Seven days later, on 31 October, the curtain will be brought down on the longest men’s Six Nations in the history of the championship as the final round of matches are held in Wales, Italy and France almost nine months after it began.
On Saturday, hosts Ireland know that they must beat Italy in order to maintain their title hopes heading into a final round meeting with France.
The team’s last outing, on 23 February, ended in a 24-12 loss to England as Andy Farrell suffered his first defeat as head coach on his return to Twickenham.
Injuries in the intervening eight months have impacted Ireland, and only 13 of the 23-man squad that featured at Twickenham will be present at the Aviva Stadium.
However, Farrell will be confident of masterminding a third victory as Ireland coach. Italy have only beaten their hosts once since they were admitted to the Six Nations, and conceded more than 50 points on both of their previous two championship visits to Dublin.
The Azzurri’s sole Six Nations victory against Ireland came in Rome on 16 March, 2013. A repeat in Dublin on Saturday would give Italy hope of finishing the campaign fifth, or potentially higher, for the first time since 2015.
Were Italy to record a first win in Dublin since 1997 then Scotland would arrive in Llanelli on 31 October with an outside chance of lifting the championship for the first time since 1999.
For that to transpire, Scotland would need to beat Wales and hope that England and France both lose their matches on the final day, against Italy and Ireland respectively — the latter without a bonus point.
24•10•20 | The Return pic.twitter.com/VVcuharM3j— Guinness Six Nations (@SixNationsRugby) October 2, 2020
An Irish win on Saturday will end Scotland’s slim hopes, however, as Farrell’s team travels to Paris to meet France on the final day.
Regardless of other results, Scotland do have a chance to claim a second top-three finish in three years as they prepare to face Wales at Parc y Scarlets.
However, the Scots have not recorded an away victory against Wales since 2002, when head coach Gregor Townsend lined up at fly-half in a team that won 27-22 in Cardiff.
Wales, playing under coach Wayne Pivac for only the seventh time, would leapfrog Scotland with an 11th successive home win over their Six Nations rivals. Victory for the hosts would also ensure that Wales could finish no lower than fourth in the table.
Meanwhile, England prepare to face Italy at Stadio Olimpico knowing that a bonus-point victory could be enough to earn them a third championship under Eddie Jones.
England have won on each of their four previous visits to the Stadio Olimpico while scoring an aggregate of 157 points and are unbeaten in Rome since Italy were admitted to the championship.
A try bonus-point would almost certainly be required for England to finish top of the table should Ireland beat Italy with one in Dublin this weekend.
Points difference could be key
Were Ireland to secure all five points on Saturday then they would head into the final round of matches one point ahead of both England and France.
In that scenario, Farrell’s team would need a bonus-point win against France at Stade de France to be certain of the championship.
Ahead of Ireland’s match against Italy it is possible that the Irish could record two bonus-point victories to reach an unassailable 19 points.
If they earn nine points from those final two matches, it is also possible that Ireland and England would be locked on 18 points. If Ireland record four-point wins against Italy and France, then England would be crowned champions with a bonus-point win in Rome.
France, meanwhile, can win the championship if they beat Ireland. If England do secure a bonus-point win against Italy then Les Bleus must secure five points against Ireland in Paris and improve on their points difference.
If England beat Italy without a bonus point, then France would be sure of the title with a five-point victory against Ireland in Paris.
Should two teams finish level on either 17 or 18 points then the championship will be awarded to the team with the best points difference. At present England’s points difference is +15, while France’s is +13 and Ireland’s is +5.