Six Nations: The Breakdown – Ireland bandwagon rolls into Rome, Scotland eye France scalp
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
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.
Ross Byrne gets his chance to start at fly-half for Ireland in the absence of injured captain Johnny Sexton.
Byrne has been successful with all three kicks from the tee after coming off the bench in this tournament and he can grasp his opportunity.
WALES v ENGLAND
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
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.