their previous three meetings. However, Schmidt’s men were powerless to stop New Zealand easing to 46-14 victory. It was the end of an era for Irish rugby as Schmidt departed, while captain Rory Best called time on his career.
Farrell was already announced as the replacement for Schmidt having served as defence coach for three years, and he made an immediate statement by leaving Rob Kearney, Jordi Murphy, Sean Cronin, Jack Carty and Kieran Marmion out of his first squad. Kearney was a constant presence at full-back under the tenure of Schmidt and indeed for the past 12 years, but the move to replace him with Jordan Larmour, who impressed during the World Cup was one of the many signs that the next phase of Irish rugby was well underway.
The first challenge came against Scotland on home soil and although it was not a pretty performance, Ireland displayed enough quality to grind out the win in Dublin. Jonny Sexton’s injury problems in 2019 played a crucial role in the struggles of the team. However, he was back to top form with the decisive try in the contest as well as being deadly accurate with the boot, scoring all 19 of his side’s points in their 19-12 triumph.
Wales would provide the test of Ireland’s hopes of winning the competition. The Dragons were unbeaten in nine Six Nations matches heading into the contest at the Aviva Stadium. Farrell’s men needed a clinical display and they produced an excellent attacking outing, scoring four tries courtesy of Larmour, Tadhg Furlong, Josh van der Flier and Andrew Conway, while Sexton knocked over two of his three conversions. Wales were a threat in the second half, but the home side were solid in their defensive duties to keep them at bay until the closing stages, recording a comfortable victory by a 10-point margin.
Ireland will have to raise the level of their game on the road. England showed signs of life after their surprise defeat to France by beating Scotland in terrible conditions at Murrayfield. Producing back-to-back wins at Twickenham and the Stade de France is a massive undertaking and will provide evidence as to whether Ireland’s rebuild is progressing faster than expected after their winter of change.
Scotland change 3 for Italian Clash
Scotland Head Coach Gregor Townsend has made three changes to the starting Scotland team to face Italy at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome this Saturday.
Scotland have won 22 of the 30 Tests between the nations but the odds are more evenly stacked when they meet in Italy, with the contests level on six apiece thanks to a recent run of four consecutive away wins for the Scots.
Townsend said: “Italy are always a very tough opponent, especially in Rome, where we know they’ll look to play with a huge amount of energy.
“It’s a different Italy team to the one we’ve played in the past. In their opening two games of the championship they have played with real ambition and width.
“They’ve also selected athletic, ball players who suit this strategy and are comfortable playing at a high tempo.
“We are well aware of the threats throughout their team and how their attacking game can cause problems for any defence.”
Scotland’s changes see Edinburgh forwards Stuart McInally (hooker) and Ben Toolis (second-row), and Gloucester centre Chris Harris, promoted from the bench for their first start of the 2020 campaign.
McInally swaps places with Glasgow Warriors’ Fraser Brown, who moves to the bench, and Toolis comes in for the injured Jonny Gray (hand), while Harris is picked in favour of Huw Jones, with Sale Sharks wing Byron McGuigan taking his place on the bench.
Reflecting on the team changes, Townsend added: “We believe Chris [Harris] and Stuart [McInally] deserve this opportunity. They were very close to the starting fifteen when we entered this campaign. We think this is the right time for them to come in.
“Chris has been excellent for Gloucester this season and has continued to make improvements since the summer. He works very hard on both sides of the ball, which will be important this week.
“Stuart [McInally] has shown over the past few weeks he’s back to full fitness and is raring to go and Ben gets an opportunity to start following Jonny’s injury against England.
“Second-row is a position we have a lot of competition with a number of very good players available for selection. We’re looking forward to seeing how he combines again with Scott [Cummings] after a successful outing together against Russia in the World Cup.”
Glasgow Warriors pairing Ali Price and Adam Hastings return at half-back for a third Test in a row, with clubmate Sam Johnson retained in midfield to partner Harris.
Edinburgh wing Blair Kinghorn – who scored a hat-trick in the corresponding fixture at BT Murrayfield last season – is joined once more by Sean Maitland (wing) and captain Stuart Hogg (full-back) in the back field.
Props Zander Fagerson and Rory Sutherland join McInally in the front-row, with Scott Cummings reinstated to partner Toolis at lock.
The all-Edinburgh back-row of Jamie Ritchie, Hamish Watson and Magnus Bradbury makes up the loose trio once again to complete the pack.
In all the replacements bench features four changes, with second-row Grant Gilchrist and wing McGuigan taking the places vacated by the promoted Harris and Toolis, while Edinburgh tighthead Willem Nel and recent squad addition Matt Fagerson (back-row) replace Simon Berghan and Nick Haining respectively.
Edinburgh wing Darcy Graham returned to training last week but has not yet recovered sufficiently from his knee injury to be considered for this Test match.
Squad Update from Scottish Rugby
Four Changes for England Ahead of Ireland Showdown
England have made four changes to their starting line-up ahead of this weekend’s clash with rivals Ireland and there is a surprise selection in the back-line
England head coach Eddie Jones has confirmed a total of four changes to his starting XV for this Sunday’s Six Nations game against Ireland in Twickenham Stadium at 15 00.
In the pack Joe Marler takes the place of Mako Vunipola, who misses the game through family reasons, while in the backs Ben Youngs, Manu Tuilagi and Jonathan Joseph come in.
The only surprise being that regular centre Joseph will start on the wing for his 50th international test.
Elsewhere it’s the same team that defeated Scotland last time out with Jamie George and Kyle Sinckler joining Marler in the front-row, with Maro Itoje and George Kruis behind them in the engine-room.
Courtney Lawes continues at blindside-flanker, with Sam Underhill on the openside and Tom Curry is once again selected at No 8 despite many fans and pundits calling for him to be shifted back to the flank.
Youngs links-up with George Ford in the half-backs, with captain Owen Farrell and Tuilagi outside them in the midfield pairing.
Joseph starts on the left-wing, with Jonny May on the right and Elliot Daly shifts to full-back to complete the starting line-up.
There is a six-two forwards to backs split on the bench with the likes of Luke Cowan-Dickie and Joe Launchbury among the replacements for the pack while Willi Heinz and the returning Henry Slade are cover for the backs.
Speaking ahead of the game Jones believes that his team are well prepared for the clash but knows how dangerous Ireland can be.
“We’ve had a really good training week with Thursday probably our best session of the Guinness Six Nations. Ireland are a very good team, extremely well-coached. They are a team we respect a lot. They will bring their usual physicality and under Andy Farrell they’ve opened up their game a little bit. They are a tactically smart team. Murray and Sexton, who have played 170 Tests between them, at nine and 10 will manage the game well. We’ve got to make sure we match their physicality and their emotion on the weekend. We trained at Twickenham Stadium in front of 10,000 fans last Friday and we can’t wait to get back out there in front of 80,000 people on Sunday,” he said.
England will head into the game looking to get their championship title tilt back on track, but come up against an Ireland team hoping to seal a Triple Crown and continue their march towards a Grand Slam in what is set to be a massive encounter against two fierce rivals.
Check Out the Full 23-Man Squad Below.
15 Elliot Daly (Saracens, 41 caps)
14 Jonny May (Leicester Tigers, 54 caps)
13 Manu Tuilagi (Leicester Tigers, 41 caps)
12 Owen Farrell (Saracens, 81 caps) C
11 Jonathan Joseph (Bath Rugby, 49 caps)
10 George Ford (Leicester Tigers, 67 caps)
9 Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers, 97 caps)
1 Joe Marler (Harlequins, 69 caps)
2 Jamie George (Saracens, 47 caps)
3 Kyle Sinckler (Harlequins, 33 caps)
4 Maro Itoje (Saracens, 36 caps)
5 George Kruis (Saracens, 43 caps)
6 Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints, 83 caps)
7 Sam Underhill (Bath Rugby, 17 caps)
8 Tom Curry (Sale Sharks, 21 caps)
16 Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs, 22 caps)
17 Ellis Genge (Leicester Tigers, 16 caps)
18 Will Stuart (Bath Rugby, 1 cap)
19 Joe Launchbury (Wasps, 63 caps)
20 Charlie Ewels (Bath Rugby, 13 caps)
21 Ben Earl (Saracens, 1 cap)
22 Willi Heinz (Gloucester Rugby, 11 caps)
23 Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs, 27 caps)
Wales Make Two Changes for French Test
Wales have made only two changes to their starting line-up for this weekend’s crunch clash with France in the Six Nations
Wales head coach Wayne Pivac has made two changes to his starting XV for his side’s Six Nations game against France at the Principality Stadium on Saturday at 16 45.
There is a change a piece in the forwards and the backs from the 24-14 loss to Ireland, with Ross Moriarty comes into the pack, while Gareth Davies returns to the half-backs.
The rest of the team remains the same with Wyn Jones, Ken Owens and Dillon Lewis making up the front-row, with Jake Ball partnering captain Alun Wyn Jones in the second-row once again.
Moriarty takes up a place as blindside-flanker, with Justin Tipuric on the openside and Taulupe Faletau completes the forward pack from No 8.
Davies links-up with Dan Biggar in the half-backs, and they have Hadleigh Parkes and Nick Tompkins outside them in the midfield.
Josh Adams stays on the left-wing after recovering from an injury picked up in the last game, with George North on the right and Leigh Halfpenny continues at full-back.
There is plenty of talent on the bench for Pivac to call upon if needed with the likes of Ryan Elias, Aaron Wainwright, Tomos Williams and Johnny McNicholl among the replacements.
Wales are hoping to get their title defence back on track with a win at home to the French, but will know that they need a big performance with the French unbeaten in their opening two games and chasing a Grand Slam.
Check Out the Full 23-Man Squad Below.
15. Leigh Halfpenny (87 Caps)
14. George North (93 Caps)
13. Nick Tompkins (2 Caps)
12. Hadleigh Parkes (27 Caps)
11. Josh Adams (23 Caps)
10. Dan Biggar (81 Caps)
9. Gareth Davies (52 Caps)
1. Wyn Jones (24 Caps)
2. Ken Owens (75 Caps)
3. Dillon Lewis (24 Caps)
4. Jake Ball (44 Caps)
5. Alun Wyn Jones (C) (136 Caps)
6. Ross Moriarty (43 Caps)
7. Justin Tipuric (74 Caps)
8. Taulupe Faletau (74 Caps)
16. Ryan Elias (11 Caps)
17. Rob Evans (37 Caps)
18. Leon Brown (8 Caps)
19. Will Rowlands (*Uncapped)
20. Aaron Wainwright (20 Caps)
21. Tomos Williams (18 Caps)
22. Jarrod Evans (5 Caps)
23. Johnny McNicholl (2 Caps)
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