Six Nations final round: Warren Gatland urges Wales to ‘embrace the emotion’
Wales one win from glory but England and Ireland are on the dragon’s tail
2019 Six Nations round five fixtures Saturday 16 March
- Italy vs. France (12.30pm, live on ITV)
- Wales vs. Ireland (2.45pm, live on BBC and S4C)
- England vs. Scotland (5pm, live on BBC)
For Wales the equation is easy: beat Ireland in Cardiff on Saturday and they will win the Six Nations championship and secure their first grand slam since 2012.
Lose, however, and the title is England’s, providing they see off Scotland at Twickenham, which they have been doing without a hitch since 1983.
But should the incredible happen, and the Scots win in London, and Ireland overcome Wales, then the men in green will retain the Six Nations.
Those are the convolutions to what will be an exciting finale to the 2019 Six Nations, with only one thing certain going into the last round of matches: the wooden spoon will go yet again to the Italians regardless of whether they beat France in Rome.
Warren Gatland has named the same XV that beat Scotland last week as he searches for a third grand slam to go with the ones he won in 2008 and 2012.
Whatever happens in Cardiff, it will be Gatland’s last Six Nations game in charge of the Welsh and the Kiwi acknowledged it will be a memorable occasion for more than one reason.
“The fact that it is in Cardiff is extra special,” said Gatland, who has been coaching Wales since 2007. “There is bound to be a bit of emotion on Saturday and that is something to embrace.”
Sign off in style
Ireland make three changes for the visit to Cardiff, including a Six Nations debut for Munster second-row Tadhg Beirne, with the return of full-back Rob Kearney and flanker Sean O’Brien the other alterations.
For Ireland, last season’s grand slam champions, nothing would give them greater pleasure than raining on Wales’ parade tomorrow.
“The place is going to be electric, their fans are going to expect a grand slam,” said Ireland scrum-half Conor Murray. “We still have a sniff of a title [and] we want to sign off on the Six Nations with another strong performance before we break up for a while.”
The grudge game
If Wales beat Ireland then England will run out at Twickenham without the incentive of a tilt at the title. But motivation won’t be an issue for Eddie Jones’s side, not after what happened last year when they lost 25-13 to the Scots in Edinburgh.
There was a well-publicised bust-up in the tunnel and the Scots were still mouthing off on the Sunday, with a group of supporters taunting Jones at a railway station.
England head coach Jones says he hasn’t forgotten “how they carried on after they beat us last year” and hammering the Scots would be a good way to avenge the defeat.
Jones on Joe
In naming his starting XV Jones has gone for the rapier and not the bludgeon, dropping the massive wing Joe Cokanasiga in favour of Jack Nowell and replacing the aggression of Ben Te’o at centre with the artistry of Henry Slade.
There are two changes in the pack with Mark Wilson starting at blindside flanker in place of Brad Shields and Ben Moon coming in for Ellis Genge at loosehead prop.
There was surprise at the exclusion of the 21-year-old Cokanasiga, given the way he’s played since making his debut last autumn, but Jones intimated he’s got a World Cup plan up his sleeve for the winger.
“He’ll feature very strongly in our plans for the future,” he explained. “We don’t need to rush him. We’ll bring him through carefully… I don’t need to reveal my selection plans for the future but I do know he’ll be ready for the World Cup.”
Staring down the barrel
Realistically, Scotland have no chance of causing an upset at Twickenham but a heavy defeat could cap a catastrophic championship.
Plagued by injuries throughout the tournament, they have managed to beat only Italy and one of their great players from the past, Scott Hastings, fears for his countrymen. Excluding Italy, the last time the Scots won away in the Six Nations was nine years ago in Dublin.
“On current form, Scotland could be staring down the barrel of another 60-pointer like in 2017,” he said.
Coach Gregor Townsend, a former teammate of Hastings, has made six changes to the side that lost to Wales last week, and among those is the absence through injury of flanker James Ritchie, whose endeavour will be sorely missed at Twickenham.
It makes a formidable challenge even more daunting and if the Scots play badly on Saturday England could inflict a record defeat to surpass the one of 2017.
The final weekend of the tournament kicks off in Rome where there won’t be much revelry among Italian and French fans.
It’s been a disastrous Six Nations for the two countries with France’s defeat of Scotland the only victory either have managed.
Italy haven’t won a Six Nations match since February 2015 but there’s a quiet confidence that they could be about to break that losing streak against a demoralised France.
Were that to happen, Italy would still finish bottom of the table, but it would be a welcome shot in the arm for a country that many believe don’t deserve to be in the Six Nations.
In contrast, even a win in Rome won’t put a smile on the faces of French fans and journalists who acknowledge that in the last decade the Six Nations has become a two-tier competition: England, Wales and Ireland battling for the silverware, and Scotland, France and Italy vying to avoid the wooden spoon.
Italy vs. France
- When: Saturday 16 March
- Where: Stadio Olimpico, Rome
- Start time: 12.30pm (GMT)
- Referee: Matt Carley
- TV channel: live on ITV
- Match betting odds: Italy to win 14/5; France to win 2/5; draw 28/1
- Starting XV: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Edoardo PadovanI, 13 Marco Zanon, 12 Luca Morisi, 11 Angelo Esposito, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Tito Tebaldi; 1 Andrea Lovotti, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 3 Tiziano Pasquali, 4 David Sisi, 5 Federico Ruzza, 6 Braam Steyn, 7 Jake Polledri, 8 Sergio Parisse (captain)
- Replacements: 16 Luca Bigi, 17 Cherif Traore, 18 Simone Ferrari, 19 Alessandro Zanni, 20 Sebastian Negri, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Ian McKinley, 23 Luca Sperandio
- Starting XV: 15 Maxime Medard, 14 Damian Penaud, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Yoann Huget, 10 Romain Ntamack, 9 Antoine Dupont; 1 Etienne Falgoux, 2 Guilhem Guirado, 3 Demba Bamba, 4 Felix Lambey, 5 Paul Willemse, 6. Gregory Alldritt, 7 Yacouba Camara, 8 Louis Picamoles
- Replacements: 16 Camille Chat, 17 Dany Priso, 18 Dorian Aldegheri, 19 Paul Gabrillagues, 20 Arthur Iturria, 21 Baptiste Serin, 22 Camille Lopez, 23 Thomas Ramos
Wales vs. Ireland
- When: Saturday 16 March
- Where: Principality Stadium, Cardiff
- Start time: 2.45pm (GMT)
- Referee: Angus Gardner
- TV channel: live on BBC and S4C
- Match betting odds: Wales to win 4/5; Ireland to win 5/4; draw 25/1
- Starting XV: 15 Liam Williams, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Gareth Davies; 1 Rob Evans, 2 Ken Owens, 3 Tomas Francis, 4 Adam Beard, 5. Alun Wyn Jones (captain), 6 Josh Navidi, 7 Justin Tipuric, 8 Ross Moriarty
- Replacements: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Nicky Smith 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Jake Ball, 20 Aaron Wainwright, 21 Aled Davies, 22 Dan Biggar, 23 Owen Watkin
- Starting XV: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Conor Murray; 1 Cian Healy, 2 Rory Best, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 4 Tadhg Beirne, 5 James Ryan, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 7 Sean O’Brien, 8 CJ Stander
- Replacements: 16 Niall Scannell, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 Andrew Porter, 19 Quinn Roux, 20 Jack Conan, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Jack Carty, 23 Jordan Larmour
England vs. Scotland
- When: Saturday 16 March
- Where: Twickenham, London
- Start time: 5pm (GMT)
- Referee: Paul Williams
- TV channel: live on ITV
- Match betting odds: England to win 1/12; Scotland to win 10/1; draw 50/1
- Starting XV: 15 Elliot Daly, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Manu Tuilagi, 11 Jonny May, 10 Owen Farrell (captain), 9 Ben Youngs; 1 Ben Moon, 2 Jamie George, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 4 Joe Launchbury, 5 George Kruis, 6 Mark Wilson, 7 Tom Curry, 8 Billy Vunipola
- Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Ellis Genge, 18 Dan Cole, 19 Brad Shields, 20 Nathan Hughes, 21 Ben Spencer, 22 George Ford, 23 Ben Te’o
- Starting XV: 15 Sean Maitland, 14 Darcy Graham, 13 Nick Grigg, 12 Sam Johnson, 11 Byron McGuigan, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Ali Price; 1 Allan Dell, 2 Stuart McInally (captain), 3 Willem Nel, 4 Ben Toolis, 5 Grant Gilchrist, 6 Sam Skinner, 7 Hamish Watson, 8 Magnus Bradbury
- Replacements: 16 Fraser Brown, 17 Gordon Reid, 18 Simon Berghan, 19 Jonny Gray, 20 Josh Strauss, 21 Greig Laidlaw, 22 Adam Hastings, 23 Chris Harris