Six Nations: The Breakdown – Ireland bandwagon rolls into Rome, Scotland eye France scalp

By Sports Desk February 24, 2023

Ireland will be expected to stay in the hunt for a Grand Slam when they resume the Six Nations against Italy while Scotland's title credentials will face a stern test in Paris.

Andy Farrell's Ireland side showed why they are the top-ranked team in the world by halting France's long winning streak with a 32-19 victory at the Aviva Stadium before the break.

The leaders ought to make it three wins out of three at the expense of Italy at Stadio Olimpico on Saturday before third-placed England take on wounded Wales at the Principality Stadium.

Scotland followed up their win over England by hammering Wales and will be braced for a response from defending champions France in what should be an entertaining contest at Stade de France on Sunday.

Stats Perform previews the three tussles with the help of some standout Opta data.

 

ITALY v IRELAND

FORM

The Ireland juggernaut will take some stopping, with their winning run now at seven matches.

They have come out on top in 19 of their past 21 Tests, losing only to France and New Zealand last year in that period. Farrell's ruthless men have averaged 4.4 tries per game in those 21 matches.

In his 32 Tests in charge, Farrell has a 78 per cent win rate – the best of any Ireland head coach to have been at the helm for two or more games.

Italy have lost each of their 23 home games in the Six Nations since beating Ireland in Rome in 2013. After almost pulling off a shock against France in the opening round, they suffered a 31-14 loss to England last time out.

ONES TO WATCH

Italy powerhouse Sebastian Negri has made 30 carries in the Six Nations this year, the joint-most along with Scotland playmaker Finn Russell. He must play a big part if the Azzurri are to trouble Ireland.

Garry Ringrose will win his 50th cap for Ireland. On the six occasions the centre has faced Italy, he has scored three tries – two of those coming in his past two trips to Rome. 

Ringrose has been more defenders than any other Ireland player in the tournament so far, doing so eight times.

WALES v ENGLAND

FORM

The start of Warren Gatland's second spell as Wales head coach has not gone to plan, losing twice and having to contend with a dispute over contracts that resulted in the threat of strike action from players this weekend.

Gatland has made nine changes after it was confirmed the game will go ahead in Cardiff, where Wales will attempt to avoid starting the tournament with three straight defeats for only the third time – having previously done so in 2003 and 2007.

England got their first win under head coach Steve Borthwick against Italy and will be looking to avoid a third successive away loss to Wales.

The Red Rose have won seven of their last nine meetings with Wales, though, with the previous six of those coming by a margin of no more than six points.

ONES TO WATCH

Gatland has dropped big names such as Dan Biggar, Liam Williams and George North after the heavy loss to Scotland.

Josh Adams is among the players who have retained his place, though, and the wing could help to lift the gloom. The flyer and Ken Owens have made four dominant tackles apiece in the tournament, with only seven players have produced that many. 

Alex Dombrandt will start at number eight once again for England, having made more effective contributions at defensive rucks than any other player in the Six Nations with seven. 

He has won two jackal turnovers and slowed down a further five rucks, so he can make his presence felt again.

FRANCE v SCOTLAND

FORM 

Scotland put on another show to see off Wales, turning on the style at a raucous Murrayfield after winning a thriller against England.

They won on their most recent visit to the French capital, defeating Les Bleus 27-23 in 2021. Scotland have not won back-to-back games in Paris since 1967-1969.

France have won 18 of their past 19 Test matches on home soil, including nine in a row. Their only loss during that time was that one at the hands of Scotland. 

A victory this weekend would give them a 10th straight home win for the first time since 1986-1989.

ONES TO WATCH

Damian Penaud finished superbly to score for France in their loss to Ireland. 

The wing has beaten 15 defenders in his two appearances in this tournament and another livewire display could be on the cards.

Russell produced a masterclass against Wales and Scotland will need him to pull the strings once again. 

The fly-half has made three line-break assists and also laid on three tries in the tournament so far and there should be more to come.

Related items

  • 'Anyone would have him!' – Casillas excited to see Mbappe at Real Madrid 'Anyone would have him!' – Casillas excited to see Mbappe at Real Madrid

    Former Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas believes the European champions have brought in someone special with the signing of Kylian Mbappe.

    France star Mbappe announced he was leaving Paris Saint-Germain in May before making the move to Madrid earlier this month, ending a years-long transfer saga involving the two teams and the striker.

    The 25-year-old has signed a five-year contract with the winners of LaLiga, who he will join as a free agent in July after his contract with PSG expires, with Brazil sensation Endrick also set to arrive in the Spanish capital.

    With Mbappe joining a side containing a wealth of talent already, which recently captured the Champions League, Casillas is impressed by the squad that Madrid have put together.

    "Mbappe is a very good player," Casillas said. "Everyone wants to have him; anyone would have him in their respective team.

    "Real Madrid have a brilliant president and brilliant people around them. Forming a team like this is something impressive.

    "You can learn a little from the past and in that sense give some continuity to the team as a great club with great players.

    "Real Madrid has them. We will see how they continue to mesh and how they can continue giving joy to the fans."

    Mbappe was tipped to be one of the most influential players at Euro 2024, but his tournament looked in danger of ending early when he suffered a broken nose in France’s opening game against Austria.

    "With Mbappe out, France may suffer a little," two-time Euros champion Casillas added, with Mbappe's status for France's next matches uncertain.

    "But France have a team with very good players and there has been a bit of a revolution by Didier Deschamps.

    "So France can certainly still be a contender and get to the final of the Euros, but we now must see if France can play as well without him."

    Spain are the only team to win back-to-back editions of the European Championships, with Casillas captaining the side in both 2008 and 2012, while also leading them to World Cup glory in 2010.

    This year, Spain have a more youthful look to the squad, with Lamine Yamal becoming the youngest-ever player to appear at the Euros at 16 years and 338 days old.

    The teenager got an assist in Spain’s 3-0 win over Croatia in their first match of the tournament, and Casillas is pleased to see Luis de la Fuente giving young players a chance on the big stage.

    He said: "It is good to see that young players continue to emerge in football in Spain and are being considered stars of the future. It is good for the entire team.

    "Only [Yamal] can prove if he will be a great player - solely and exclusively, him, and of course, the trust and effort that goes in.

    "Let's see, with the confidence and maturity he has, plus the other team-mates who will support him, if he can become a very good player for Spain.

    "We know that the strength of the team comes from the depth and we need to continue having these players emerge."
     

    Iker Casillas is a brand ambassador for Hisense's UEFA EURO 2024 campaign BEYOND GLORY which celebrates the relentless pursuit of excellence shared by professional footballers aiming for EURO honours and Hisense’s commitment to pushing boundaries in the home appliance industry.

  • Spalletti: Italy will not make 'mistake' of underestimating Spain Spalletti: Italy will not make 'mistake' of underestimating Spain

    Luciano Spalletti says Italy will be true to their identity but will not make the "huge mistake" of underestimating Spain in their heavyweight Group B clash.

    Italy opened Euro 2024 with a 2-1 win over Albania on Saturday, coming from behind after conceding the fastest goal ever scored in the tournament's history after 23 seconds.

    Spain, meanwhile, cruised to a 3-0 victory over Croatia, leaving both sides joint-top of the group going into their meeting in Gelsenkirchen on Thursday.

    The winner of the tie will take a big step towards qualifying top of the group, earning the theoretically easier pathway through the knockout stages.

    Asked how Italy were planning to deal with the threat Spain posed, Spalletti instead chose to praise their opponents for their style of play.

    "We have the utmost respect for Spain's history and prestige and the quality of this current crop of players," the head coach said. "But we mustn't think that you're better than you actually are. That would be a huge mistake.

    "We are dressed in Giorgio Armani and Giorgio Armani is world-famous. So, we go there with the same suit, try and be true to our identity and play the same way.

    "But, of course, we need to show the same desire as our opposition to test ourselves against one of the best footballing philosophies in world football.

    "Once we are off the pitch, we need to make sure we have no regrets. We need to try and play our own game in our best clothes, but we are willing to scuff up our suit if required."

    Spalletti was able to use Nicolo Barella in their opening game, with the midfielder starting and scoring after emerging as a major doubt through injury in the build-up to the tournament.

    The 65-year-old was keeping his cards close to his chest about his team selection for Thursday's game.

    "I've not had any news on who's starting for Spain," Spalletti added.

    "It is one of the most important matches of my career. I've already been through some important games, but this is certainly one of those that's right up there.

    "We all have a story to tell. And when the players get to my age, they will know that they need to have stories to tell, and this is one of those matches which could give them a tale to tell in the future."

  • Foden vows his Bellingham partnership will improve after England criticism Foden vows his Bellingham partnership will improve after England criticism

    Phil Foden is confident his combination play with Jude Bellingham will improve after the Manchester City star's performance in England's Euro 2024 opener came in for criticism.

    While Real Madrid talisman Bellingham scored the winning goal against Serbia with a powerful early header and produced an inspirational display, the impact of Foden was more limited.

    Foden scored 27 goals and added 13 assists in a stunning club season for Premier League winners Man City, but he created just one chance in Sunday's 1-0 victory.

    The 24-year-old moved out to the left flank, making way to accommodate Bellingham playing centrally behind captain Harry Kane, with Bukayo Saka out on the right.

    As well as not making a creative impact, Foden also failed to register a single shot in an unusually quiet outing.

    But Foden is confident he and Bellingham will get the best out of each other despite calls for him to be dropped from Gareth Southgate's starting XI ahead of Wednesday’s second match against Denmark.

    "Jude is obviously an exceptional talent, he carries himself really well and I think he is turning into a leader," said Foden.

    "Our link up play is good at times. I think it is improving as well and can keep getting better.

    "He is an exciting talent and I enjoy playing with him."

    Foden acknowledged the Serbia match had provided an early test for England, but that was something he welcomed.

    He added: "The first game of a major tournament is always the most difficult – it is important to get off to a win and we did that.

    "It was difficult at times. Obviously, we had to defend at times and dig deep.

    "But I think that shows a different side to us and if we are going to win something I think that we have to do that."

    England, who were pre-tournament favourites, will be hoping to top Group C in order to avoid a potential last-16 tie against hosts Germany, who lead Group A. The winners of Group A will face the runners-up of Group C in Dortmund on June 29.

    After facing Denmark, England's group-stage campaign will conclude with a match against Slovenia on Tuesday.

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.