BY Thomas Davies

8 Feb

Six Nation - 5 Key Talking Points.

The second week of the RBS Six Nations 2014 is upon us. Following the triumphs, tears and tantrums of the opening fixtures there has been plenty to discuss about the European game this week.

To get you right in the mood for all the action later we round up the five big talking points that have made the headlines this week.

5. France v Italy

It might be the last and least anticipated game of the weekend, but there is still plenty riding on this match-up between the two sets of boys in blue. Britain and Ireland might be nursing severe hangovers following the huge clashes the day before, but Sunday's tie at the Stade de France gives both teams the opportunity to show their worth.

Italy's recent record over Les Bleus is surprisingly good, with two wins in the past three encounters - including last season's storming 23-18 win in Rome. Considering this, Jacques Brunel's men should have great cause for optimism and the chance to realistically challenge for an upset, especially considering how competitive throughout they were in the tight defeat to Wales in Cardiff last weekend.

In the home changing room France will want to consolidate after a morale-boosting but fortunate win over England in Round 1. With Gael Fickou's late try providing the wave for a nation to ride on and key men Pascal Pape, Yannick Nyanga and Yoann Huget in great form, victory will leave the French two from two and the cockerel might just start beginning to crow...

Also, keep an eye out for Hugo Bonneval, Stade Francais' full-back who makes his full France debut tomorrow on the wing. He's got gas, an eye for a gap and can't half boot the leather off a ball. Might be worth a punt for first try scorer.

4. Scotland's selections

It has baffled most people inside and out of the highlands, but Scott Johnson continues to ring left-field changes in big games as Scotland's interim head coach.

This week he has decided to drop stalwart and captain Kelly Brown from the match-day squad altogether, having to bear the embarrassment of heading back to club duty this weekend along with Castres cast-off Richie Gray. Johnson was disappointed by Brown's showing on the flank in the Dublin drubbing last Sunday and has decided to pick a more traditional openside and hands Glasgow Warriors' Chris Fusaro his international debut.

Fusaro has impressed for the Warriors for a number of years and has been floating around the Scotland squad for over a year now. The reason it's taken this long to get on the park mainly consists of fears over his size, leading to doubts over his suitability at the very top level. But Johnson is adamant that he has learned and adapted his game and his natural class as a snaffling, ball-winner will be essential in tonight's Murrayfield mudbath.

Gray's omission from the 23 is equally startling, with the Lion being replaced on the bench by his younger and - incredibly - taller brother Jonny. Dinner time in the Gray household growing up must have been a hoot. The truth here is Scotland really don't have the depth and firepower to keep chopping, changing and spurning quality players who can make a difference. There is no sense of growing as a team and the lack of consistency in performance and selection is a worry that isn't going away.

3. England back on the chariot?

Chris Robshaw and his charges will be looking to put things right after the pain suffered in Paris seven days ago. Unlike Scotland, Stuart Lancaster has picked the same squad that outplayed France for large chunks of the Stade de France struggle, keeping faith in the group he has asked to execute a developed game plan.

Tonight's match is a collision of a settled side against a staggered side. When it comes down to it history, passion and past meetings can only gear you up so far.

England will clearly fancy their chances, but it is always a tough ask going away to Murrayfield - where the bagpipes and pyrotechnics are sure to be firing, even if the home team is not. With Lancaster's men desperate to get their chariot and campaign back on track an away win would seem the most likely outcome.

But it's Scotland. At Murrayfield. In a monsoon.

Expect anything.

2. Sam Burgess to Union

The subject is not strictly Six Nations but nevertheless an extremely exciting prospect if you're an England rugby fan. Stuart Lancaster probably didn't expect his pre-Scotland press conferences to be filled with questions about a rugby league star currently playing in Australia, but the rumours of Burgess switching codes in preparation for the 2015 Rugby World Cup has driven supporters of the red rose wild with excitement.

Depending on who you believe Burgess's situation has ranged from him signing immediately (for a whole host of clubs), signing on for a fee in the region of seven figures with the league prop being utilised in the union pack as a number 8.

We'd like to think we're quite reliable, so from our understanding the contract is in the region of #500,000, with Bath his likely destination to be deployed as a ball-carrying, midfield-destroying inside centre.

Before you start salivating over the idea of an England centre partnership of Burgess and Tuilagi completing destroying teams with comical ease, just be warned - for every Kyle Eastmond there's an Andy Farrell, for every Jason Robinson a Lesley Vainikolo.

There's plenty of mileage in this intriguing story yet; however it pans out, it's certainly got tongues wagging.

1. O'Driscoll v Gatland

Speaking of which, we come to the great debate, argument, vendetta that hasn't really gone away in the seven months since it rocked Ireland... er, Britain... the UK?... Well anyone who followed the Lions in Oz last summer.

If you haven't heard about this chestnut or got an opinion on who was right or wrong, then you're not reading this article anyway cos you're living under a rock.

As soon as Gats dropped BOD for the decisive Lions Test in Sydney last July there was pandemonium. The Emerald Isle mourned as one and the reaction couldn't have been worse if Daniel O'Donnell had burned all his woolly jumpers on a bonfire while singing God Save the Queen.

Even after Gatland's vindication - with the Lions posting a record 42-16 thumping of Australia - Irish ire still did not subside.

Despite both parties talking this side-show to the main event (that being Ireland v Wales) down, you can put a round of Guinness on it that everyone wearing green today will be extra pumped for this fixture.

It's not just this latest set-to that has caused a widening rift between the two nations. The majority of recent encounters have been rife with their fair share of controversy to boil the blood of respective supporters and add even more spice to the tie.

Whether it's Mike Phillips' dubious try in Wales' win in 2011, Ronan O'Gara's last-minute drop goal to snatch the Grand Slam in Cardiff two years previous, or Wales' nail-biting steal in Dublin in 2012, it's clear that there is growing animosity and an incredible amount at stake.

O'Driscoll himself will be as cool, calm and professional as he always has been over a glittering, incomparable career. Despite his protestations in the media that this isn't a personal dual, BOD, his teammates and their legions of fans have the fuel and determination they need to put in a performance against a foe they see as vitally important to beat.

If it does go the way of the shamrock, no prizes for guessing who they'll be toasting on the streets of Dublin tonight.