Six Nations: The Breakdown – Ireland and France face Dublin battle, England posed threat by Italy

By Sports Desk February 10, 2023

Ireland walloped Wales and France edged a tight game with Italy in round one, whetting the appetite for a Six Nations clash in Dublin on Saturday between the title favourites.

With Ireland top of the World Rugby rankings, and France in second place, this is a game that could go a long way to determining who wins the championship.

Others will feel they can have a say too, particularly Scotland after last week's impressive win over England at Twickenham, another Calcutta Cup success for Gregor Townsend.

The onus will be on the Scots, at Murrayfield against Wales this weekend, to show they can build on that victory in London. Wales boss Warren Gatland, meanwhile, will be looking for a response from his team after last week's 34-10 loss to Ireland.

England host Italy, with Steve Borthwick eyeing a first win as head coach, but the Red Rose will be wary of the Azzurri's threat, given they pushed France close last time out and beat Australia in November.

Ahead of the second round of games, Stats Perform looks at the action to come, with the help of Opta data.

IRELAND v FRANCE

FORM

France have won their last 14 matches. They have also won each of their last three meetings with Ireland after tasting victory in just one of their previous nine Test encounters (D2 L6). The recent wins against Ireland have tended to be tight affairs though, each one decided by a single-figure margin.

A 15-13 win for France in Dublin two years ago means Les Bleus have the opportunity to bag back-to-back wins in the Irish capital for only the second time in the Six Nations, after previously doing so in 2005 and 2007.

While France's current streak of wins is the longest in their history, Ireland's form is also similarly foreboding, having won 18 of their last 20 matches (L2), including each of their last six.

The men in green have won 21 of their last 22 home games, including their last 12 – marking their joint-longest winning run on home soil. The last home defeat for Ireland was that France game in the 2021 Six Nations.

ONES TO WATCH

France wing Ethan Dumortier is a man Ireland will want to keep a close eye on. The Lyon player scored a try on his Test debut last week and has totted up 12 tries in his last 13 matches for club and country. He beat five defenders from just four carries against Italy, with Gael Fickou (6) the only France player to beat more, and Dumortier starts again this weekend.

Ireland's James Ryan, Andrew Porter and Dave Kilcoyne are all set to win their 50th caps for Ireland, while scrum-half Conor Murray makes his 50th Six Nations appearance. But expect all eyes to fall on captain Johnny Sexton, with the fly-half 15 points away from beating Ronan O'Gara's record of 557 points in the championship. Veteran fly-half Sexton has managed hauls of 15-plus points on 13 occasions in the Six Nations, including three times against France (2014, 2015, 2018).

SCOTLAND v WALES

FORM

Wales have won 13 of their last 15 matches against Scotland in the Six Nations (L2), while Gatland, back at the helm for a second stint, has won each of his 10 matches against the Scots while in charge of Wales.

The omens are not great for Scotland, who also beat England in their championship openers in 2021 and 2022, only to come unstuck against Wales in round two both times. The Welsh have won just two of their last 11 matches since getting the better of Scotland 20-17 at the Principality Stadium 12 months ago, however.

Scotland made the most tackles of any side last weekend (214) and recorded the best tackle success rate (91 per cent) as they showed spirit as well as skill in London. Wales made the second-highest number of tackles (184), but it did not spare them a torching at Ireland's hands in Cardiff.

ONES TO WATCH

Scotland wing Duhan van der Merwe tormented England at Twickenham with his two-try masterclass. He beat 11 defenders, the most by any player in a Six Nations match since Van der Merwe himself beat 13 against Italy in 2021, so Wales must surely prioritise stopping him if they are to stop Scotland.

Wales' Liam Williams (8) was the only other player to beat more than six defenders during the opening round. Rio Dyer also caught the eye for Wales in last week's losing cause, carrying for 108 metres from his seven carries. Among the 55 players to make more than six carries in round one, Dyer had the best average carry distance of 15.4 metres, followed by Van der Merwe (13m).

ENGLAND v ITALY

FORM

England have never lost three in a row at Twickenham in the Six Nations, but that will be the outcome if they go down to Italy on Sunday. Indeed, the last time they suffered three home defeats in a row in the old Five Nations was in 1971-72.

Erstwhile whipping boys Italy look to have more about them than in past seasons, helped by winning away at Wales in the final round of last year's championship. They have never won consecutive away matches in the Six Nations, but that is their objective this weekend.

Both these teams lost last week, but there were areas where they were high performers. England were the only side to carry for over 1,000 metres in the opening round (1,039), with Italy next on that list (828). These teams also made the most passes of all, with England (207) just ahead of Italy (202) in that metric.

ONES TO WATCH

England's Ellis Genge scored a try and made 18 carries against Scotland, the most carries by a prop in Six Nations history, beating his own record of 17, set in 2019 against Scotland. His carries total was the joint-highest of all players in week one, matching team-mate Lewis Ludlam and Scotland's Finn Russell, and Borthwick will be wanting a similarly all-action effort from the prop.

Italy's Ange Capuozzo would have enjoyed the sight of Van der Merwe rampaging through England's defence last week, knowing he is similarly capable of finding holes and exploiting them. The 23-year-old Toulouse full-back found his way to the try line against France and carried for 114 metres, the most by any player in the opening round. He has scored three tries and assisted one in his three Six Nations appearances, and England will do well to keep him under close observation.

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    “Going to Twickenham, everyone knows how difficult a task that is,” he said.

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