Six Nations permutations: What do Wales and France need this weekend?
Italy try to avoid worst ever season as Ireland and England audition for the Lions squad
The 2021 Six Nations Championship will be decided this weekend. Photograph: Getty Images
The Welsh are currently eight points clear of second-placed Ireland who also have one game left, and nine points clear of Les Bleus who have two fixtures remaining after their third round clash with Scotland was postponed. So, France can still reel in Wales at the top - but the Welsh can afford to lose at the Stade de France and still lift the title. Here is what either side need to be crowned champions:
Wales - Win on Saturday and Wales are Grand Slam champions. A draw would also guarantee the Championship, as would two bonus points secured in defeat. If Wales lose but earn a bonus point, and France win without a bonus points, Wales are champions. Wales could also lose without a bonus point on Saturday and still be crowned champions, if France fail to overtake them on points difference, or if Les Bleus fail to beat Scotland.
France - Things are slightly more complicated for France, who need to win both of their final matches with a bonus point, while denying Wales a bonus point on Saturday, in order to eclipse Wales’s 19 points in the Six Nations table. Lose or draw against Wales or win their remaining games without bonus points and Wales are crowned champions. Should France collect nine points from their remaining two fixtures, and Wales don’t secure a bonus point, it will come down to points difference - where Wales are currently 24 ahead.
Saturday’s meeting between Ireland and England will also serve as a Lions audition for the tour to South Africa, which may or may not take place later this summer. In 2017 Warren Gatland selected 11 Ireland players for the drawn series with the All Blacks - Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray, Iain Henderson, Robbie Henshaw, Rory Best, Tadhg Furlong, Jack McGrath, Sean O’Brien, Peter O’Mahony, CJ Stander and Jared Payne.
Of that cohort four will have retired by the time of this year’s tour, with Jack McGrath now out of the international picture altogether. So, how many Ireland players could be in line to (hopefully) take on the Springboks in the summer?
This column is going for nine - five of whom have toured before. Sexton, Henshaw, Henderson, Furlong, O’Mahony, James Ryan, Caelan Doris, Garry Ringrose and Hugo Keenan. With Andy Farrell seemingly not trusting a lot of his squad, it’s hard to see why Gatland should.
There are Wooden Spoons, and then there are Wooden Spoons. Italy head into Saturday’s clash with Scotland in Edinburgh on the cusp of their worst ever Six Nations Championship. Their worst ever points difference in a campaign is -151 in 2017.
This year the Azzurri currently have a negative points difference of 142. The most tries Italy have ever conceded in a single season is 29, in 2016. They have already conceded 26 in 2021, with a game against the dangerous Scots still to come. The most points they have ever conceded came in their maiden Six Nations campaign in 2000 - 228.
That record could also be in danger - they currently have 187 against their name. It’s been a miserable few months for Jaco Smith’s young side.
Number of the day
51 - And out for CJ Stander (if he plays against England). A decent knock.
Quote of the day
“It’s a sentiment one cannot fully comprehend until that day arrives. For me, that time has come, and I hereby publicly announce my retirement from all forms of rugby.”
- CJ Stander checks out.
On this day- March 18th 2017
Ireland head into Saturday’s clash with England bidding to avoid a fifth-consecutive defeat against Eddie Jones’s side. The four-game losing streak has been a galling one - but it was preceded with back-to-back Six Nations victories over the English in 2017 and 2018.
The first of those also came in the last round of the Championship, as England arrived in Dublin looking to complete back-to-back Grand Slams. But they were denied. In front of a baying, raucous crowd of 50,000 at the Aviva Stadium, Ireland edged it 13-9, denying their visitors a world record 19th consecutive Test win in the process.
This victory came not long after the win over the All Blacks in Chicago and preceded arguably the best year in Irish rugby history in 2018 - it was at the zenith of the Joe Schmidt era.
Similar resilience, guts and defiance from Ireland on Saturday would be welcome. Even if nobody is there to see it.