The battle for the Six Nations title is finally set to come to a thrilling climax on Saturday.

Ireland have their fate in their own hands after they hammered Italy last weekend in the only round four match that could not take place before the tournament was halted due to the coronavirus pandemic in March.

If Andy Farrell's side secure a bonus-point win over France in the final match of the competition in Paris they will get their hands on the trophy, but Les Bleus are also in contention.

England are the favourites to be crowned champions, as they trail leaders Ireland by only a point and will be expected to seal a bonus-point victory over Italy in Rome.

Scotland and Wales, who sit fourth and fifth respectively, end their campaigns with a clash at Parc y Scarlets.

Ahead of what promises to be a tense finale to the tournament, we use Opta data to preview the three matches.

 

Wales v Scotland

- Wales have won 14 of their last 16 Six Nations games against Scotland (L2), including their last eight in a row on home soil, with Scotland's only victory in Wales in the championship coming in 2002.

- Scotland come into the match having won back-to-back games in the Six Nations. They have not won three in a row in the Five/Six Nations since 1996 - when they beat Ireland, France and Wales in succession.

- Wales have lost their last three Six Nations games, their worst run in the championship since a five-game losing streak spanning the 2006 and 2007 editions.

- Scotland's Stuart Hogg has carried the ball for 377 metres in this Six Nations, more than any other player. No player has made more metres over the gain line than Hogg - with Jacob Stockdale also making 305m.

Italy v England

- England have won all of their 26 matches against Italy, 20 of those coming in the Six Nations. The Red Rose are the only side the Italians have failed to beat since joining the championship in 2000.

- Italy have lost 26 consecutive games in the Six Nations since beating Scotland in 2015, the longest losing run by any side in history of the tournament. Only twice during that run have they been beaten by a single-figure margin (v France 2016, v Scotland 2018).

- England have scored four or more tries in each of their last six Six Nations matches against Italy, with an average winning margin of 33 points across those six victories.

- After defeat to Ireland last weekend, Italy are assured of a 15th wooden spoon and a fifth in a row.

France v Ireland

- France have won just one of their last eight games against Ireland in the Six Nations (D2, L5). They had won seven of their previous eight clashes in the championship before that run (L1).

- The last four Six Nations meetings between France and Ireland in Paris have seen the sides separated by fewer than three points (France W1, Ireland W2, D1).

- France have won their last three home games in the Six Nations, their best run since 2013-14 (W3). The last time they enjoyed a longer winning streak on home soil in the competition was a nine-game run stretching from 2008 to 2012.

- Les Bleus are yet to lose a scrum in the 2020 Six Nations, winning all 14 on their own feed, the only side with a 100 per cent success rate at that set-piece.

New Zealand will look to wrap up another Bledisloe Cup series triumph and make a strong start to the Tri Nations when they face fierce rivals Australia in Sydney on Saturday.

The All Blacks cruised to a 27-7 victory over the Wallabies at Eden Park to take a 1-0 lead after the first match ended in a 16-16 draw.

New Zealand have dominated the rivalry in recent times, and you have to go back to 2002 for the last time their trans-Tasman rivals lifted the famous trophy.

While Australia are unable to end that wait this weekend, they could draw first blood in the opening Tri Nations Test and set up a Bledisloe Cup decider next week in Brisbane.

South Africa's withdrawal from the Rugby Championship leaves just Australia, New Zealand and Argentina to battle it out in a rebranded Tri Nations.

With the Pumas having to wait until November 14 for their opening contest with the All Blacks, we use Opta facts to preview another almighty battle at ANZ Stadium.

Australia v New Zealand

- New Zealand have lost only one of their last seven Tests against Australia (W5, D1); however, that single defeat did come in their last meeting on Australian soil, going down 47-26 in Perth last August.

- The All Blacks have won seven of the most recent nine Tests between the two sides at ANZ Stadium, including their last three. They have averaged 44.67 points per game in that three-match run.

- Australia have won four of their last five Tests at home, losing one. They have been victorious in the last three and the last time they enjoyed a longer winning run on home soil was a four-match span from September 2013 to June 2014.

- New Zealand have scored 70 tries at ANZ Stadium, their second-most at any Test ground outside New Zealand. They need two more to surpass their tally of 71 at the SCG.

- Marika Koroibete has scored 13 tries since making his Test debut in September 2017, the most of any Australia player in that time; New Zealand's Rieko Ioane (18) and South Africa's Makazole Mapimpi (14) are the only southern hemisphere tier one players with more in that period.

- Beauden Barrett needs one more try for the outright record of most in Tests against Australia by any player. He is currently level on 11 with Richie McCaw and Ma'a Nonu and has blanked in his last two Tests against the Wallabies.

Legendary Wales wing JJ Williams has died at the age of 72.

Williams was a star wing of the Wales sides of the 1970s, scoring 12 tries in 30 Tests between 1973 and 1979.

A sprinter who competed at the 1970 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, he was then part of the Welsh sides that won four Five Nations titles, including two Grand Slams.

Williams also made seven Test appearances for the Lions in tours to South Africa in 1974 and New Zealand in 1977.

During the former, he scored two tries in as many Tests against the Springboks and a record-equalling six in a 97-0 rout of South West Districts.

The clinical flyer sits third on the all-time list of Lions try-scorers with 22 in 26 games.

Williams leaves wife Jane and children Kathryn, James and Rhys, the former European champion and Commonwealth Games silver medallist in the 400metre hurdles.

Wales players will wear black armbands in Saturday's Six Nations match with Scotland in Llanelli, where Williams spent much of his club career.

Head coach Wayne Pivac said: "On behalf of the national squad, management and team, our thoughts and condolences go out to JJ's family and friends.

"It always is poignant when you have a player of that ilk passing away. We'll show our respects by wearing the black armbands."

Alex Mitchell has replaced injured scrum-half Willi Heinz for title-chasing England's final match of the Six Nations against Italy on Saturday. 

Heinz has been ruled out of the clash due to a leg soft tissue injury, so Eddie Jones has called up uncapped Northampton Saints pivot Mitchell to provide cover. 

Jones also has experienced scrum-halves Ben Youngs and Dan Robson in his squad for the showdown in Rome. 

England go into the match knowing a bonus-point victory could see them crowned champions, depending on the outcome of the huge final-day battle between France and leaders Ireland in Paris. 

The Red Rose have won all 26 matches against Italy in the tournament, scoring at least four tries - which they need for a bonus-point win - in their last six meetings with the Azzurri.

Defence coach John Mitchell wants to see England set the tone in the opening stages of what will be their first match since the tournament was halted in March due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

He said: "Firstly, our goal is to win this Six Nations. We'll need to set the tone right at the start and we'll also need to be at our best. 

"If we keep that focus and maintain that intent and are very good, then we'll give ourselves a very good opportunity. 

"It's an opportunity for us to put smiles on faces during a really tough time in the country – that might sound generic because you might be hearing that from all sportsmen but that time has arrived for us, and that’s really important to us." 

Meanwhile, flanker Tom Curry says the competition for places in the squad is pushing him to take his game to another level. 

He said: "In life there is stuff that you can't effect whatsoever. Obviously as rugby players you want to be playing, but sometimes that’s not the case and especially at this time. 

"I think the brilliant things about this situation is how adaptable you can be and how you can still look to get better. I think from a personal point, I feel in a really good place."

John Cooney has been called up to the Ireland squad for the decisive Six Nations clash with France on Saturday as cover for Jamison Gibson-Park.

Gibson-Park reported he is suffering from hamstring tightness after the 50-17 demolition of Italy at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.

Cooney was left out for that match in Dublin after being on the bench for the defeat to England in February before the tournament was halted due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Ulster scrum-half has been drafted in by Andy Farrell ahead of a showdown with Les Bleus in Paris which Ireland start knowing a bonus-point win would secure the title.

Wing Keith Earls is finishing his rehabilitation programme from a back injury and a decision over whether he can face France will be made in the coming days.

Centre Garry Ringrose is out for up to six weeks after suffering a broken jaw in the hammering of the Azzurri.

England trail Ireland by a point but are favourites to be crowned champions as they face Italy in Rome.

Ireland will be without Garry Ringrose for their decisive Six Nations showdown with France after the centre was ruled out for up to six weeks with a broken jaw. 

Ringrose was caught in the face by Edoardo Padovani's knee early in the 50-17 hammering of Italy when the Six Nations resumed at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday. 

The Leinster player, who was replaced by Robbie Henshaw, will miss the trip to Paris for a final match of the tournament that Ireland will start needing another bonus-point win to secure the title. 

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell said: "Garry Ringrose has broken his jaw, so bad news for us all. 

"He's been so good for us the last 10 days, he has been absolutely fantastic with his leadership and he was a big part of the reason why we got what we wanted [versus Italy]. 

"He was unfortunate with his thumb injury earlier in the Six Nations and has come back and had a setback like that which will keep him out for four to six weeks, so we're gutted for Garry."

Ringrose also looks set to sit out the Autumn Nations Cup encounters with Wales, England and Georgia in November. 

Ireland are a point ahead of France and England - who play Italy in Rome - ahead of the final round of Six Nations matches.

Alun Wyn Jones made a record-equalling 148th Test appearance as Wales suffered a 38-21 loss to France in Paris on Saturday.

By representing his country at the Stade de France, Wales captain Jones drew level with New Zealand great Richie McCaw as the most-capped international rugby union players in history.

He was unable to prevent his team from slipping to defeat against France, who will hope to take momentum from their first game since February into the Six Nations finale against leaders Ireland next weekend.

Dan Biggar sent Leigh Halfpenny over for the opening try and added a penalty to put Wales 10-0 up inside 10 minutes, but Cyril Baille and Antoine Dupont crossed to put Les Bleus ahead after the half-hour mark.

Dupont doubled his tally before half-time and, after Biggar and Romain Ntamack traded penalties, he set up Charles Ollivon to score after Josh Adams failed to control a high ball.

Nicky Smith dotted down as Wales made a quick response, but Teddy Thomas chipped over Biggar to seal the win with a stunning solo try.

Hugo Keenan scored a debut double as Ireland coasted to a 50-17 bonus-point thrashing of Italy to go top of the Six Nations table on Saturday. 

Eight months after the clash in Dublin was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, Andy Farrell's side secured the maximum points they needed to keep their destiny in their own hands in the battle for the title. 

CJ Stander scored the opening try when Conor Murray was in the sin bin after debutant Paolo Garbisi's penalty gave Italy an early lead behind closed doors at the Aviva Stadium. 

Wing Keenan crossed twice in the first half and had a try disallowed prior to Will Connors touching down a debut score of his own to secure the bonus point, after Edoardo Padovani finished at the other end. 

Johnny Sexton added a fifth try and booted 15 points, with Bundee Aki and Dave Heffernan also scoring before Garbisi went under the posts right at the end. 

Ireland ensured they will face France - who, along with England, they are a point clear of - in Paris next Saturday on the final weekend knowing a bonus-point win will seal the title. 

Murray was yellow carded inside three minutes for conceding a penalty just in front of his own line after Ireland were caught out by an incisive Italy break, Garbisi opening the scoring from the tee. 

Ireland took charge despite being a man down, Stander crashing over from close range before Sexton was on target with a penalty and Keenan finished superbly after Robbie Henshaw - on for the injured Garry Ringrose - picked him out with a whipped pass. 

Keenan had a try chalked off when James Ryan was penalised for obstruction, but he got on the end of scrum-half Murray's kick to round off a swift break prior to the interval and Sexton converted expertly for a third time. 

Italy did not do themselves any favours as they gave away too many penalties, but Padovani plucked a stray pass from Sexton to race away and score 15 minutes into the second half. 

Ireland had the bonus point in the bag soon after, though, Connors dotting down from the back of a driving maul after 61 minutes, then Sexton and Aki added further tries with Italy all at sea. 

Heffernan scored Ireland's seventh from a set-piece and Garbisi marked his debut by scampering away for a try with time almost up in a one-sided contest. 

The Six Nations finally resumes on Saturday with a clash between Ireland and Italy behind closed doors at the Aviva Stadium.

Andy Farrell's side and the Azzurri were due to do battle in Dublin late in February, but the round four game was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Ireland were beaten 24-12 by England at Twickenham last time out, but remain in contention for the title, with a trip to face France to come in their final match of the tournament next weekend.

Farrell's men will lift the trophy if they secured bonus-point victories in both matches.

Italy, who will have 20-year-old fly-half Paolo Garbisi in the starting line-up have not won a Six Nations game since beating Scotland in 2015.

We use Opta facts to preview the only round four match that could not be played before the tournament was halted due to the COVID-19 crisis.

- Italy have lost two games in this year's tournament without scoring a point, the first time any side has suffered this fate in the history of the Six Nations.

- Ireland have averaged just 7.7 turnovers conceded per game due to a handling error in the 2020 Six Nations, fewer than any other side. Italy, meanwhile, are the only side to average over 15 total turnovers conceded per game in this championship (15.7).

- Italy have lost each of their last 25 games in the competition, the longest losing run by any side in Five-Six Nations history; only on two occasions in that spell have Italy lost by a single- figure margin (v France 2016, v Scotland 2018).

- Since the start of the 2014 Six Nations, Ireland have lost just one of 17 home games in the championship (against England last year)

- Ireland have won 19 of their 20 Six Nations matches against Italy, a 22-15 shock in 2013 at the Stadio Olimpico the only loss.

- Italy have just two wins across their 52 away games in the Six Nations, both of those victories coming at Murrayfield against Scotland (2007 and 2015).

 

Former Australia captain David Pocock has called time on his 15-year rugby career.

Pocock retired from international duty following the 2019 World Cup, having earned 78 caps for his country.

And now the 32-year-old is stepping away from the game altogether, opting out of the final year of his contract at Japanese side Panasonic Wild Knights.

"While it was a tough decision, it really feels like the right one now and as a lot of former athletes talk about, it's not going to be smooth sailing but it's going to be a great challenge," Pocock told Rugby Australia.

Pocock, who also represented the Western Force and the Brumbies, steps away from the game with some self-confessed regrets.

He featured in three World Cups for the Wallabies but never got to lift the trophy, with his last attempt halted in a 40-16 quarter-final thrashing at the hands of England.

"On the day, we were fairly soundly beaten by a pretty good English team," he said.

"It certainly does [haunt you]. You wonder if you were on the other side of the draw, not losing that game to Wales (29-25), but that's sport.

"That's the great thing about sport - you get an opportunity and if you're not the most deserving on the day then that's what history records."

Caleb Clarke has made quite the impression at the start of his international career, forcing Australia captain Michael Hooper to use a rather unique method in an attempt to slow the wing down. 

After making his New Zealand debut off the bench in the Bledisloe Cup opener in Wellington last weekend, Clarke started in the second game between the trans-Tasman rivals in Auckland. 

Clarke capitalised on the opportunity too, earning comparisons to the great Jonah Lomu as his running game helped his side to a resounding 27-7 triumph at Eden Park. 

He beat 12 defenders during the course of the game – the second-highest number recorded by a player in a Test since the beginning of 2010. 

It was on one such burst that Wallabies back-row Hooper made contact with Clarke in a way that certainly caught his attention. 

"You know what, Michael Hooper grabbed my nuts just then," he told Sky Sport in an interview after the game. 

"They were really sore. I turned and tried to push his hand off." 

While watching a montage of his performance, Clarke – whose father, Eroni, played for New Zealand in the 1990s – also admitted that he tried to do the same to Hooper. 

"On this run, I tried to get him back," Clarke said while watching a replay. "Our physio said to get him back, so I tried to do it there." 

He certainly grabbed the attention of those watching on, with George Gregan praising a performance that belied the 21-year-old's lack of experience at the highest level. 

"We saw the makings of a wonderful player during Super Rugby with this man," the former Australia scrum-half said, per Fox Sports. 

"He comes from a pretty good lineage with his father, who we played against in Eroni Clarke, but today just reinforced how important power and precision are and he has the ball skills and went looking for work. 

"He was dynamic, it was a great example of a young man backing himself and his skill-set."

New Zealand head coach Ian Foster felt his side put down a marker for the rest of the series with Saturday's dismantling of Australia in Auckland.

The All Blacks triumphed 27-7, outscoring the Wallabies by four tries to one, in game two of the Bledisloe Cup.

Inspired by young wing Caleb Clarke, the hosts extended their unbeaten run at Eden Park to 44 matches in an impressive response to last week's 16-16 draw in Wellington.

Foster denied feeling relieved at the improved performance but accepts his side have now set a standard to which they must adhere.

"Relief is not something I feel at all," he said. "This is what Test matches are about. If we don't perform to the levels we want to, we know a lot of pressure comes on this team.

"In some ways, they're great weeks. There's nowhere to hide. There's no way anyone can get complacent. And if we thought we were in the house last week, we got a reminder we weren't.

"This week we got a reminder it wasn't good enough – from ourselves and everyone around us.

"It's a pleasing feeling. We've put a marker down, that's the level we need to start at and we've just got to climb because it's a tough series. This is a better Wallabies team than I've seen for a while. They want to stay in the fight, so we had to fight for 80 minutes."

Clarke, 21, earned comparisons with all-time great Jonah Lomu with some powerful running, with one burst forward taking him through five tackles before setting up Ardie Savea to score.

"He just wants the ball and wants to run hard, and it's quite a good thing for us to give him the ball and let him run hard," said Foster.

Indeed, Australia coach Dave Rennie summed up the difference between the two teams as "tackle execution".

"We missed too many tackles and we got put under the heat for it," he said.

"You can't give the All Blacks that much ball, they have too many athletes that can hurt you. But the boys are working hard and I'm pretty confident that in two weeks we will be a better side."

New Zealand preserved their Eden Park fortress after outplaying Australia 27-7 in game two of the Bledisloe Cup on Sunday.

The All Blacks and Wallabies could not be separated in last week's memorable stalemate in the Bledisloe opener in Wellington, however, there was a winner this time around in Auckland.

New Zealand ran in four tries to one as they extended their unbeaten record at Eden Park to 44 matches, while maintaining their undefeated run against the Wallabies at the stadium, which dates back to 1986.

It was a lively start by the Wallabies, who pressed New Zealand back early, but the efficient All Blacks struck first via Richie Mo'unga's penalty.

Beauden Barrett – back in the line-up after sitting out the series opener due to an Achilles tendon problem – almost found younger brother Jordie Barrett with a kick through and while it did not end in a try, the All Blacks did not have to wait long as Aaron Smith crossed over in the 22nd minute after Australia were unable to hold out from close range.

The Wallabies, though, responded as they carved open the All Blacks – a great line break and quick hands seeing Marika Koroibete cut inside two opponents to score the try before James O'Connor converted to reduce the deficit to 10-7 heading into the break.

New Zealand, who have lost just 10 of their 87 Tests at Eden Park, took control in the second half – young winger Caleb Clarke putting on a show to and taking centre stage to help the hosts make the perfect start within three minutes of the interval.

Clarke's pace and power proved too much as space opened up for Jordie Barrett to cross over for a 15-7 advantage and the All Blacks were in again three minutes later.

Another unstoppable run from Clarke, who smashed through Australia's defence, resulted in a New Zealand overload and Ardie Savea added the five-pointer, however Mo'unga missed back-to-back conversions.

The Wallabies – carrying a 16 per cent win rate at Eden Park into the contest, only Great Britain and Scotland have been worse of the teams to have played at least five games at the stadium – thought they had a try in the 50th minute but were held up by some desperate New Zealand defending, while Australia had a try ruled out for a double movement moments later.

New Zealand then went up the other end and extended their lead courtesy of captain Sam Cane, who made light work of Australia's backline following a sweeping move as Ian Foster celebrated his first victory as All Blacks head coach.

A fortress for the All Blacks, and a luckless venue for the Wallabies, Australia face a daunting task at Eden Park on Sunday.

New Zealand are unbeaten in their past 43 matches at the Auckland venue, and the Wallabies' record there is abysmal.

The Wallabies and All Blacks played out a thrilling 16-16 draw in the Bledisloe Cup opener in Wellington.

But New Zealand have held the Bledisloe Cup since 2003 and if history is anything to go by, they will almost certainly head to Australia for the final two games of the series with a 1-0 lead.

We take a look at some of the numbers behind the All Blacks' record at Eden Park.

 

Complete dominance

Not only are the All Blacks carrying an unbeaten run at Eden Park into the clash, it is a ground at which they have been completely dominant.

New Zealand have lost just 10 of their 86 Tests at the ground, winning 73 and drawing three to go at a win rate of 85 per cent.

They have scored 2,449 points and conceded 1,113, those averages sitting at 28.5 and 12.9 respectively.

Beauden Barrett, who is returning from an Achilles injury on Sunday, has scored the most points (100) at Eden Park of any active player. The star has reached that figure in 12 games, but is well adrift of the 202 put together by the great Dan Carter in 14 Tests at the venue.

Barrett may, however, get to the record for most tries scored in Tests there. He has seven of his 36 career tries at the ground, with Stu Wilson (nine) having crossed the most times.

 

Wallabies' woes

Australia are winless against the All Blacks at the stadium since 1986, and their record at Eden Park makes for dismal reading.

The Wallabies have lost 27 of 32 Tests at the ground, going at a win rate of 16 per cent. Of teams to have played at least five games there – against all opponents – that rates as the third worst. Only Great Britain (one win in 11) and Scotland (0 in six) have been worse.

Wallabies assistant Geoff Parling insisted Eden Park was not scary and labelled it "just a rugby pitch" ahead of the clash, but it has proven to be anything but for Australia.

Australia have scored 418 points in their 32 games at the ground at an average of 13.1 per game, while conceding a whopping 809 – an average of 25.3.

But it is the recent record that has been even worse for the Wallabies, who have been on the end of six thrashings since they beat Wales 21-18 at Eden Park to secure third place at the 2011 Rugby World Cup. In those six meetings against the All Blacks, the Wallabies have been outscored 227-55.

That highlights just the enormity of the turnaround the Wallabies need to cause an upset in Auckland.

South Africa have been given a 48-hour deadline to decide whether they will compete in the Rugby Championship.

The Springboks are due to start the defence of their title against Argentina at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane on November 7.

Rugby South Africa (RSA) last week said "several hurdles needed to be cleared" before the organisation can confirm that the world champions will feature in the four-nation competition.

Concerns have been raised over a lack of playing time for South Africa players due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Tournament organisers SANZAAR on Wednesday stated that a decision must be made within two days.

A SANZAAR statement said: "The SANZAAR member unions have agreed to provide South Africa Rugby with an additional 48 hours to finalise its internal stakeholder discussions.

"This will now delay the scheduled departure of the Springboks from South Africa to Australia.

"SANZAAR will provide an update on the resolution of these discussions and a timetable for the Springboks participation in the Rugby Championship when available in the coming days."

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