As we come to the final few weekends of the 2019 Six Nations, a competition that has been full of shock twists and upsets, we take a look at each team’s prospects for the penultimate weekend.
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Three wins out of three have put Wales right at the top of the Six Nations table with 12 points - a Grand Slam victory is within their grasp if they can just beat Scotland and Ireland in the next two weeks. Wales beat England for the first time since 2013 to put a stop to their Grand Slam hopes, but it’s still all to play for at the top. The Welsh been particularly strong defensively, having conceded only 5 tries so far in this tournament - Liam Williams in particular earning man-of-the-match for his performance at full back against England. It would be fitting that Warren Gatland, who started his career as the Welsh Manager with a Six Nations Grand Slam in 2008, would end it the same way 12 years later.
After last year’s disastrous Six Nations campaign, England have come back a different side. After two emphatic victories against Ireland and France at the beginning of this year’s tournament, England seem to have cleaned up their act - looking more disciplined, mentally stronger, and more physical on the breakdown. Mark Wilson, Tom Curry and Jamie George have been key to the side’s strength defensively, while offensively English players are topping the stats of the moment - Johnny May has scored the most tries in the tournament (4), while captain Owen Farrell tops the points leaderboard (37). A defeat to Wales in Cardiff put an end to their Grand Slam hopes, but sitting in 2nd with 10 points - and easier remaining games than their Welsh neighbours - the English campaign for a 2019 Six Nations title is not over yet.
Last year’s Champions Ireland never handle the ‘favourites’ title well, and this year’s Six Nations has been no exception. After excelling last year, in which they beat New Zealand 16-9 in Dublin during their Autumn test series, it seemed highly likely that the Irish would dominate the tournament again in 2019. However their campaign began with a loss against a far stronger England side, and Ireland looked to be a shell of last year’s team. The return of CJ Stander and Garry Ringrose will be positive additions to the Irish side for the remaining two matches, while Jacob Stockdale has proved that he can cause plenty of problems for any Irish opposition, having ran the ball 365 metres so far in this tournament. Wins against Scotland and Italy have ensured that Ireland are not completely out of the running, but two remaining fixtures against France at home and Wales in Cardiff are not going to be the easiest.
One win out of three for the French hasn’t marked their ideal Six Nations 2019 campaign. A home defeat to Wales at the beginning of the tournament, followed by a 44-8 defeat to England weren’t the results the French were hoping for. A home victory against Scotland allowed them to put some points on the board, meaning that while a French Six Nations victory is a very distant dream, it is not entirely impossible. With the half-back pairing of Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack, the Toulouse teammates, France have looked better offensively, however they will need to tighten up their defense for their two remaining away games in Dublin and in Rome - which overall will bring about an end to a disappointing Six Nations for tournament for France.
With 5 points on the board, the mood in the Scottish camp will surely be a somber one, as two remaining games against Wales and England are not exactly easy fixtures. The Scots began this year’s Six Nations tournament with a win over Italy at Murrayfield, but subsequently suffered defeats to both Ireland and France. Scotland have yet to pick up any real momentum in this tournament, and will be hoping to gain some confidence and traction in the games to come to ensure a more positive start to their World Cup campaign in Japan.
Oh, Italy. Another wooden spoon is on the cards for the Italians, with losses to Scotland, Wales and Ireland marking 20 successive Six Nations defeats. After 4 years with the Italian national team, Irishman Conor O’Shea has failed to achieve any significant growth progress with the team, and questions are being asked about whether Italy still deserve the right to remain contenders in the Six Nations. It seems that the coaches are playing the long game in the development of this team - either way it has been another disappointing campaign for Italian rugby.
As we enter the 4th weekend of this year’s Six Nations tournament, it seems to be Wales’ to lose. Still, with a run of easier fixtures the English are not to be written off. Ireland’s chance doing the double may only be an outside one, but the men in green have always favoured the tag of ‘Underdogs’. It’s all up for grabs in the final two weekends - the 2019 Six Nations is not over yet!