The 2021 Six Nations rugby competition crosses the halfway stage, as four of the six competing countries resume hostilities following the first rest weekend.
Red Rose meets Red Dragon on Saturday evening, as Wales host England at a Principality Stadium longing for the return of fans in Cardiff.
What’s left of the French squad were due to play Scotland at the Stade de France on Saturday.
But that game was postponed on Thursday with the table-topping Les Bleus decimated by an outbreak of Covid-19 in their ranks.
Winless pair Ireland and Italy kick off the return to action when they meet on Saturday afternoon in Rome.
Six Nations 2021: Predictions for 27-28 February
Prediction methodology explained: The expected win percentage is based off publicly available odds. For example, if a team’s odds are 2.30, the expected chance of winning is 43%. If the odds are 1.62 the expected chance of winning is 62% and so on. These are accurate at the time of writing but are subject to change. Where there is no value listed, the odds were not available at the time of writing. Score margins use the methodology developed by Rugby Vision.
The predictions for each match follow below the short preview and team news for each individual Six Nations match this coming weekend.
Italy vs Ireland
Italy and Ireland meet in the Six Nations on Saturday with something needing to give in Rome.
The hapless pair have both lost their opening two fixtures of the 2021 campaign, with the Italians thrashed by France and Italy, while the Irish have been squeezed out by the French and Wales.
Ireland coach Andy Farrell has switched things up with seven changes, including the return from injury of captain Jonny Sexton at fly-half.
Jordan Larmour is reintroduced on the wing, with Dave Kilcoyne, Ronan Kelleher and Tadgh Furlong teaming up in the front row of the pack.
One man still missing for the men in green is Conor Murray, who continues to recover from a hamstring problem.
The Azzurri are unchanged after the fortnight off, with coach Franco Smith setting out to avoid a 30th consecutive Six Nations defeat.
Carlo Canna notches his 50th cap in blue, while Tommaso Allan drops off the bench after picking up an injury while in action for Treviso.
Italy Starting XV: 15 Jacopo Trulla, 14 Luca Sperandio, 13 Juan Ignacio Brex, 12 Carlo Canna, 11 Monty Ioane, 10 Paolo Garbisi, 9 Stephen Varney, 8 Michele Lamaro, 7 Johan Meyer, 6 Sebastian Negri, 5 David Sisi, 4 Marco Lazzaroni, 3 Marco Riccioni, 2 Luca Bigi (captain), 1 Andrea Lovotti.
Replacements: 16 Gianmarco Lucchesi, 17 Cherif Traore, 18 Giosue Zilocchi, 19 Niccolo Cannone, 20 Maxime Mbanda, 21 Callum Braley, 22 Federico Mori, 23 Mattia Bellini.
Ireland Starting XV: 15 Hugo Keenan, 14 Jordan Larmour, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 James Lowe, 10 Johnny Sexton (captain), 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 CJ Stander, 7 Tadhg Beirne, 6 Will Connors, 5 James Ryan, 4 Iain Henderson, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Ronan Kelleher, 1 Dave Kilcoyne.
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Andrew Porter, 19 Ryan Baird, 20 Jack Conan, 21 Craig Casey, 22 Billy Burns, 23 Keith Earls.
Wales vs England
One of international rugby’s great rivalries resumes on Saturday night as England make the short trip to face old foe Wales at the Principality Stadium in the Six Nations.
Wales go into the weekend with a perfect record, having squeaked their way to victories over Ireland and Scotland ahead of the first rest weekend.
England, meanwhile, put their opening round shock loss to the Scots behind them to cruise to a 41-18 Twickenham win over Italy a fortnight ago.
Jamie George and Mark Wilson have been recalled to the English pack, after sitting out the Italy match, as the only two changes to the starting side.
It’s a special day, too, for Elliot Daly, as the full-back reaches cap number 50 for his country.
George North can double that feat when he lines up in a red shirt for the 100th time, coming in at centre for Wayne Pivac’s starting side.
Josh Adams also returns to the side after serving his ban for breaching Covid-19 protocols, while Liam Williams shifts to full-back.
Wales Starting XV: 15 Liam Williams, 14 Louis Rees-Zammit, 13 George North, 12 Jonathan Davies, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Kieran Hardy, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Josh Navidi, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (captain), 4 Adam Beard, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Wyn Jones.
Replacements: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Rhodri Jones, 18 Leon Brown, 19 Cory Hill, 20 James Botham, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Callum Sheedy, 23 Willis Halaholo.
England Starting XV: 15 Elliot Daly, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Jonny May, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Tom Curry, 6 Mark Wilson, 5 Jonny Hill, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Jamie George, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Ellis Genge, 18 Will Stuart, 19 Charlie Ewels, 20 George Martin, 21 Ben Earl, 22 Dan Robson, 23 Max Malins.
France vs Scotland (postponed)
France and Scotland will have to try again after their Six Nations clash was postponed following a Covid-19 outbreak in the French squad.
The Scots were due as late as Thursday to make their way to the Stade de France to tackle a cobbled together home side, but an additional positive test for the coronavirus put paid to that.
With the personal cost to the players involved, their families and close contacts by far the most important thing, it has also threatened to scupper the French campaign on the field after two wins from two in the opening rounds.
Gregor Townsend’s side so nearly had a perfect record of their own, only for Wales to snatch a one-point victory at Murrayfield a fortnight ago, following their famous Calcutta Cup success over England at Twickenham.
As it is, the pair could be playing catch up in their respective bids to seal the title.
Antoinette is a recovering journalist, having written for Sports Illustrated, The Guardian, Daily Maverick and others. She has won multiple SAB Journalist of the Year awards, across a variety of categories. She thinks it’s strange writing about herself in the third person, unless she’s playing as herself in The Sims…which she’s been doing for over 20 years.