As this weeks 6 Nations fast approaches and another big weekend of rugby is expected the grandstand match of the weekend has to be Ireland vs France on Sunday. Saturdays games of England vs Italy and Scotland vs Wales will also be full of excitement but in truth the only potential winner amongst the four looks to be England. For this week it seems that the coaches of all six teams have decided to stay with familiar faces and not risk any wholesale changes.
The major suprise of the week is James Hook being handed the reins at number 10 for Wales as Stephen Jones settles for a spot on the bench. With Wales looking to bounce back from a poor performance against England you can be certain Hook has been selected to open up the back line in order to test the Scottish defence. However, with the Scots having taken the French on out wide last weekend they will fancy their chances against a Welsh team that must be low on confidence after they struggle to find the form which landed them two Grand Slams in the past six years. I have to go with Wales for this one as Hook has the potential to find space and put runners like Byrne and Williams into the gaps.
In Saturdays later fixture of England vs Italy you can expect a war of attrition. As Martin Johnsons men finally start to find their form coming into the World Cup, you can be certain that the coach will ensure their eyes stay firmly fixed on the prize. England will be looking to take the Italians wide with Ashton and Foden in the back three while Italy will be hoping to keep the ball tight as they should have the edge over the English pack. It is very hard to look past England for this one as they continue to progress and on recent form are looking like World Cup contenders if they can continue to take their game to teams.
Sunday sees the misfiring Irish take on a French team which has finally been picked on skill and ability by the tinkering Marc Lievremont. Ireland have reintroduced Jamie Heaslip to the starting 15 and he will certainly improve their chances however an arguement must be made that O'Callaghan and O'Leary should have been dropped after the weekend. Declan Kidney is not know for making many changes and he has put his faith in his players to come good on Sunday. For the first time since his tenure begain Lievremont has made only one change and it was forced upon him as Poitrenaud slots into full back with Traille moving to inside centre. There is still no room for Jauzion, a player many would argue is one of the best 12's in world rugby. Overall it promises to be an exciting match with Ireland returning for their first 6 nations match in Lansdowne Road, but one must admit that on their recent form France look the favourites if their pack dominate in the same manner as they did last weekend.