Six Nations Round Four - 5 Key Talking Points

Things are getting serious now. This weekend sees the penultimate round of the Six Nations 2014 with excitement close to boiling point.


Four, it seems, is the magic number as a quartet of teams are currently tied at the top of the table, on four points each, on the fourth weekend of the tournament. 


Ireland and Scotland host Italy and France respectively on Saturday, but all eyes will be on Twickenham for Sunday's show-stopper as England take on Wales in the game of the round. Before all that, let's see what has got everyone talking in the European game in the last fortnight.


5. Adam a Man of Gwent?


Ospreys and Wales stalwart Adam Jones is still undecided as to where his club future lies after this season. The prop is out of contract at the Liberty Stadium this summer and is said to be considering options that include lucrative offers from the French Top 14.


But Adam (he's Welsh and good, so we use his Christian name) has always been far too down to earth to be swayed by the glamour of Paris or the endless sack of gold a move to Toulon would bring.


Rumour has it that he is mulling over a central contract from the WRU, similar to one signed by Sam Warburton in January. If he puts pen to paper there, word has it that he would be placed at Rodney Parade with Newport Gwent Dragons and a reunion with Lyn Jones, who coached the tighthead at the Ospreys.


More amusingly, there would also be the chance of the re-acquaintance with old pal, perma-tanned, leg-shaved Gavin Henson, who moves from Bath this summer.
The phrase 'two peas in a pod' has never been less fitting.


4. Glut of the Irish


After the jaw-dropping but stomach-churning defeat to England last time out, Ireland return to home soil with a much more favourable tie this weekend, against the winless Italians. 


Now that the chance of Grand Slam glory is gone Joe Schmidt's men know they have a great opportunity to rack up the score against the Azzurri to give them the best possible chance of pipping their rivals to the title on points difference.


If that wasn't enough to get them fired up, there is the 'revenge' factor - after Sergio Parisse and co. inflicted their first championship defeat on the Irish in Rome last year - the men in green will be anxious to set the record straight. 


The only question is, with the home side needing a big win and a lack of real finishing class behind the scrum, why Schmidt has decided to drop Tommy Bowe - especially after the winger's two rip-roaring tries for Ulster against the Dragons last weekend.




3. Scotland shuffle pack... again


It has come to the point where we think Scott Johnson's team selection meeting must involve getting the names of all his players, throwing them up in the air and seeing where they land. For all his cries of wanting consistency, the picking of Scotland XVs thus far have provided no stability or platform to build performances and results.


In fairness, the side for the visit of France on Saturday is more like the Scotland team that should have taken the park for the previous three Tests. After the embarrassment of being dropped for the games against England and Italy, Kelly Brown is reinstated as captain and forms a formidable back-row with Johnnie Beattie and Dave Denton. 


Richie Gray and Jim Hamilton are the muscle that lock a beefy scrum and in the backs a centre partnership of Matt Scott and Alex Dunbar should keep Les Bleus on their toes. With Phillipe Saint-Andre making several changes of his own - including picking a predominantly a second-string pack - could the Scots do what they haven't in eight years and notch up a win against the French?


2. Centres of attention

A lot of talk in the build-up to the England v Wales show-down has revolved around the potential involvement of a pair of world class centres. 


Jonathan Davies has seen very little action since rupturing a pectoral muscle against South Africa in the autumn, but has come through unscathed for the Scarlets in the past two weeks. His Lions team mate Manu Tuilagi also passed fit after a long lay-off and impressed during Leicester's drubbing of Newcastle last Sunday.


In their absence the likes of George North, Scott Williams and Luther Burrell have performed admirably in the 13 shirt, with Burrell marking his first two Six Nations starts with a couple of tries along with solid all-round performances.


But when it's come down to the crunch, the game has arrived just a little too soon for Tuilagi, who is not included in the England match-day squad for Sunday. Davies, however, slots straight back into the team to re-forge the imposing midfield partnership outside man mountain, Jamie Roberts. They are a duo that have started together more in the middle than any other pairing for Wales and, as well as North played there against France, Davies adds a subtlety and unpredictability that could be the key to unlocking the English defence.  


1. The Grudge Match


This is unquestionably the tie of the round.


Whenever England face Wales there is plenty riding on it. A fixture full of passion and emotion, brimming with history and the result having a significant bearing on the outcome of the championship. 


There's not much to be said that hasn't already been jibbered. Both camps are doing their best to play the occasion down and claim the 'underdog' tag - apart from Tom Wood and Jack Nowell - whose off-script media outbursts have given at least some colour to the week's proceedings. 


Both sides have legitimate title aspirations. Both have played some excellent rugby. Both have been on the receiving end of disappointing defeats. 


There is also the small matter of the Ghost of Cardiff to be addressed. The digits '30-3' are emblazoned on every Welshman's heart after the colossal victory that snatched the trophy from England's grasp at the Millennium Stadium last March. If you're from the Principality you haven't shut up about the result yet, so England are - whether they admit it or not - determined to deliver a huge dollop of pay-back at HQ this time round to fully shove the memory of that day down Welsh throats.


Whether it's 'Swing Low, Sweet Chariot' or 'Hymns and Arias' reverberating around fortress Twickenham come full time this will be a match not to be missed.


It's going to be tight. It's going to be tense. It's going to be terrific.


Looking forward to the Six Nations this weekend Why not look forward to it with a free Guinness in your hand? Please, it's on us.


Got something to say about any of that? Vent your spleen in the comments below.


Thomas Davies - Twitter him

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