RugbyU: Six Nations talking points


Dublin (AFP)

The fourth round of the Six Nations could see Ireland move to within one win of only their third Grand Slam if they beat a Scotland side cock-a-hoop after defeating champions England a fortnight ago.

Elsewhere, England will look to revive their title bid against France in Paris, while Italy will seek a morale-boosting win away to Wales.

AFP Sport looks at some of the key talking points ahead of the penultimate weekend of the Championship:

Irish hope Sexton finds his kicking boots

Ireland fans will pray Johnny Sexton reverts to his usual reliable self when kicking at goal after the fly-half was off-target on several occasions during a 37-27 win over Wales last time out. Ultimately, Sexton's misses did not prove costly and former Scotland goal-kicker Gavin Hastings is not expecting lightning to strike twice: "Johnny won't miss four kicks (against Scotland), I know he won't miss four kicks," he said.

Scotland seek to spoil the party again

Scotland may have claimed the scalp of England but that was in front of their Murrayfield faithful in Edinburgh. But excluding matches away to perennial strugglers Italy, the Scots have won just two of their last 37 Championship matches on the road. So it would be a major achievement for Gregor Townsend's men to inflict Ireland's first home defeat in the tournament since Schmidt took charge after the 2013 edition. But Irish rugby great Brian O'Driscoll, recalling Scotland's victory at Ireland's temporary Croke Park home in 2010, told AFP they "sure know how to spoil a party". The retired centre added: "Now is their opportunity to turn a decent performance against France and a very good one against England into a really great one against Ireland."

Bold Jones opts for revamped back three

It's always easy to caricature England's style of rugby as 'safety-first' and forward dominated. But Eddie Jones's decision to drop Mike Brown, one of his stalwarts since he became England coach, following a below-par display against Scotland shows how the Australian is prepared to vary his approach. Jones has now opted for a back three full of gifted runners. Anthony Watson moves from wing to fullback, with Jonny May and the fit-again Elliot Daly alongside him.

Wales look to World Cup against Italy

There are those who think Wales coach Warren Gatland has been disrespectful towards Italy by making 10 changes to the side beaten by Ireland a fortnight ago. But with the 2019 World Cup in Japan looming into view, this is a good opportunity to examine his squad depth. Italy have brought this situation upon themselves, with a 34-17 loss away to France last time out giving the Azzurri an unwanted record of 15 successive Six Nations defeats.

No bonus to points changes

Last season's decision to trial bonus points and now make them a permanent feature of the Six Nations this year always carried a risk of unintended consequences -- and they could be on show this weekend. For if Ireland enjoy a bonus-point win, by scoring at least four tries against Scotland, and England fail to do so in Paris, the Irish will be crowned champions with a round to spare. That would thereby take some of the sting out of next weekend's England-Ireland showpiece at Twickenham. Bonus points may have their place in a longer league format, but they can distort a short tournament such as the Six Nations. Also, why should Ireland get fewer points for a hard-fought come-from-behind 15-13 win over France than they did for thrashing a sub-standard Italy 56-19?