Wales go in search of a Triple Crown in a blockbuster battle against England, but France will not have an opportunity to make it three Six Nations wins out of three this weekend.

Wayne Pivac's Wales side are level on nine points with Les Bleus following victories over Ireland and Scotland, both of whom had a man sent off.

George North will become the youngest player in history to win 100 caps, but defending champions England will be determined to spoil the Wales centre's big occasion at the Principality Stadium on Saturday.

The Red Rose beat Italy 41-18 last time out, following a loss to Scotland at Twickenham.

Winless Ireland will be expected to defeat the Azzurri to get up and running in the opening match of round three at Stadio Olimpico.

Sunday's planned showdown between France and Scotland was postponed due to a COVID-19 outbreak in the French squad.

We preview the matches in Rome and Cardiff with help from Opta.

ITALY v IRELAND

FORM

Ireland have scored 45 tries across their last seven games against Italy in the Six Nations (6.4 per game), scoring eight or more tries in three of their last five clashes.

Italy have conceded a try-scoring bonus point in 17 of their 22 matches since those incentives were introduced to the Six Nations in 2017; only England (9) have picked up more bonus points in the championship than Ireland (8). The Azzurri are the only side yet to register one.

Ireland have lost their opening two games of a Six Nations campaign for the first time. The last time they lost their opening three matches was in 1998, when they were beaten in all four Five Nations clashes.

ONES TO WATCH

Sebastian Negri has made 96 metres and made 21 tackles combined in Italy's losses to France and England. Franco Smith will need another strong showing from the flanker.

Ireland back-row CJ Stander has made more carries (36) than any other player in the 2021 Six Nations. He has topped the final rankings for this category in three of the last four editions of the championship.

WALES v ENGLAND

FORM

England have won six of their last seven Six Nations matches against Wales, with the last six of those fixtures all decided by a single-figure margin.

Wales have won their opening two games of the tournament for a sixth time. On four of the previous five occasions when they have started with back-to-back victories, they have gone on to win a Grand Slam (2005, 2008, 2012, 2019, not in 2009).

This weekend's visitors are the only team to have never conceded more than two tries in a Six Nations game played in Wales. They have scored 19 tries in Wales during the Six Nations, no visiting team have scored more (Ireland also 19).

ONES TO WATCH

North will become only the sixth Wales player to win a century of caps. The 28-year-old will form a new pairing with Jonathan Davies and will be looking to bring up his hundred with an all-action display.

Elliot Daly will win his 50th cap for England and coach Eddie Jones will expect the full-back to repay the faith he has shown in him after a slow start to the tournament.

Jamie George became the first England hooker to score a Test hat-trick as the Red Rose eased to a 40-0 bonus-point thrashing of Georgia in their Autumn Nations Cup opener Twickenham.

Jack Willis marked his debut with the opening try 14 minutes in and George helped himself to a first-half double as the newly-crowned Six Nations champions overpowered Georgia with driving mauls following lineouts after kicking for the corner.

Jonathan Joseph, who was withdrawn due to injury, and Henry Slade combined to fashion a fourth try for Elliot Daly to put Eddie Jones' dominant side 26-0 up at the break on Saturday.

George made history by crashing over at the back of another driving maul in the rain and Dan Robson crossed from close range, with Owen Farrell slotting over five out of six conversion attempts in an emphatic win.

Anthony Watson has been ruled out of England's Autumn Nations Cup opener against Georgia next weekend but Elliot Daly and Joe Marler are back in contention.

Versatile back Watson has withdrawn from the newly-crowned Six Nations champions' squad due to an ankle injury and hooker Jack Singleton misses out with a hamstring problem.

Daly and Marler played no part in a hammering of Italy in Rome last weekend that resulted in the Red Rose lifting the Six Nations trophy, but could feature at Twickenham next Saturday.

Scrum-half Willi Heinz remains unavailable with a leg injury, so Alex Mitchell will be part of Eddie Jones' 36-man training group in Teddington.

Fly-half George Ford and flanker Mark Wilson will continue their rehabilitation programmes, while number eight Billy Vunipola is to report for international duty following the birth of his son this week.

England face Ireland and Wales after taking on Georgia in Group A of the inaugural Autumn Nations Cup.

 

England squad: 

Forwards: Tom Curry, Tom Dunn, Ben Earl, Charlie Ewels, Ellis Genge, Jamie George, Jonny Hill, Ted Hill, Maro Itoje, Joe Launchbury, Lewis Ludlam, Joe Marler, Beno Obano, David Ribbans, Kyle Sinckler, Will Stuart, Sam Underhill, Billy Vunipola, Mako Vunipols, Harry Williams, Jack Willis.

Backs: Joe Cokanasiga, Elliot Daly, Owen Farrell (captain), George Furbank, Jonathan Joseph, Ollie Lawrence, Max Malins, Joe Marchant, Jonny May, Alex Mitchell, Dan Robson, Henry Slade, Ollie Thorley, Jacob Umaga, Ben Youngs.

Owen Farrell has committed his long-term future to Saracens, signing a new deal with the Championship-bound club.

The England captain has been a pivotal part of Sarries' success since coming through the academy, helping them become a dominant force in the Premiership as well as enjoying success in Europe.

However, the three-time Champions Cup winners will be dropping into the second tier for 2020-21 after being punished for breaching salary-cap regulations.

Farrell is the latest big name to confirm he will be staying despite relegation, following on from England team-mates Elliot Daly, Mako Vunipola and Jamie George.

"The club means a lot to me," said Farrell, who toured with the British and Irish Lions in 2013 and 2017. "I've been here a long, long time now and to be sorted going forward is brilliant.

"Most of the senior players are in a similar position. They'd do anything to put us in the best position possible and that was telling during the tough times this year and I'm sure that will be the case going forward as well."

Director of rugby Mark McCall praised Farrell - who made his debut for Saracens in 2008 - for his "relentless" drive. No terms of the deal were disclosed.

"Owen has grown up at Saracens; from a teenager in our academy to a central figure in English rugby," McCall said.

"His drive to improve is relentless, pushing everyone in the organisation – players and staff – to be better every day. Quite simply, Saracens would not be the club it is without Owen.

"Off the field he is a grounded family man, who cares deeply about the club and the people here.

"We are delighted he has committed his long-term future to Saracens."

Elliot Daly is the latest England international to commit his future to Championship-bound Saracens.

Sarries announced on Wednesday that Daly has signed a new three-year contract with the Premiership and European champions, running until 2023.

The 27-year-old utility back joined the London club from Wasps last year and will be staying on despite Sarries' relegation from the Premiership following points deductions for persistently breaching salary-cap regulations.

British and Irish Lion Daly joins the likes of Mako Vunipola and Jamie George in deciding to remain at Allianz Park.

Daly said: "I haven't been here that long but I really feel part of the Saracens family, so it was an easy decision.

"I'm looking forward to the next three years. Hopefully we can do some special things."

Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall said: "We are thrilled that Elliot has committed his future to the club.

"He has been a pleasure to work with in his short time with us and there is no doubt that he will have a significant role to play in the exciting years that lie ahead.

"Despite his many achievements on the field Elliot remains incredibly modest and is highly respected within the group."

England put themselves firmly in the hunt for the Six Nations title and ended Ireland's Grand Slam dream with a 24-12 victory at Twickenham.

Coach Eddie Jones had thrown a curveball with his team selection, in particular the decision to deploy Jonathan Joseph on the wing, but few were left questioning his wisdom at full-time.

With France having beaten reigning champions Wales on Saturday to pile the pressure on both of these teams, it was the hosts – winners over Scotland in atrocious conditions last time out – who responded in style on Sunday to fuel their ambitions.

Ireland coach Andy Farrell will have had his sights set on a clean sweep of victories in the championship after wins over Scotland and Wales, but those hopes were dashed by a team starring his son Owen.

George Ford's early try, facilitated by a Johnny Sexton error that characterised a rare off day for the fly-half, set the tone, with Elliot Daly touching down in not dissimilar circumstances before the break.

Robbie Henshaw darted over in the second half but any prospect of an Ireland comeback was ended when Luke Cowan-Dickie's converted try restored England's advantage, rendering Andrew Porter's stoppage-time score a mere consolation.

England, whose only Six Nations loss at Twickenham in the last 19 matches came against Ireland in 2018, started with remarkable intensity and soon got their reward.

Sexton, who later badly fluffed his lines from a penalty, fumbled from Ben Youngs' grubber kick and Ford was on hand to gather the loose ball and touch down.

Daly was similarly alert to get on the end of Ford's searching kick as Jacob Stockdale was caught off guard, while Owen Farrell added six first-half points with the boot to leave Ireland with a mountain to climb as, in 21 matches between the nations in this competition, no side had ever overcome a half-time deficit to win.

Ireland did prove far more determined after the break and Henshaw broke through the line to cap a prolonged spell of pressure, but Sexton's kick was again wayward.

Sensing the job was not yet done, England attacked with renewed vigour and Cowan-Dickie was the beneficiary of some excellent forward play as he crossed the line and Owen Farrell added the extras, with John Cooney doing likewise after Porter's last-gasp try.

Flying start sets the tone for England

It was a painfully slow start that cost England so badly in the opening defeat to France, but there was no sign of any such complacency on this occasion.

England were up and at Ireland from the first whistle and, after their initial momentum was halted by a fumble from the otherwise outstanding Courtney Lawes, the hosts were quickly on the front foot again, opening the scoring via a combination of the quick-thinking Youngs ​– making his 100th Test appearance – the ever-alert Ford, and the unusually flustered Sexton.

Sorry Sexton human after all

He is one of the very best in world rugby, but that does not mean Sexton is immune to error. He demonstrated that twice in the opening quarter of an hour, which proved a microcosm of the whole contest.

First he treated Youngs' kick through the middle like a hot potato, eventually palming it to the grateful Ford, then he shanked a three-pointer from the tee in a manner quite unbecoming. Another miscue followed in the second half to compound Sexton's woes.

What's next?

England welcome Wales to west London in round four on March 7, while Ireland return to Dublin to host whipping boys Italy on the same day. 

Elliot Daly has followed Jamie George's lead by signalling his intent to remain with relegated Saracens.

The English and European champions will drop down into the Championship next season after breaching the Premiership's salary cap rules.

Uncertainly surrounded several of Sarries' international stars but England hooker George became the first to commit his future to the club earlier this week.

Club and international team-mate Daly has now announced his intention to do likewise.

"My plan is probably pretty similar to Jamie. I am still in contract," said Daly, whose immediate focus remains with England and the Six Nations. 

"At the moment I am not thinking about that. It is coming but we have the rest of the season to sort it out. 

"At the moment, I am just thinking about the next couple of games with England and then when I get back to Sarries then start talking about next year."

It has been an interesting start to life at Sarries for Daly, who walked straight into the crisis at Allianz Park following England's Rugby World Cup final defeat.

However, he has no regrets about leaving Wasps, despite the off-field issues at his new club.

"My first day wasn't the best. It's a big thing and it's not to be taken lightly, but the way Saracens dealt with the players I thought was really good," Daly added.

"I didn't see this coming, but I definitely don't have any regrets joining. The way that we train, the players there, the coaching staff - it's an amazing club to be at.

"When a club like Saracens want to sign you, the best team in Europe as they were at that time, it's a no-brainer to go and play with some very good people."

Mark McCall has made it clear he intends to remain with Saracens following their relegation, but the director of rugby acknowledges the future of his club's biggest stars may be influenced by England head coach Eddie Jones.

A Premiership Rugby statement on Saturday confirmed Sarries will be demoted from the top flight at the end of the 2019-20 season, following multiple breaches of the competition's salary cap.

Six members of the England team that started last year's World Cup final play for European champions, including captain Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje and Mako and Billy Vunipola, with significant uncertainty now surrounding their futures.

The London club will not be eligible to play in next term's Champions Cup once they are in the second tier of English rugby, meaning the likes of Farrell and Itoje face a year away from elite club competitions should they stay put.

In an interview with BT Sport ahead of his team's crunch clash with Racing 92 on Sunday, McCall said: "Obviously the news has just come in the last 48 hours, so there's a lot of thinking for us to do and a lot of decisions to make.

"And every player's situation is slightly different - what happens to our established internationals? What does Eddie Jones want to happen to our established internationals, et cetera. et cetera.

"But those decisions and those conversations I think are for another day. Today we just try and get on with the rugby."

Asked about his own future, McCall added: "The one thing now, it feels like there's a line drawn in the sand. We have some real clarity around the future and we can plan for that future and I really want to be part of that.

"I don't think this is the best time to be pointing fingers or trying to apportion blame. This is a time for unity and togetherness. We've got this remarkable playing group who over the last 10 weeks have shown, I think, an incredible amount of resilience given all of the stuff that's been going on off the field."

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.