Six Nations 2019: all you need to know before the final round
Three sides are chasing the Championship title with Wales bidding for the Grand Slam
Johnny Sexton in the gym ahead of Ireland’s clash with Wales. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
And now the end is near, and so we face the final curtain. The 2019 Six Nations has flown past in the blink of the eye, with the tournament reaching a conclusion on Saturday.
It has been a strange Championship from an Irish perspective - a real slow burner - but one which could yet catch fire on the final weekend.
A super, duper Saturday is in the offing, as three nations – Ireland, Wales and England – all bid to be crowned champions, with a clash between the former likely to decide the destination of the title.
Wales head into round five in pole position after four wins from four, and victory over Joe Schmidt’s visitors at the Millennium Stadium would see them secure the Grand Slam.
For England meanwhile, a victory for Ireland in the Welsh capital, coupled with a win over Scotland at Murrayfield, would see them sneak through the back door and pinch the title for themselves.
As for the Scots, France and Italy, they don’t have much to play for other than a semblance of pride – although the Azzurri might see a date with a dysfunctional French side in Rome as the perfect opportunity to end their run of 21 Six Nations defeats.
An intriguing endgame awaits on Saturday, and the best could very well be saved until last. Here is all you need to know before the final round of the 2019 Six Nations.
Friday February 1st: France 19 Wales 24
Saturday February 2nd: Scotland 33 Italy 20
Saturday February 2nd: Ireland 20 England 32
Saturday February 9th: Scotland 13 Ireland 22
Saturday February 9th: Italy 15 Wales 26
Sunday February 10th: England 44 France 8
Saturday February 23rd: France 27 Scotland 10
Saturday February 23rd: Wales 21 England 13
Sunday February 24th: Italy 16 Ireland 26
Saturday March 9th: Scotland 11 Wales 18
Saturday March 9th: England 57 Italy 14
Sunday March 10th: Ireland 26 France 14
What happened last weekend?
Ireland got their Championship back on track at the penultimate turn as they beat France 26-14 at the Aviva Stadium, earning a bonus point in the process. Schmidt’s side dominated from the outset, scoring in the third minute, and enjoyed a massive 89 per cent territory in the first half. However, despite delivering a powerful and much-improved performance, Ireland were profligate in Dublin and left a number of scores behind, missing the chance to make a real statement in the process.
Sometimes you just know it’s your year. Warren Gatland’s Wales travelled to Edinburgh on Saturday knowing a victory would leave them four from four and on the brink of the Grand Slam. They controlled the opening period, and led 15-6 at half-time thanks to scores from Josh Adams and Jonathan Davies. However, they lost their grip on proceedings after the break and were reliant on a herculean defensive effort - combined with Scottish inaccuracy – for their victory. The dragons’ fire burns on.
Not much to report for England really, as they thrashed Italy 57-14 at Twickenham, scoring eight tries in the process. Manu Tuilagi crossed for a brace, while Joe Cokanasiga showed glimpses of his potentially devastating talent. On the whole, though, it made for grizzly viewing.
Scotland’s Championship would look so different if they were able to take their chances. Despite a seemingly deadly array of finishers, they haven’t been able to finish, and a single Darcy Graham try to show for their second-half dominance against Wales was a poor return. Granted, they’ve missed Stuart Hogg, but their profligacy has been maddening.
Jacques Brunel seemed to have stumbled upon the right formula in the win over Scotland but France were never competitive against Ireland, and two late scores entirely flattered them. Les Bleus were ragged from the outset with their prodigious halfbacks Julien Dupont and Romain Ntamack never able to get into the game – apart from in defence. There’s a lack of leadership in the side and it showed badly.
Conor O’Shea’s side were typically game but hopelessly outmatched at Twickenham. Despite a couple of gutsy performances against Wales and Ireland, and some fine individual contributions, it has been another chastening six weeks for the Azzurri. However, a win against France isn’t beyond the realms of possibility.
Round five fixtures
Saturday March 16th: Italy v France, Stadio Olimpico (kick-off 12.30pm Irish time).
Saturday March 16th: Wales v Ireland, Millennium Stadium (kick-off 2.45pm)
Saturday March 16th: England v Scotland, Twickenham (kick-off 5.0pm)
Can I watch it?
Yes, as always! All three games are being show free-to-air on Virgin Media One, and you can watch Wales v Ireland on the BBC. Italy against France and England against Scotland are being broadcast on ITV.
And, of course, you can follow the day’s two key fixtures with the Irish Times liveblog.
There are no tickets available for the Millennium Stadium or Twickenham, but you can purchase tickets for France against Italy here.
Joe Schmidt has confirmed Josh van der Flier will miss Saturday's game with a calf injury. Rob Kearney and Joey Carbery will be monitored but Dan Leavy will return to full training this week.
The main concern for Wales was Liam Williams, who has been one of the standout players of the tournament thus far. He was forced off with a shoulder injury against Scotland, but Warren Gatland later said it was “just a stinger,” and he should be fit to face Ireland.
Maro Itoje has returned to Saracens due to his knee injury sustained in the opening week against Ireland, and he won’t feature against Scotland. Mako Vunipola remains a long-term absentee. Eddie Jones has also called up 20-year-old Harlequins outhalf Marcus Smith, although he is unlikely to feature.
Jefferson Poirot and Wenceslas Lauret were injured in the defeat to Ireland and have been replaced in the French squad by Dany Priso (Stade Rochelais) and Kélian Galletier (Montpellier).
Tommaso Castello and Michele Campagnaro have both returned to their clubs with fractures and won’t play any further part in the tournament.
Ireland, Wales and England need the following to be crowned champions:
An opening weekend defeat to England meant Ireland’s hopes of winning the Six Nations were always going to be slim, something compounded by a failure to secure a bonus point away to Scotland. They currently sit in third place on 14 points, meaning an improbable bonus point win away to Wales would leave them on 19. England have 15 points and are likely to beat Scotland with a bonus point - so Ireland’s total of 19 wouldn’t be enough. Should England beat Scotland without a bonus point, they would still be likely to win the tournament ahead of Ireland on points difference - England’s is +83, Ireland’s is +19. If Ireland beat Wales and Scotland beat England, the Championship is almost guaranteed to be Ireland’s.
If Wales beat Ireland with a bonus point they finish on 21 points, with a further three bonus points awarded for the Grand Slam leaving them on 24 overall. Victory without a bonus point would see them finish on 20 points - with the Grand Slam bonus then leaving them on 23. Defeat will see Wales miss out on the title - unless they secure two losing bonus points and Scotland beat England, which is unlikely. Wales currently have a superior points difference to Ireland - +31 to +19.
England are in a strong position providing Ireland can beat Wales in Cardiff. If they do, a bonus point win over Scotland would guarantee the title, while a win without a bonus point should almost certainly be enough, given Ireland are 64 points worse off on points difference. If Scotland win at Twickenham for the first time since 1983, then the title will go to Ireland or Wales.
Italy 10-3 Draw 28-1 France 4-17 (Handicap France -10 10-11)
Wales 4-5 Draw 20-1 Ireland 11-10 (Handicap Wales -1 10-11)
England 1-14 Draw 40-1 Scotland 40-1 (Handicap England -18 10-11)
I fancy Ireland (and Scotland) to pull it off, what price the Championship?
Who’s on the whistle?
Italy v France – Matthew Carley (England)
Wales v Ireland – Angus Gardner (Australia)
England v Scotland – Paul Williams (New Zealand)
Victory over Wales will be the perfect statement ahead of the Rugby World Cup!
I’d rather lose to Wales than hand England the title. . .