There’s nothing quite like a England vs Wales fixture – it’s the biggest game in the northern hemisphere and arguably second biggest in the world behind New Zealand v Australia.
There’s so much history to this fixture but we’ll get to that later. First of all we have to consider the fact that next weekend’s crunch encounter at Twickenham is a Six Nations title decider.
Eddie Jones’ refurbished side have been given a new lease of life under the Aussie, putting to bed their nightmare Rugby World Cup with three straight wins in one of the game’s premier competitions.
The opening round win over Scotland may not have been particularly pretty, but the Red Rose were proficient in a tricky opener at Murrayfield, dominating against a new-look Scotland.
They trounced Italy in Rome and despite facing a patched-up Ireland last weekend, were clinical and ruthless, capitalizing at a key moment in the game to score two killer tries and beat the defending champions.
Of course their toughest two games are likely to be their next two, with the visit of the Dragons on March 12 followed by a final showdown with Les Bleus at the Stade de France.
Wales have been similarly regimental to England in their defeats of the Scots and France, if not spectacular, though Warren Gatland certainly has the players at his disposal to cut any team apart – it’s just a shame we have not seen it yet.
In Liam Williams, George North, Jonathan Davies and scrum-half Gareth Davies, one of the stars of the World Cup, Wales have world-class talent in their back-line, but their games all too often descend into forward or power-dominated slugfests.
What better time for their cutting-edge backs to step up to the plate and take centre stage than at the home of their fiercest rivals. There’s certainly no love lost between England and Wales, who have served up some true classics in this competition down the years.
There was England’s 21-16 triumph in Cardiff in 2015, in which England’s injury-hit team came from 10 points down to record a famous victory to take revenge for their record 30-3 mauling in 2013.
That win saw Wales storm to the Six Nations title with a record win over England and crushed the visitors’ Grand Slam hopes in the process.
While the most recent meeting between the sides was at last year’s World Cup as opposed to the Six Nations, it is one that still stings the England players.
A 28-25 defeat to an injury-ravaged Wales effectively sealed their group stage exit at the World Cup, and there could be fireworks on the banks of the Duke of Northumberland’s River this weekend.
Can Ireland turn their Six Nations campaign around?
Sticking with the Six Nations, and following a second straight defeat in the competition, defending champions Ireland face the realistic prospect of going from winners to the wooden spoon.
Admittedly they have Italy at the Aviva Stadium in the next round, and also have a bonus point on the board, but the alarming rate at which they have sunk into freefall since the World Cup has been astonishing.
Of course there are mitigating factors like their horrendous injury list, as well as the fact they can no longer call on the services of behemoth Paul O’Connell, but whereas Wales flourished amidst a World Cup injury crisis, Ireland have capitulated.
Considering prior to the World Cup that they were considered the northern hemisphere’s best hope and were tipped to make at least the semi-finals alongside the powerhouses from the south, the sharpness of the descent suffered by Joe Schmidt’s men in the last six months has been catastrophic.
Of course, all talk of the wooden spoon should lift with a convincing home win against the Italians, but it still won’t deviate from the fact it’s been a horrendous start to 2016 for the men from the men in green, who will not relish welcoming Scotland to Dublin for their final tournament game.
Bright new era for Super Rugby
Japan’s Sunwolves began a bright new era in rugby for the land of the rising sun last weekend as Super Rugby returned for a new season.
Tokyo’s Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium was full to its 27,188 capacity as Asia welcomed Super Rugby for the first time, and although the home team were unable to mark the historic match with a win, the team emerged from the encounter with South Africa’s Golden Lions with a massive amount of credit.
The visitors claimed a 26-13 and in truth could have won by a lot more, but on a day when the result was always going to be a secondary concern, the Sunwolves proved that they will not be overawed in their debut campaign.
Sunwolves captain Shota Horie said he was disappointed with the result, but was hugely encouraged by his team’s performance, and promised more to come from the debutants.
“A defeat is hard to swallow but the season has just started and we hope to build from this game,” he said.
The Sunwolves are one of three new teams in Super Rugby this season, with Argentina’s Jaguares also the first club from the South American country to enter the competition.
While the Sunwolves impressed but had to settle for a brave defeat, the Jaguares made an emphatic statement on their debut in South Africa, edging a fascinating contest 34-33 with the Central Cheetahs in Bloemfontein 34-33.
Victory was all the more impressive for Jaguares who trailed by 21 points at one stage and played for 10 minutes with 13 players.
The third new side in this season’s expanded 18-team competition, the Southern Kings, crashed to a 43-8 defeat against Coastal Sharks in an all-South-African encounter in Port Elizabeth.