Six Nations briefing: all you need to know about the final round of games

Telegraph Sport
The Telegraph
Will Maro Itoje be a Grand Slam winner this weekend? - Copyright (c) 2017 Rex Features. No use without permission.
Will Maro Itoje be a Grand Slam winner this weekend? - Copyright (c) 2017 Rex Features. No use without permission.

Scotland vs Italy

When and where is the game?

The match will be played on Saturday March 18, 2017 at Murrayfield.

What time is kick-off?

12.30pm (GMT)

What TV channel is it on?

The match is on BBC One with the programme starting at 12.10pm.

What is the team news?

Fraser Brown's rush of blood to the head against England has cost the Scotland hooker his starting slot against Italy.

Head coach Vern Cotter – who is taking charge of Scotland for the final time – has recalled Ross Ford to start at Murrayfield after Brown wrecked his plans for the Auld Enemy with his Twickenham sin-binning.

<span>Vern Cotter will coach Scotland for the final time against Italy</span> <span>Credit: REX FEATURES </span>
Vern Cotter will coach Scotland for the final time against Italy Credit: REX FEATURES

Ford's inclusion is the only change to the starting XV ripped apart by the English last weekend as they went on to claim a record-equalling 61-21 triumph.

Scotland XV: Hogg (Glasgow); Seymour (Glasgow), Jones (Stormers), Dunbar (Glasgow), Visser (Harlequins); Russell (Glasgow), Price (Glasgow); Reid (Glasgow), Ford (Edinburgh), Fagerson (Glasgow), R Gray (Toulouse), J Gray (Glasgow), Barclay (Scarlets, capt), Watson (Edinburgh), Wilson (Glasgow).
Replacements: Brown (Glasgow), Dell (Edinburgh), Berghan (Edinburgh), Swinson (Glasgow), Du Preez (Edinburgh), Pyrgos (Glasgow), Weir (Edinburgh), Scott (Gloucester).

Scottish-born lock George Biagi has been named in the Italy side as one of four changes to Conor O'Shea's starting line-up.

<span>George Biagi, who was born in Irvine, Scotland, will start for Italy</span> <span>Credit: REX FEATURES </span>
George Biagi, who was born in Irvine, Scotland, will start for Italy Credit: REX FEATURES

The 31-year-old 6ft 6in Zebre player, who came off the bench in defeats to Ireland, England and France, has been selected in the second row to face Scotland in place of club team-mate Dries van Schalkwyk.

Zebre's Maxime Mbanda is also named in the starting pack, in place of Glasgow flanker Simone Favaro, while Ornel Gega takes over from Leonardo Ghiraldini at hooker after recovering from a neck problem.

Tommaso Benvenuti replaces the injured Michele Campagnaro in the centres, and back-rower Federico Ruzza will be hoping for a first senior cap from the bench.

Italy XV: E Padovani (Zebre); A Esposito (Treviso), T Benvenuti (Treviso), L McLean (Treviso), G Venditti (Zebre); C Canna (Zebre), E Gori (Treviso); A Lovotti (Zebre), O Gega (Treviso), L Cittadini (Bayonne), M Fuser (Treviso), G Biagi (Zebre), M Mbanda (Zebre), A Steyn (Treviso), S Parisse (Stade Français).
Replacements: L Ghiraldini (Toulouse), S Panico (Calvisano), D Chistolini (Zebre), D van Schalkwyk (Zebre), F Ruzza (Zebre), F Minto (Treviso), M Violi (Zebre), L Sperandio (Treviso).

Three key stats

1. Scotland have won six of their last seven games against Italy (L1), although their one defeat in that run came at Murrayfield (2015).

2. Italy have beaten Scotland eight times overall, more often than they have beaten any other Tier One nation.

3. Scotland have won their last three home games in the Six Nations, the last time they went on a longer such run was a streak of six games between 1989 and 1991.

What are they saying?

Scotland centre Alex Dunbar: "We started the Championship well but things didn't work against England. Now we just need to go back to what was working for us in the earlier games.

"There is always pressure on us to win. We played some of our best rugby in those first three games. But we don't want to go into our shell and not play like the way we know we can.

"We want to go out and express ourselves and pick off these mismatches that we can find."

What are the betting odds?

Scotland to win: 1/18 
Italy to win: 8/1 
Draw: 50/1

What is our prediction?

Following last weekend's humiliation at the hands of the Auld Enemy, Scotland will be hoping – and expected – to chalk up a cricket score against the bottom-placed nation who will pick up the Six Nations wooden spoon for the 12th time in 18 outings in the competition.

Predicted score: Scotland 43 Italy 11

<span>Credit: REX </span>
Credit: REX

France vs Wales

When and where is the game?

Wales face a trip to Paris and the game is on Saturday, along with the other two remaining Six Nations games. 

What time is kick-off?

The game gets under way at the Stade de France at 2.45pm. 

What TV channel is it on? 

BBC One and BBC One HD or you can also listen to live commentary on BBC Radio 5 live. Or of course, you can follow Telegraph Sport's live blog right here for updates, analysis and reaction. 

What is the team news? 

France make one change from the XV that won handsomely in Rome as Sebastien Vahaamahina returns from injury to replaced Julien le Devedec at second row. 

France XV: Dulin; Nakaitaci, Lamerat, Fickou, Vakatawa; Lopez, Serin; Baille, Guirado, Slimani; Vahaamahina, Maestri; Sanconnie, Gourdon, Picamoles.

Replacements: Chat, Atonio, Ben Arous, Le Devedec, Chouly, Dupont, Trinh-Duc, Huget.

Six Nations team of the week - matchday four

Wales have named an unchanged team for the third game in a row. 

Wales XV: Halfpenny; North, Davies, S Williams, L Williams; Biggar, Webb; Evans, Owens, Francis, Ball, Wyn Jones, Warburton, Tipuric, Moriarty.

Replacements: Baldwin, Smith, Lee, Charteris, Faletau, G Davies, S Davies, Roberts. 

Three key stats

1. A Wales victory be the first time they have won three straight away games in France for 50 years.

2. A Wales win could also be enough to secure the runners-up spot for the second successive year. 

3. France and Wales have met 88 times and the aggregate points stand at 1,262 to 1,229 in France's favour. 

Six Nations 2017 fixtures, dates, kick-off times and TV schedule

What are they saying?

Guy Noves:  "We have a pair [at half-back] that has been working together on the long run. It is interesting, even if Francois Trinh-Duc has come back from an injury.

"We saw that Wales were able to prevent Ireland from playing their game with a huge defensive pressure. For sure, they are ready."

Rob Howley: "I was delighted for the players about Friday's result and performance, and they deserve the opportunity to build on that in our final RBS 6 Nations encounter.

"The experience we showed and the intensity we brought to the match was hugely important, and that will be just as important as we face a good France team at home.

"We put pressure on ourselves and turned that pressure into a result.

<span>Wales coach Rob Howley</span> <span>Credit: PA </span>
Wales coach Rob Howley Credit: PA

"For us, there are areas of the game we want to work on from Ireland, and we have an opportunity to do that on Saturday and finish the campaign with another quality performance.

"The players who took to the field at the Principality Stadium deserve the opportunity to start, and we were pleased with the impact from the bench, so will be looking for the same this weekend."

What are the odds?

France: 8/13
Wales: 7/4
Draw: 28/1

What's our prediction?

We're going for France to edge a close contest in Paris by a single score. 

Predicted score: France 21 Wales 17

Dylan Hartley and Rory Best
Dylan Hartley and Rory Best

Ireland vs England

When and where is the game?

It's this Saturday!  All eyes will be on Dublin because of what's at stake. England are not only going for back-to-back Grand Slams, they could also set a new world record for most consecutive Test wins for a Tier One nation, overtaking the mighty All Blacks.

What time is kick-off?

This is the final game of Saturday's triple header and kicks off at 5pm.

What TV channel is it on?

ITV will be your hosts from 4pm, taking in all the build-up before the live action.

What is the team news?

Billy Vunipola
Billy Vunipola

Billy Vunipola and Anthony Watson will start England's attempt at securing back-to-back Grand Slams.

Vunipola replaces Nathan Hughes at No 8 and Watson is recalled at the expense of Jack Nowell on the right wing in a straight swap between starting XV and bench.

Their elevation off the bench sees England travel to the Aviva Stadium with their strongest possible starting XV, with only long-term injuries Chris Robshaw and George Kruis absent.

Elliot Daly continues in the No 11 jersey after passing the return to play protocols for suspected concussion sustained in the 61-21 demolition of Scotland last Saturday.

England XV: M Brown (Harlequins); A Watson (Bath), J Joseph (Bath), O Farrell (Saracens), E Daly (Wasps); G Ford (Bath), B Youngs (Leicester); J Marler (Harlequins) D Hartley (Northampton, capt), D Cole (Leicester), J Launchbury (Wasps), C Lawes (Northampton), M Itoje (Saracens), J Haskell (Wasps), B Vunipola (Saracens).

Replacements: J George (Saracens), M Vunipola (Saracens), K Sinckler (Harlequins), T Wood (Northampton), N Hughes (Wasps), D Care (Harlequins), B Te'o (Worcester), J Nowell (Exeter).

Jared Payne
Jared Payne

Conor Murray has failed to shake off his shoulder problem while boss Joe Schmidt has dropped lock Devin Toner.

Fit-again Jared Payne starts at full-back ahead of Rob Kearney, with Iain Henderson preferred to Toner in the second-row and Kieran Marmion replacing Murray at scrum-half.

Keith Earls has shaken off his groin complaint to start on the wing, but Schmidt sprung a surprise with his decision to drop line-out co-ordinator Toner.

Full-back Kearney has suffered a knee injury, opening the door for Payne to feature for the first time since suffering a lacerated kidney in November.

Ireland XV: J Payne (Ulster), K Earls (Munster), G Ringrose, R Henshaw (both Leinster), S Zebo (Munster), J Sexton (Leinster), K Marmion (Connacht), J McGrath (Leinster), R Best (Ulster, capt), T Furlong (Leinster), D Ryan (Munster), I Henderson (Ulster), CJ Stander (Munster), S O'Brien, J Heaslip (both Leinster).

Replacements: N Scannell (Munster), C Healy (Leinster), J Ryan (Munster), D Toner (Leinster), P O'Mahony (Munster), L McGrath (Leinster), P Jackson (Ulster), A Conway (Munster).

Three key stats

1. Ireland are unbeaten at home in the Six Nations in 10 games (W8, D2), their last such defeat coming in 2013 when England visited.

2. England have won just twice in eight visits to Dublin in the Six Nations (since 2000), the first victory came in their 2003 Grand Slam and the other 10 years later in 2013.

3. No player has made as many carries in the tournament this year as Ireland's CJ Stander (84), while England’s Joe Launchbury (67/70) tops the tackle charts after four rounds.

<span>Credit: ACTION IMAGES </span>

England's Grand Slam bid in numbers

19 - should England achieve victory, it will extend their winning streak to 19, an outright record for a tier-one Test nation.

9 - Grand Slams won in the Six Nations era, with England bidding to take the tally into double figures.

4 - teams to have won a Six Nations Grand Slam. Wales and France have three each, with England bidding to join them on that mark, while Ireland won it in 2009.

137 - points scored by England so far in this season's competition.

27 - players used in their four games.

9 - try-scorers - Ben Te'o, Elliot Daly, Ben Youngs, Jack Nowell, Dan Cole, Danny Care, Jonathan Joseph, Anthony Watson and Billy Vunipola.

5 - players to have started all nine of England's games this season and last - captain Dylan Hartley, front-row colleague Cole, George Ford and Owen Farrell at 10 and 12 and full-back Mike Brown. Five others - Joe Marler, James Haskell, Care, Youngs and Nowell - have featured at some point in all nine games.

11 - consecutive wins for England since they last lost in the Six Nations, to Ireland in March 2015 - a record for the Six Nations or its predecessors.

What are they saying?

<span>Credit: EPA </span>
Credit: EPA

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt: "You lose Conor (Murray's) experience, 50-plus caps, you lose his calm; he's incredibly calm on the pitch. He's a good foil for other players who are under pressure, because he very seldom looks like he's under pressure.

"You lose a defender who is incredibly good at organising other people and himself to make very good decisions, and then carry them through with positive action.

"His ability to control us and navigate us around the pitch, particularly with his kicking game, and the speed of his passing game.

"His experience will leave a hole for us, we've got a combined caps with Kieran Marmion and Luke McGrath of about a dozen, as opposed to about 140 that they have in their half-backs. And I guess the biggest thing is that what a fantastic opportunity to learn."

England coach Eddie Jones: "We've had a really good week's preparation. The intensity of training has been good. It's going to be quite an occasion in Dublin so we understand we have to be prepared emotionally, physically and mentally.

"The mood in camp has been positive. We're very excited ahead of what is a huge opportunity for the players. You sense the intensity has stepped up - it definitely has in training."

<span>Credit: REX </span>
Credit: REX

England full-back Mike Brown: "They (Owen and Andy Farrell) are very similar. They both bring a lot of energy. Owen backs up words with actions. Being a rugby league fan I grew up watching his dad on TV playing for Wigan.

"Owen is probably used to this. He's probably not taken a second thought about coming up against his dad because he's so focussed on his job in the team.

"Owen is obviously a world class player. The ways he's grown has been amazing. Most of the time I don't even look when he's kicking because I just expect it to go over. He's that good. He's obviously massively involved in bringing energy to the team. He's physical and leads by example with his words."

What are the betting odds?

Ireland: 6/4
England: 8/11
Draw: 25/1

What is our prediction?

This is going to be an epic contest. England playing Ireland on St Patrick's Day weekend (Paddy's Day is actually on Friday). This is as tough a task as there is but this England team are on a mission to create history and, buoyed by their thrashing of Scotland, should have the upper hand. Just.

Predicted score: Ireland 17 England 21

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