A week is a long time in sport as well as politics but the wait for the final round of the Six Nations is nearly over.
As storms continue to sweep across the United Kingdom, Wales are ready to batten down the hatches once again knowing that it will probably take another defensive masterclass to see off an Ireland side that won't want to give up their title easily.
Wales have conceded only 58 points and six tries – the fewest in the Championship – as the teams prepare to meet at the Principality Stadium on Saturday.
For Wales coach Warren Gatland and his Ireland counterpart Joe Schmidt, this will be their final Six Nations match in charge of their respective teams as they will be standing down from their roles after Rugby World Cup 2019. Should Wales prevail, it would give them their third Grand Slam under Gatland – a record for one coach.
Rather than shy away from any Grand Slam talk, Gatland says his unchanged team will take the enormity of the situation in their stride.
"We felt that it was pretty hard to change a team that is winning in particular if you have a chance for a Grand Slam," said Gatland. "We have spoken all week about embracing it and not running away from it.
"You get opportunities that come along in life and you have to take it with both hands. I have said to this group of players you might never get a chance like this again and you don't want to let those opportunities pass you by.
"I have not seen a group of players as motivated as this before and this excited about playing in a Grand Slam game, wanting to win and put that jersey on and play for themselves and families and Wales as a whole and what it means to the country.
"I know Ireland want to come and spoil the party but we have a chance of realistically finishing first or third while Ireland probably be second or third. We know what is at stake and the prize is massive."
While Wales versus Ireland is the meat in the sandwich on 'Super Saturday', Italy and France kick-off proceedings in Rome with both teams in need of a morale-boosting win. Should France come off second-best, history would be made because they have never lost four matches in a single Six Nations campaign before.
Twickenham is the setting for the final match as England and Scotland, international rugby's two oldest rivals, come together for a match that could still decide the destiny of the title, depending on the result in Cardiff.
“We want to be the best team in the world and we know we’re not the best team in the world, but we’ve got an opportunity on Saturday to show that we’re the best team in the Six Nations and approaching the best team in the world and we’re not going to miss that opportunity," said England coach Eddie Jones.
Italy (14) v France (8)
Marco Zanon makes his debut at outside centre as a direct replacement for the injured Michele Campagnaro. Zanon's inclusion is the only change to the Azzurri backline, but the pack has been given a makeover with only half the personnel retained from last week's defeat to England. Flanker Jake Polledri, second-row David Sisi, tight-head Tiziano Pasquali and hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini all start as the Azzurri try and break their 21-match losing record in the Championship.
Wesley Fofana is fit again and returns to take his place in midfield alongside Mathieu Bastareaud in a team showing six changes from the one beaten by Ireland in Dublin. Gael Fickou is the man to miss out, while Maxime Medard is the other change in the backline, slotting in at full-back. Upfront Etienne Falgoux makes his first France start in place of the injured Jefferson Poirot at loose-head, Paul Willemse returns to the starting XV in the second row, and Gregory Alldritt and Yacouba Camara pack down in the back row either side of number eight Louis Picamoles.
- Italy are playing in their 500th test, their first was a 9-0 defeat to Spain in 1929 in Barcelona
- France and Italy have met on 19 separate occasions in the Six Nations, with France winning 17 of those matches
- Italy’s only two victories over the French in this competition came within three games of each other – in 2011 and 2013 – by a combined margin of victory of just six points.
- Italy (142) and France (104) are the only nations who have conceded more than 100 points in the 2019 Championship
- Defeat to France would see Italy finish bottom for a fourth-straight Championship and the 14th time overall in the Six Nations
- Italy have scored at least 15 points in each of their last five home matches in the Six Nations
- France have never lost four games in a single Six Nations Championship but would do so for the first time if they lose to Italy
- France have won just one of their last 10 away matches in the Six Nations, but that was a 40-18 win in Rome in 2017
- France will climb above Scotland and into seventh if they win and Scotland lose
- Italy will jump two places if they win and Georgia fail to beat Russia in the Rugby Europe Championship 2019.
- The Azzurri are guaranteed to climb above Tonga and into 13th place if they win.
England (4) v Scotland (7)
Having been man-of-the-match against Italy, Joe Cokanasiga drops out of the match-day 23 altogether with Jack Nowell making a return to England's starting line-up on the right wing. Manu Tuilagi moves back to his familiar inside-centre role with Henry Slade filling the vacated spot after coming off the bench against Italy. Meanwhile, in the pack, Ben Moon and Mark Wilson return at loose-head and blindside flanker respectively. Ben Spencer comes onto the bench as replacement scrum-half in the absence of Dan Robson who is ruled out through illness.
Scotland coach Gregor Townsend has made half-a-dozen changes – split evenly between forwards and backs – for the trip to Twickenham. Sean Maitland and Byron McGuigan come into the back-three alongside Darcy Graham as two injury-enforced changes, while Sam Johnson is preferred at inside-centre to Peter Horne. Upfront, Hamish Watson is rewarded for his impressive 22-minute cameo off the bench against Wales with a start, and he is joined in a new-look back row by fit-again Sam Skinner. Skinner lines up at blindside flanker at the expense of Josh Strauss, meaning Magnus Bradbury switches to number eight. Ben Toolis starts in the second row in place of Jonny Gray – who drops to the bench – to form an all-Edinburgh tight five.
- England and Scotland have played each other on 19 occasions in the Six Nations, with England winning 14 matches and, Scotland winning four times, as they also drew 15-15 in 2010
- Prior to Scotland’s 25-13 win last year, England had won seven straight matches between the sides in the Championship. Their previous victory was a 15-9 win at Murrayfield in 2008
- Scotland’s win against England last year saw them score their highest total number of points against England in the Six Nations
- England have won all nine matches against Scotland at Twickenham in the Six Nations, scoring 340 points and conceding just 134 points in that time
- At Twickenham, England have lost just one of their last 18 matches in the Six Nations
- Ben Youngs will overtake Danny Care on Saturday and become England's most-capped scrum-half of all time with his 85th test
- The top two points scorers in the 2019 Championship are English – Owen Farrell (48) and Jonny May (25 – alongside Italy's Tommaso Allan)
- Scotland have failed to score more than 13 points in any of their last three matches in the Championship – the first time they’ve gone on such a run in a single Six Nations campaign
- England cannot improve their rating or position in victory
- It is not possible for Scotland to climb any higher than their present position of seventh even if they win by a large margin
- A defeat of more than 15 points would cost England fourth place with South Africa the beneficiaries
Wales (3) v Ireland (2)
Liam Williams has passed a fitness test to start at full-back, allowing Warren Gatland to name an entirely unchanged 23-man squad for Saturday's crunch test.
Tadhg Beirne will make his Six Nations debut after taking the place of the injured Iain Henderson in an Ireland team showing three changes to the one that saw off France in round four. Josh van der Flier is also ruled out and Sean O'Brien steps in at openside. The only change to the backs is at full-back after Rob Kearney was passed fit to play.
- Ireland have won 11 of their 19 encounters with Wales in the Six Nations. Wales have won seven times, with the sole draw coming three years ago
- Each of the last three Six Nations meetings between Wales and Ireland have been split – a win apiece and a draw in 2016
- Ireland’s 37-point haul against Wales last year was their second-highest points total against them in the Six Nations. They previously scored 54 points back in 2002
- Wales were the last side to hold Ireland to a single-digit score in the Six Nations – a 22-9 win in Cardiff in 2017
- Wales have conceded only 58 points in the 2019 Championship, the fewest of all six teams
- Wales have won their last six matches in the Six Nations – their longest winning streak since they won eight on the bounce from 2007-09
- Wales have won all four matches of the 2019 Championship despite conceding the opening score on three occasions
- Josh Adams has scored tries in Wales’ last three matches in the 2019 Championship. He’s aiming to become the first Welshman to score tries in four consecutive Six Nations fixtures since Liam Williams (2016-17)
- Ireland have won nine of their last 10 Six Nations matches, only failing to win in their 2019 round one defeat to England
- The last time Ireland lost away from home in the Six Nations was back in 2017 – a 22-9 defeat to Wales
- A Grand Slam-clinching victory would see Wales leapfrog Ireland and equal their best-ever ranking of second
- An Ireland win of more than 15 points would see them cut the gap between themselves and top-ranked New Zealand to 0.85 of a point
- In such a scenario, Wales would lose third spot to England if Eddie Jones’ side beat Scotland
RUGBY EUROPE CHAMPIONSHIP
Germany (28) v Spain (19)
Germany team yet to be announced.
Richard Stewart gets his first start at full-back in place of Brad Linklater in a much-changed Los Leones team. The 28-year-old is joined in the back three by right-winger Julen Goia, while Lucas Rubio and Andrew Norton, who wins his third cap, are the new half-back combination. The other new face in the backline is outside-centre Andrea Rabago. Upfront, Quentin Garcia comes in at hooker, Michael Walker-Fitton and Josh Peters make up the second-row with Victor Sanchez and Manu Mora shifting to number six and eight respectively.
- Germany need to win to have any chance of avoiding a play-off with the Rugby Europe Trophy winner
- A win will secure Spain second place – their best finish since 2012 when they were also runners-up
- Spain are unbeaten in the last seven matches against Germany dating back to 2006
- Spain more than doubled their try return for the Championship in crossing the line seven times in last week's 47-9 win over Belgium. They've now scored 13 tries from four matches
- A first win for the season for Germany would see them move above the Netherlands and into 27th place even if the Dutch win away to Czechia
- A rise of five places is possible if Germany win by more than 15 points and other results go their way
- Spain will climb one place to 18th if they win well and Romania and Russia both fail to win
Belgium (25) v Romania (18)
Romania have made six changes - split evenly between backs and forwards - for the trip to Brussels, with record point scorer Florin Vlaicu having to be content with a rare place on the bench. Vlaicu has been used at fly-half and inside-centre during the Rugby Europe Championship but those roles go to Daniel Plai and Vladut Popa. The other change in the backs comes at outside-centre with Alexandru Bucur taking the place of Nicholas Onutu. Upfront, Alexandru Gordas, Vlad Nistor and Dorin Lazar are the new additions at tight-head, blindside and number eight.
- A win would guarantee Belgium their place in the Championship for 2020
- Romania can still finish second if they win and Spain and Russia lose
- Romania have won all seven previous encounters with an average winning margin of 40 points
- Last year's fixture finished 62-12 to Romania
- Belgium will overtake Brazil in the rankings and move up to 24th if they win
- A two-place rise will occur if they win and Portugal fail to beat Switzerland by more than 15 points, while a big victory could lift Belgium to 22nd – one off their all-time high
- Romania cannot climb any higher than their present position
Russia (20) v Georgia (12)
Russia coach Lyn Jones has made four changes to the side narrowly beaten 22-20 by Romania last week. Hooker Stanislav Selsky has two new partners in the front row with Valery Morozov and Innokenty Zykov packing down at loose-head and tight-head respectively. Vitaly Zivatov replaces Nikita Vavilin at number eight. The only change to the backs comes at scrum-half where Alexei Shcherban wins his 45th cap.
Newly-crowned champions Georgia have opted to make eight changes, including one positional, from the starting line-up that beat Germany 52-3 in round four. Coach Milton Haig has elected to rotate his props again with Beka Gigashvili and Levan Chilachava welcomed back at loose-head and tight-head respectively. Nodar Cheishvili is Giorgi Nemsadze's new partner in the second row, while Otari Giorgadze and Beka Gorgadze pack down alongside Giorgi Tsutskiridze in the back row. In the backs, Vasil Lobzhanidze returns at scrum-half, while Soso Matiashvili reverts to full-back to open up an opportunity for Giorgi Kveseladze on the left wing.
- Russia need to win and hope Spain lose to match their second-place finish in 2018
- Russia have only won one of their last five home matches
- Georgia are on a 17-match winning streak against the Bears dating back to March 2002 when the teams drew 12-12
- Russia's only victory over Georgia came in the very first fixture in May 1993 when they won 15-9 on neutral territory in Poland
- Georgia will improve their rating by nearly half a point if they win well but that wouldn’t be enough to improve their position
- A two-place rise to 18th would be the prize for a Russian win
- Georgia would fall two places to 14th if that happened
RUGBY EUROPE TROPHY
In the tier below, table toppers Portugal travel to Nyon to take on Switzerland, while Czechia entertain the second-placed side the Netherlands in Prague. Both away sides can improve their rating but not their position in the rankings if victorious, while gains are possible on all fronts for the lower-ranked Swiss and Czechia.
Portugal name an unchanged backline to the one that started last week's 18-5 win against the Netherlands in front of a 7,000-strong crowd in Amsterdam, but only four members of the pack keep their places – loose-head prop João Corte-Real and hooker Nuno Mascarenhas and flankers Salvador Santos and João Granate.
Czechia make wholesale changes to the starting line-up from their last test, a 17-5 loss to Switzerland in November, with props Frank Jiří and Havel Vojtěch and second-row Faktor James the only survivors in the pack. in the backs, Karel Berounský retains his place at inside-centre as Czechia look to break a three-match losing run.
The World Rugby Rankings update every Monday at 12 noon.
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