It’s a Super Saturday to conclude the 2023 Guinness Six Nations Rugby Championship this weekend, with a Grand Slam beckoning amid a dramatic climax to the Northern Hemisphere competition.
The action builds towards a Dublin finale as Ireland meet England with a clean sweep in the offing for home coach Andy Farrell against the country of his birth.
Reigning champions France welcome Wales to Paris, as they lurk to pounce on any Irish slip-ups, while Scotland look to finish their campaign on a high against wooden spoon favourites Italy.
Scotland vs Italy
One last nudge towards the right end of the 2023 Guinness Six Nations Rugby Championship standings is the prize for Scotland on Saturday, as they welcome winless Italy to Murrayfield.
A competition that began with so much promise has yet again fizzled into something more like mediocrity for Gregor Townsend’s men.
Wins over England, to complete a Calcutta Cup hat-trick at Twickenham, as well as Wales even had tongues wagging over a potential Grand Slam for the men north of the border.
But defeat in Paris to France before last weekend’s home loss to title favourites Ireland brought them back down to earth.
The Italians’ campaign never quite left the ground, with their opening day scare of the French on home soil looking like their likely high point this time around.
Four defeats from four have been the sum total of the Azzurri’s efforts, including last weekend’s convincing loss against the Welsh – their most likely target – increasing the gloom for the boys in blue.
Familiar faces Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg are both ruled out by injury for the Scots, who bring in Blair Kinghorn at fly-half and Ollie Smith at full-back among four changes in total.
A quartet of alterations also mark the final outing for the Italians, with Simone Gesi primed for his debut on the wing and Alessandro Fusco making his maiden tournament start at scrum-half.
Scotland Starting XV: 15 Ollie Smith, 14 Kyle Steyn, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Sione Tuipulotu, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Blair Kinghorn, 9 Ben White, 8 Jack Dempsey, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Jamie Ritchie (captain), 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Sam Skinner, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 George Turner, 1 Pierre Schoeman.
Replacements: 16 Ewan Ashman, 17 Rory Sutherland, 18 Willem Nel, 19 Scott Cummings, 20 Matt Fagerson, 21 Ali Price, 22 Ben Healy, 23 Cameron Redpath.
Italy Starting XV: 15 Tommaso Allan, 14 Pierre Bruno, 13 Juan Ignacio Brex, 12 Tommaso Menoncello, 11 Simone Gesi, 10 Paolo Garbisi, 9 Alessandro Fusco, 8 Lorenzo Cannone, 7 Michele Lamaro, 6 Sebastian Negri, 5 Federico Ruzza, 4 Edoardo Iachizzi, 3 Marco Riccioni, 2 Giacomo Nicotera, 1 Danilo Fischetti.
Replacements: 16 Marco Manfredi, 17 Federico Zani, 18 Pietro Ceccarelli, 19 Niccolo Cannone, 20 Giovanni Pettinelli, 21 Manuel Zuliani, 22 Alessandro Garbisi, 23 Luca Morisi.
France vs Wales
France will have a huge home crowd behind them as they attempt to snatch back-to-back Guinness Six Nations Rugby Championship titles in the final round against Wales on Saturday.
Les Bleus have been nearly but not quite this time around, with their defeat in a sizzling contest away to front runners Ireland proving the potentially pivotal moment of the 2023 edition.
Last weekend’s humiliation of England at Twickenham in Le Crunch, mind you, has kept the flame burning for Les Bleus to record a famous double.
Fabian Galthie’s men need the English to do them a huge favour in Dublin while recording a bonus point win of their own if they’re to manage it.
But you wouldn’t bet against them keeping their end of the bargain at the Stade de France, with their visitors limping towards the Six Nations finish line once again.
Warren Gatland’s coaching comeback has yet to transform a squad that came within a whisker of going on strike earlier in the competition.
Avoiding a second consecutive defeat to bottom side Italy has been as good as it has got, although at least it stopped the rot after losses to Ireland, Scotland and England.
Uini Atonio replaces the injured Dorian Aldegheri in the French front row for the final contest, while the absence of Paul Willemse means there’s a place for Romain Taofifenua in the locks.
Taulupe Faletau is awarded his 100th cap in a red shirt as the Dragons look to end their campaign on a high, with Louis Rees-Zammit continuing his personal experiment at full-back.
France Starting XV: 15 Thomas Ramos, 14 Damian Penaud, 13 Gael Fickou, 12 Jonathan Danty, 11 Ethan Dumortier, 10 Romain Ntamack, 9 Antoine Dupont (captain), 8 Gregory Alldritt, 7 Charles Ollivon, 6 Francois Cros, 5 Romain Taofifenua, 4 Thibaud Flament, 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Julien Marchand, 1 Cyril Baille.
Replacements: 16 Peato Mauvaka, 17 Reda Wardi, 18 Sipili Falatea, 19 Bastien Chalureau, 20 Sekou Macalou, 21 Maxime Lucu, 22 Yoram Moefana, 23 Melvyn Jaminet.
Wales Starting XV: 15 Louis Rees-Zammit, 14 Josh Adams, 13 George North, 12 Nick Tompkins, 11 Rio Dyer, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Aaron Wainwright, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Adam Beard, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Ken Owens (captain), 1 Wyn Jones.
Replacements: 16 Bradley Roberts, 17 Gareth Thomas, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Dafydd Jenkins, 20 Tommy Reffell, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Owen Williams, 23 Leigh Halfpenny.
Ireland vs England
It all comes down to this, as Ireland host England with the 2023 Guinness Six Nations Rugby Championship Grand Slam on the line in Dublin.
The hosts have one final hurdle to clear having already swept aside Scotland, Italy, France and Wales.
Round two’s rocking Aviva Stadium triumph over reigning champions Les Bleus could prove decisive for Andy Farrell’s side, for whom the legendary Johnny Sexton makes his final bow in the competition.
No such luck for the visitors, who are scratching around for positives in Steve Borthwick’s maiden campaign since replacing Eddie Jones as coach.
Last weekend’s Twickenham abomination at the hands of the French means the Italians are their only home scalp in three attempts, having also served up the Calcutta Cup to the marauding Scots in round one.
The Red Rose did manage to squeeze past their Welsh hosts in Cardiff, but it’s slim pickings for a nation soon attempting to replicate their World Cup final journey of four years ago.
Captain Sexton starts for the hosts – of course he does – while there’s a welcome return alongside the veteran in the halves for Jamison Gibson-Park, who is restored from kick off at the expense of Conor Murray.
Ryan Baird and Robbie Henshaw are both included thanks to injuries to Iain Henderson and Garry Ringrose.
Owen Farrell returns to start for the visitors against the nation coached by his Dad, with the captain suffering the indignation of being benched for his side’s record turnover a week ago.
Manu Tuilagi is back in the centres, too, while Henry Arundell is handed his full debut on the left wing.
Ireland Starting XV: 15 Hugo Keenan, 14 Mack Hansen, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 James Lowe, 10 Johnny Sexton (captain), 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 9 Caelan Doris, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 James Ryan, 4 Ryan Baird, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Dan Sheehan, 1 Andrew Porter.
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Tom O’Toole, 19 Kieran Treadwell, 20 Jack Conan, 21 Conor Murray, 22 Ross Byrne, 23 Jimmy O’Brien.
England Starting XV: 15 Freddie Steward, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Manu Tuilagi, 11 Henry Arundell, 10 Owen Farrell (captain), 9 Jack van Poortvliet, 8 Alex Dombrandt, 7 Jack Willis, 6 Lewis Ludlam, 5 David Ribbans, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Jamie George, 1 Ellis Genge.
Replacements: 16 Jack Walker, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Dan Cole, 19 Nick Isiekwe, 20 Ben Curry, 21 Alex Mitchell, 22 Marcus Smith, 23 Joe Marchant.
Six Nations 2023: Predictions for Saturday 18 March
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.
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