Six Nations: The Breakdown – Sexton of cusp of history as Ireland's Grand Slam quest resumes in Edinburgh

By Sports Desk March 10, 2023

Ireland travel to Scotland with their Grand Slam fate in their own hands in the penultimate round of Six Nations action, while Wales and Italy battle it out in a possible wooden spoon clash in Rome.

Andy Farrell's Ireland have defeated Wales, France and Italy in this year's edition – each secured with a bonus point – and are now two wins away from completing a clean sweep for a third time in the six team format.

Scotland, beaten by reigning champions France last time out, can get their own championship hopes back on track with victory over the leaders at Murrayfield in Sunday's standalone fixture.

That comes a day after Wales lock horns with Italy at Stadio Olimpico seeking their first victory since Warren Gatland returned as head coach. The Azzurri are themselves winless this tournament, but they are above Wales by virtue of collecting a losing bonus point.

England and France face off in this weekend's other fixture locked on 10 points apiece, with the winner still having a shot of finishing top of the pile heading into the final weekend of action.

Stats Perform previews the three games with the help of some standout Opta data.


ITALY V WALES 

FORM

Italy have finished bottom of the standings seven years running, but there is real hope of stopping the rot at Wales' expense.

Kieran Crowley's side won their most recent meeting with Wales, coming out on top 22-21 in Cardiff last year to snap a seven-year winless sequence in the tournament.

However, they have not beaten Wales at home since 2007 and are winless on their own patch in the competition in 24 outings since defeating Ireland in March 2013.

Gatland has again shuffled his pack in the hope of ending Wales' six-match losing run in the Six Nations – their worst run since losing seven on the spin between 2002 and 2003.

 

ONES TO WATCH

Ange Capuozzo was Player of the Match in this fixture last year, but he will miss Italy's remaining two matches through injury.

That opens a space for Harlequins fly-half Tommaso Allan, who ranked second for passes across Italy's first two games prior to being overlooked against Ireland.

Gatland has made six changes from the loss to England, with Rhys Webb coming into the side for his first Six Nations start since 2017.

Experienced figure Webb is back in the number nine jersey with a point to prove and a chance to hold down a place in the side ahead of the Rugby World Cup.


ENGLAND V FRANCE

FORM

England have defeated Wales and Italy, both by margins of 10-plus points, since losing to Scotland in Steve Borthwick's first game in charge.

The Red Rose are seeking a third straight win in the championship for the first time since 2020, while not since 2009-2010 have they won three in a row by double-figure margins.

France tasted defeat in their most recent away outing, going down 32-19 in a pivotal showdown with Ireland, but they have won their seven Six Nations games either side of that.

However, the home team on the day has won each of the past six tournament meetings between these sides, with France's most recent victory at Twickenham coming in 2005.

 

ONES TO WATCH

Borthwick has made a big decision in leaving out captain Owen Farrell – the first time he has been dropped for England since the 2015 World Cup – with Marcus Smith recalled.

Smith starred for Harlequins in their rout of Exeter last weekend after being released by Borthwick and he will be looking to transfer that club form onto the international stage.

Jonathan Danty comes in for his first start of the tournament for France as one of three changes, but it is Thibaud Flament who will have England's attention.

The 25-year-old, who has previously spent time living in England, has made the most tackles of any player in this year's Six Nations with 58 to his name.


SCOTLAND V IRELAND

FORM

Ireland have lived up to their pre-tournament favourites tag with three wins from three in 2023, while going further back they have won 10 of their past 11 Six Nations games.

Farrell's side have also won each of their last five games at Murrayfield, preventing their opponents from scoring more than one try in four of those five victories.

But Scotland have performed well this year, the only blemish coming in defeat to France last time out, and they have won three of their past four home games in the tournament.

Ireland may have had the better of this fixture in recent times, but seven of the last eight matches between the sides in Edinburgh have been decided by single-figure margins.

ONES TO WATCH

Stuart Hogg has been handed another start in a Scotland side showing two changes – Jonny Gray and Jack Dempsey coming in – for what will be his 100th Test appearance.

That makes the full-back, who is also his country's record try-scorer, one of four men to reach triple figures in a Scotland shirt after Ross Ford, Chris Paterson and Sean Lamont.

It could also be a milestone day for Johnny Sexton, who has recovered from a knock to return to an Ireland side that also contains fit-again Garry Ringrose and Tadhg Furlong.

Ireland captain Sexton requires eight points to overtake former team-mate Ronan O'Gara (557) as the top scorer in the history of the Six Nations.

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