Last weekend’s penultimate round of Six Nations was full of drama and excitement. It had it all! First we saw a record crowd of 17,440 at the Stade des Alpes in France, followed by three dramatic endings starting with France beating England by a single point. Italy then recorded their first win in the championship this season by beating Wales before Scotland defeated Ireland for the first time since 2006 and secured their first away win in 12 years.
It certainly was a weekend to remember but can the final round create any more surprises? Well it all kicks off on Friday night and by the end of the evening we will know who the championship victors are!
England v Ireland, Friday 16th March, Ricoh Arena, KO 17:30
Both England and Ireland are coming into this game off the back of a defeat. England can, however, still win the Six Nations but their fate is ultimately in the hands of the French. If England beat Ireland, ideally with a bonus point, and France lose to Wales without picking up a losing bonus point, then the title will be theirs. But based on France’s current form, these odds are very slim.
England will need to have discipline and avoid cheap penalties. By that I mean penalties that can be avoided through making good decisions. They can’t let their emotions take control because that’s when you see the yellow card and England have accumulated three of those in this tournament already. Plus, Niamh Briggs also has a hefty boot and punishes teams from the tee.
England need to dominate the breakdown. They got turned over far to easily against France. The ball carrier has to fight to make ground and put defenders on the back foot, otherwise Claire Molloy and Ciara Griffin will have their pickings from the ruck. I expect to see Sarah Bern, Poppy Cleall and Marlie Packer make dents in the defence to give Katy Daley-Mclean a platform to unleash the backs from.
The team that will win this game will be the team that takes their opportunities. Ireland missed out against Scotland because they didn’t execute and finish off that final pass. All it took was one interception and the game was lost. For England, a series of costly errors against France at the lineout and in defence, saw a game they should have won, lost in the 78th minute.
Prediction: England to win with a bonus point.
Wales v France, Friday 16th March, Colwyn Bay, KO 18:00
Will this game be the repeat of 2016, when France had the title in their sights and Wales scuppered their plans by beating them 10-8? France have a tendency of letting complacency take grip, and having the rug pulled up from underneath them.
France will be full of confidence after their victory over England. They were slow out of the blocks but finished strong. Jessy Tremouliere was the star of the show, scoring two tries including that final vital score. Wales will need to contain her. In defence, they must be connected and not fly out of the line. They must not give her gaps to run into, which unfortunately for England was a lesson they learnt the hard way.
Wales also need to review their discipline. On Sunday, they were awarded three yellow cards and at international level that is a big NO NO! You cannot do that and expect to walk away with a win. Rowland Phillips would have been pulling his hair out because Wales did some good stuff. Sioned Harries was a constant threat off the base of the scrum and exposed the lack of pace in the Italian backrow and Alisha Butchers was also a lady on a mission. Her strong carries and low and abrasive pick and go’s from five metres out from the try-line were unstoppable. Frustratingly, they both let themselves down with poor decisions made under pressure and spent ten minutes on the touchline along with Mel Clay.
The Sevens flyer, Jasmine Joyce, was also electric and broke the line every time. Wales need to get the ball into her hands early against France so she can test the defensive skills of Cyrielle Banet. Wales need to start well and not let France build momentum because as they showed against England, they won’t stop until the final whistle.
Prediction: France to win, and be crowned 2018 Six Nations Champions
Italy v Scotland, Sunday 18th March, Stadio Plebiscito, 14:00 GMT
I can’t wait to watch this game. It is going to be a belter. Both teams are coming off the back of two historic wins but this game will be the real test for them. In 2016, Italy were victorious winning 22-7. Last year Scotland took the spoils finishing 14-12 so this dead rubber match is perfectly set up to bring the championship to a thrilling end.
Both Italy and Scotland are playing some exciting rugby. Scotland have developed an offload game which is starting to pull teams apart. They are also taking risks. On the 60th minute, against Ireland, Chloe Rollie backed herself and went for the intercept to score the winning try.
The Scottish team is full of belief and that shows in the expansive style of rugby they are trying to play. From first phase, they now aim to get the ball wide into the outside channels so Liz Musgrove and Hannah Smith can have a go, and Lisa Thomson has great footwork and running lines at 13 – similar to that of Scottish international Huw Jones.
This game will be won based on who can keep their nerve, not let their emotions get to them and do the basics well. Unforced errors could be the difference between winning and losing. Italy have some strong ball carriers; Giada Franco, Isabella Locatelli, Valentina Ruzza and Giordana Duca but at times they can lose the ball in the contact handing good possession over to the opposition. The battle at the bottom is set to be a match you don’t want to miss!
Prediction: A draw – The odds of this happening are low I know but it would be a fitting ending for two teams who have made history this Six Nations.