Six Nations round two: Scotland ready for ‘biggest challenge’ against Ireland
Wales travel to Italy and England face France at Twickenham
Scotland vs. Ireland
- When: Saturday 9 February
- Where: BT Murrayfield, Edinburgh
- Start time: 2.15pm
- TV channel: live on BBC One
- Betting odds: Ireland to win 4/9; Scotland to win 9/4; Draw 28/1
Ireland have gone from confident to crisis in the space of a week and are no longer favourites to beat Scotland tomorrow.
Two months ago they were talked of being serious World Cup contenders but the manner of their defeat to England in Dublin has alarmed many in Ireland.
To make matters worse Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt will be without CJ Stander, Devin Toner, Garry Ringrose and Robbie Henshaw because of injury, so it’s a new-look team to the one that started last week.
Rob Kearney returns at full-back for his 88th cap, while the inexperienced Chris Farrell takes over from Ringrose. Jack Conan replaces Stander, Quinn Roux in is for Toner and Josh van der Flier makes way for Sean O’Brien in a tactical change.
Schmidt gave a testy response to a suggestion from a journalist that Ireland are too one-dimensional. “There aren’t too many weeks where I don’t get a letter from somebody saying I should be picking this player or trying to do this in the game,” said Schmidt. “We have a very, varied game. We play strong off set-piece, we have a varied kicking and attacking game.”
Scots going strong
A win in Edinburgh would keep the Irish on course for their fourth championship in six years but they were well beaten two years ago in Edinburgh, and Scotland’s tail is up after their emphatic win over Italy last week.
Coach Gregor Townsend has made four changes to that XV, including the surprise omission of Blair Kinghorn, who scored a hat-trick of tries against Italy. He drops out for the fit-again Sean Maitland, while another stalwart of recent years, Jonny Gray, replaces Ben Toolis.
Meanwhile the injured prop WP Nel and flanker Sam Skinner are replaced by Simon Berghan and Josh Strauss.
“This is probably the biggest challenge we’ll face in the Guinness Six Nations, given the way Ireland have been playing in the last few years,” said Townsend.
“They are grand slam champions and the No.2 team in the world. It is a challenge that brings an extra edge and focus to training and something our players relish taking on.”
Scotland starting XV
- 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Sam Johnson, 11 Sean Maitland, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Greig Laidlaw (captain); 1 Allan Dell, 2 Stuart McInally, 3 Simon Berghan, 4 Grant Gilchrist, 5 Jonny Gray, 6 Ryan Wilson, 7 Jamie Ritchie, 8 Josh Strauss
- Replacements: 16 Fraser Brown, 17 Jamie Bhatti, 18 D’arcy Rae, 19 Ben Toolis, 20 Rob Harley, 21 Ali Price, 22 Peter Horne, 23 Blair Kinghorn
Ireland starting XV
- 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Chris Farrell, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray; 1 Cian Healy, 2 Rory Best (captain), 3 Tadhg Furlong, 4 James Ryan, 5 Quinn Roux, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 7 Sean O’Brien, 8 Jack Conan
- Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 Andrew Porter, 19 Ultan Dillane, 20 Josh van der Flier, 21 John Cooney, 22 Joey Carbery, 23 Jordan Larmour
Italy vs. Wales
- When: Saturday 9 February
- Where: Stadio Olimpico, Rome
- Start time: 4.45pm
- TV channel: live on ITV and S4C
- Betting odds: Wales to win 1/12; Italy to win 11/1; Draw 66/1
It’s now 18 matches and four years since Italy last won a Six Nations match, and it will require a major shock if they’re to beat Wales in Rome tomorrow.
The Welsh extended their winning streak to ten matches with last week’s magnificent second-half comeback against France in Paris.
Warren Gatland and his Wales squad have spent the week enjoying the sunshine on the French Riviera, and they head to the Italian capital in fine fettle.
So confident is Gatland that he’s made ten changes to the starting XV that beat the French with centre Jonathan Davies named as skipper for the first time.
First-choice captain Alun Wyn Jones is on the bench, as are Ross Moriarty and Gareth Anscombe, who both started in Paris.
World Cup in mind
George North, who scored the decisive try against France, doesn’t even feature among the replacements, with Jonah Holmes replacing him on the wing for his first Six Nations start.
Also making their bow in the tournament are flankers Thomas Young and Aaron Wainwright and scrum-half Aled Davies.
Defending the wholesale changes, Gatland said he and his coaches have “picked what we think is a very exciting team that still has huge experience throughout it”.
Assuming Wales do beat Italy, it will equal their record of successive victories, and be an encouraging indication of their strength in depth.
“We have had a squad of 31 training together, replicating the Rugby World Cup and it is important they get game-time,” said Gatland. “The players are always playing for World Cup places.”
Italy starting XV
- 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Edoardo Padovani, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Luca Morisi, 11 Angelo Esposito, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Guglielmo Palazzani; 1 Nicola Quaglio, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 3 Simone Ferrari, 4 David Sisi, 5 Dean Budd, 6 Sebastian Negri, 7 Abraham Jurgens Steyn, 8 Sergio Parisse (captain)
- Replacements: 16 Luca Bigi, 17 Cherif Traore, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 Federico Ruzza, 20 Marco Barbini, 21 Edoardo Gori, 22 Ian McKinley, 23 Tommaso Benvenuti
Wales starting XV
- 15 Liam Williams, 14 Jonah Holmes, 13 Jonathan Davies (captain), 12 Owen Watkin, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Aled Davies; 1 Nicky Smith, 2 Elliot Dee, 3 Samson Lee, 4 Jake Ball, 5 Adam Beard, 6 Aaron Wainwright, 7 Thomas Young, 8 Josh Navidi
- Replacements: 16 Ryan Elias, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Alun Wyn Jones, 20 Ross Moriarty, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Gareth Anscombe, 23 Hallam Amos
England vs. France
- When: Sunday 10 February
- Where: Twickenham, London
- Start time: 3pm
- TV channel: live on ITV
- Betting odds: England to win 1/5; France to win 6/1; Draw 40/1
The last time France won a Six Nations match at Twickenham Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac were the respective leaders of their countries.
It would be a major shock if the losing streak wasn’t extended from 14 years to 16 on Sunday given last week’s results.
England produced their best performance of Eddie Jones’s reign in beating Ireland 32-20 in Dublin last weekend, while France blew a 16-0 half-time lead to lose 24-19 to Wales.
England head coach Jones has made two changes to his team for “Le Crunch”. Courtney Lawes comes into the second row in place of the injured Maro Itoje and Chris Ashton will start on the right wing instead of Jack Nowell.
“After the Ireland game we have had to refocus and reset,” said Jones. “Players have been very good and certainly by Sunday we’ll be at our best.
“The French are always an interesting side to play against. They are full of talent, they have a lot of unpredictability so it’s hard to prepare tactically against them so we have had a real focus on ourselves.”
Brunel on the brink?
France, on the other hand, have lost several players to injury, including the experienced backs Wesley Fofana and Maxime Medard, and their 24-stone prop, Uini Atonio.
Front-rower Atonio is replaced in the starting XV by the promising Demba Bamba, who at 20, has never started a Test. Mathieu Bastareaud returns to the midfield alongside Geoffrey Doumayrou.
Jacques Brunel, whose record since becoming coach is three wins from 12 Tests, has received the dreaded vote of confidence this week from the president of the French union, Bernard Laporte.
“We changed the coach a little over a year ago because we felt that things weren’t going very well,” said Laporte. “We can't say that they are going much better today. But it would be difficult and certainly dangerous to make new changes.”
England starting XV
- 15 Elliot Daly, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Manu Tuilagi, 11 Jonny May, 10 Owen Farrell (captain), 9 Ben Youngs; 1 Mako Vunipola, 2 Jamie George, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 4 Courtney Lawes, 5 George Kruis, 6 Mark Wilson, 7 Tom Curry, 8 Billy Vunipola
- Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Dan Cole, 19 Joe Launchbury, 20 Nathan Hughes, 21 Dan Robson, 22 George Ford, 23 Jack Nowell
France starting XV
- 15 Yoann Huget, 14 Damian Penaud, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Geoffrey Doumayrou, 11 Gael Fickou, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Arthur Iturria, 6 Yacouba Camara, 5 Felix Lambey, 4 Sebastien Vahaamahina, 3 Demba Bamba, 2 Guilhem Guirado (captain), 1 Jefferson Poirot
- Replacements: 16 Pierre Bourgarit, 17 Dany Priso, 18 Dorian Aldegheri, 19 Paul Willemse, 20 Gregory Alldritt, 21 Antoine Dupont, 22 Romain Ntamack, 23 Thomas Ramos