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Six Nations Sermon - Round 5

The curtain comes down this weekend on what has been a rip snorting Six Nations so far with some serious swag at stake.

As it stands, just Wales have a shot at Triple Crown and Grand Slam glory, whilst Ireland and England can still potentially pilfer the pot. Much will be decided in Cardiff where Ireland head with a party to poop. Elsewhere, England welcome Scotland to Twickenham in a fixture with potentially more needle than both Trainspotting films combined after the antics of last year’s Calcutta Cup. Finally, Italy and France battle for little but pride in out in Rome.

The now customary ‘Super Saturday’ format will once again see all six teams play on the same day, with staggered kick-off times allowing fans to bed in for what is comfortably one of the best pub Saturdays of the year.

‘Jealous’ Wales One Win From History

Warren Gatland knows that victory on Saturday at the Principality Stadium will see him become the first coach to clock up three Grand Slams, and it is his envy of Ireland’s recent success at both club and country level that is driving him and his team on.

This has been the New Zealand’s tenth and final Six Nations tournament at the helm of the Welsh national side, and it would be a fitting way to bow out if his charges were to defeat Ireland – a side he coached with distinction before being stunningly sacked by, nearly 20 years ago.

In a curious twist of fate, this game will also be fellow Kiwi coach Joe Schmidt’s last with Ireland in the Six Nations. Throw in the delicious subplot that both men are hot candidates for the soon to be vacant All Blacks job, expect emotions to be running high on and off the pitch come 2.45pm on Saturday.

Both sides head into this clash with form and confidence behind them. Wales scored a couple of excellent tries before showing buckets of resolve to hold out a second-half onslaught in their last outing Murrayfield. That victory was their 13th in a row and proved that their triumph against England was no one-off.

Ireland, in turn, looked back to somewhere near their best as they cantered to an easy victory against French at the Aviva last weekend, but the Welsh will provide a different challenge altogether. Both sides are packed with experienced Test match warriors and legends of the game: Furlong, Best, O’Mahoney and Sexton are seasoned Lions, whilst Alun Wyn-Jones, Jonathan Davies and Liam Williams seem to be only getting better with age and experience.

The prospect of seeing these greats face off on Saturday is mouthwatering, and one we shouldn’t take for granted in what is fast becoming a golden era for home nations rugby. Fortunately, all we are required to do is watch.

The match itself will almost certainly be a tight and hotly contested affair between two sides which pride themselves on their miserly defences; no coincidence, perhaps, given that both nations’ backrooms include hyper-driven rugby league enforcers. The Shaun Edwards v Andy Farrell match-up, once master and apprentice at Wigan, is just one of many fascinating aspects heading into this Celtic clash and it’s a really tough one to call.

Whilst Ireland have been improving steadily after a tough start to the tournament, and possess a backline capable of breaking any defence in world rugby, Wales have won four from four without reaching top gear and should have plenty in the tank come Saturday.

The fact that the men in red have never lost a Grand Slam decider and will enjoy home advantage tips the balance slightly in their favour. I’m going for a Welsh win by 6. If I’m right, cue immortality for Gatland and pandemonium on the streets of Cardiff come 5pm on Saturday.

Wales by 6

England Eye Calcutta Cup Revenge

After Scotland stunned England in Edinburgh last year, their players and supporters deservedly partied long into the night. The pre and post-match shenanigans of 2018’s clash - including the now infamous bust-up in the tunnel between Farrell and Ryan Wilson and some pissed scallies giving Eddie Jones the big one outside a train station – left a nasty tang in English mouths.

Many of those who took the Murrayfield turf in white that day earmarked this Saturday’s return fixture a long time ago as a game they couldn’t wait to play in. Revenge is in the air, and it’s payback time as far as Jones and his men are concerned.

There’s certainly no love lost between these two sides after last’s year exhilarating Scottish triumph, but the stats heading into this weekend are as chilling as a skinny dip in a wild Loch for even you most ardent Irn Bru enthusiasts out there.

Much has been made in previous homilies of Scotland’s frankly miserable record at Twickenham, and it certainly cannot be ignored: the last time our northern neighbours left London victorious was in – wait for it – 1983. A time when Ronald Reagan was president of the USA, Total Eclipse of the Heart was at Number 1 in the UK charts and a ten-year-old Lawrence Dallaglio was set on becoming the next Bobby Charlton and hadn’t even heard of rugby.

They say records are there to be broken and all that, but it is very hard to see how a depleted and injury-ravaged Scotland can challenge an almost absurdly powerful England outfit at home this Saturday. After a disappointing loss to Wales, England let Italy have both barrels last weekend.

The skill, power and speed of their backline was frightening at times against the Azzurri and the men in white will be up for it again this Saturday in front of an expectant home crowd.

Scotland yet again failed to turn possession into points against Wales, their ongoing profligacy a cause for concern as they continue to keenly feel the absence of their big-name players. A bonus point win here may yet be enough for England to claim the Six Nations title and heal some wounds after the Grand Slam was wrestled from their grasp in Cardiff two rounds ago. All things considered, I’m going for a comfortable England win.

England by 20

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Beleaguered Brunel Faces Italian Banana Skin

Italy and France kick off this year’s Super Saturday as they contest the much-coveted Giuseppe Garibaldi Trophy for the twelfth year running in Rome. It’s been nothing short of a disastrous campaign so far for France, with their solitary win coming against an even less impressive Scotland side in Paris.

The French did their best impersonation of a French side on the road last weekend in Dublin, failing to compete for large parts of the match and looking like they would rather be eating oysters and chugging Chablis on the Riviera. Italy, on the other hand, have shown they can compete, especially at home, and will quite fancy their chances of an upset here.

With Jacques Brunel’s dire tenure (just 4 wins from 15 Tests) hanging by thread, anything but a convincing win here could be the result that sends the old walrus into his retirement.

I’m going to stick my plums on the line and call a famous Italy win by a couple.

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Will Chilcott
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Cover image - PA