Saturday looks set to be a thrilling day of Six Nations action with all teams involved but only two sides really in with a chance of winning the title.
All eyes will be on the Principality Stadium to see if Wales can secure a Grand Slam against Ireland, but if Warren Gatland’s side fail, then the attention will swiftly switch to fellow title contenders England.
The Welsh are in a superb position to have their destiny in their own hands as they prepare to welcome reigning champions Ireland to Cardiff.
Gatland’s statement that Wales “have forgotten how to lose” will be put to the ultimate test this weekend as his former side Ireland head to Cardiff looking to spoil what would be a party to behold in the Welsh capital.
A Grand Slam would be the perfect send off for the two-time British & Irish Lions coach, who has made winning crunch games a speciality during his successful career.
Having been plagued by injuries in past championships, the Welsh have discovered real strength in depth in most positions across the park.
Cardiff playmaker Gareth Anscombe has been a revelation in the number 10 jersey this tournament and has shown he can be a reliable Test stand-off alongside Northampton Saints star Dan Biggar.
That depth will not only serve Wales well on Saturday but long after Gatland has returned to his native New Zealand and left the madness of the Six Nations pressure cooker behind him.
It still seems remarkable that Wales are even in the position, considering they were 16-0 down and staring down the barrel of an opening-round defeat against France in Paris.
Only the French falling to pieces in the second half and handing the Welsh two tries on a plate meant the visitors could get their Six Nations campaign off to a winning start.
Wales were again below par for wins over Italy and Scotland but produced their display of the tournament to defeat Eddie Jones’ England side.
Gatland will need a similar 80-minute performance this Saturday, against an Ireland team who for 75 minutes against Les Bleus last time out produced their own best display of the year.
All the talk before the Six Nations was about the Green Machine and how Ireland are serious World Cup contenders.
Obviously, a defeat for Ireland in Cardiff would not affect their results in Japan but it might be another indication that this Irish side might have hit their peak a year early for the major tournament.
Saturday’s game is going to be a spectacle of high-pressure and physical Test rugby but with the home support and the Gatland element, it might well be another night in Cardiff that Welsh fans won’t soon forget.
Even if Wales do claim the Six Nations title before England kick-off against Scotland at Twickenham, it’s never short of drama when the Auld Enemies do battle.
After England suffered a 25-13 defeat against the Scots at Murrayfield 12 months ago, this is the fixture that many Red Rose players have been looking forward to.
Scotland really did a number on England in Edinburgh that day, with Huw Jones bagging himself a brace, while winger Sean Maitland went in the corner to cap off a memorable move that started with Finn Russell’s ‘pass of the century’.
However, this is a very different Scotland side heading south of the border, with head coach Gregor Townsend having to deal with a host of injuries through the tournament.
Centre Jones for one will not be there to cause the England backline problems, nor will star full-back Stuart Hogg who is out of action with a shoulder injury picked up against Ireland.
Tormentors in the pack John Barclay and Ryan Wilson will also be absent from the clash at Twickenham, as will utility back Blair Kinghorn.
For many this will be a Six Nations that can’t be over soon enough for the Scots, while Saturday’s game will actually provide a chance for redemption.
A competitive performance with an under-strength side could provide Scotland with shoots of optimism ahead of the World Cup in Japan and that’s what Townsend will be focusing on.
But with the current depleted squad and with a strong England side looking for revenge, it’s hard to see this game going any other way than a convincing home victory.
England will be ruing that narrow defeat in Cardiff as they should really be the ones going for a Grand Slam, having arguably played the better rugby than the Welsh through the tournament.
Jones’ men are still in a good place going to Japan and a convincing win over Scotland will be another step towards where they want to be for the World Cup.
Although the Azzurri are on the verge of another wooden spoon in the Six Nations, head coach Conor O’Shea must be thinking he can take some positives looking forward to Japan.
Italy will be looking to put their thrashing at the hands of England behind them as they prepare to host France in the Eternal City on Saturday.
Apart from that defeat to the Red Rose, Italy can take plenty of positives from their performances against Scotland, Wales and Ireland.
France only have a home win over Scotland to show for their efforts this season and Les Bleus are really in a difficult place going into the World Cup.
A defeat in Rome could be another nail in the coffin for the France management and changes could be on their way.
The braver amongst you could look to the 27/10 for a famous Italian victory but in the handicap markets, the Azzurri are more than capable of coming out on top with a 9.5-point head start.
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