Ahead of the final round of the Six Nations, we take a look at five with a point to prove.
Who do you think will make the biggest impact?
DANNY CARE AND GEORGE FORD
It’s been a disappointing campaign so far for the duo who struggled to get their side on the front foot in demoralising defeats to Scotland and France.
With everyone focusing on the potential opportunities afforded from the Ford-Farrell axis, people are forgetting that without Care-Ford on the ball, there is no way Farrell can get the ball and execute his skills.
With Ben Youngs injured, England are devoid of a serious leader who is able to get the pack ticking.
Ford – on the other hand – has lacked fizz and pace to orchestrate his side and his place may be under serious threat against Ireland.
Showing signs of ‘second season syndrome’ and looks to be struggling from the after-effects of the British & Irish Lions tour during the summer.
For a player so spectacular last season, the 23-year-old has lacked energy and commitment around the park in the four rounds to date.
His sole spark has been his towering line-out presence but Eddie Jones needs more from his ace talisman if they are to deny Ireland a Grand Slam at Twickenham.
The Saracens man needs a mammoth performance against the Irish to end his championship on a positive note.
The Glasgow out-half may have rose to the occasion against England, but his loose play effectively cost Scotland the game against Wales – and nearly France.
For a player considered a leader in Gregor Townsend’s dressing room, his error-strewn displays are not the traits normally associated with a 10 who is meant to lead by example with ball in hand.
The 25-year-old has a tendency to make rash decisions and is weak in defence, as seen when he allowed Teddy Thomas to slip in for a try against France. The Racing-bound player needs to step up against Italy for his fans to have faith in him.
There’s no doubting the elusive full-back is a sparkling presence, but he failed to impose himself against a below par Italian side.
He missed a tackle on Matteo Minozzi as the Zebre full-back raced over for a try and was subsequently sin-binned for an illegal tackle before the break, although it could be argued it was harsh, with the hit full-blooded rather than malicious.
His deficiencies in attack and overall discipline – for a tackle that some saw as a red – led to him being substituted on 51 minutes. A rare blip in his overall consistent displays – but it’s vital he finishes with a flourish in Cardiff this weekend if Warren Gatland decides to select him against France.
The former Bordeaux coach may have won the plaudits for his side’s resounding win over England, but in essence, Les Bleus struggled for nearly 50 minutes of the contest.
The 64-year-old has yet to prove he can pick a starting team – and needs to start showing signs of direction and a game plan that can compete with bigger teams.
If Brunel is to walk away from the championship this weekend with the support of the FFR, his players and fans, then he needs to prove he is building for the future, especially with a Rugby World Cup 18 months away.
The final round of Six Nations fixtures is upon us; Ireland have the title in the bag already – but what are the burning questions as we prepare to round off a largely one-sided competition?
Can England get back on the chariot?
While Ireland roll into Twickenham with a Grand Slam on their mind, the bulk of the attention will still fall on England. Cut apart by Scotland, and humbled by France, the wheels have well and truly fallen off for Eddie Jones in the space of a fortnight.
With question marks hanging over a number of his high-profile charges including Dylan Hartley, Chris Robshaw, Danny Care and George Ford, can Jones re-ignite the side to the levels of the last 18 months when they were considered potential 2019 World Cup winners?
A change of personnel is needed, but the Australian coach is known for his stubbornness and insistence on doing things his way.
If they don’t change, both the starting line-up and their style of play, the Irish will have a field day – particularly at the breakdown leaving the Red Rose at their lowest ebb during Jones’ tenure.
Will Scotland find a performance? Can Italy prove their worth?
Gregor Townsend’s men go from the sublime to the ridiculous. Woeful in Cardiff, battling against France, destructive against England, toothless against Ireland.
What they would give for a little consistency.
They are in a no-win situation heading to Rome but a comfortable win would at least end things on a high for them.
Italy have been in reverse for two years and the calls for their future in the Six Nations to be considered get louder and louder.
With Georgia knocking on the door, Conor O’Shea’s men need a performance. Not necessarily a win, but an 80-minute performance that shows the rugby world they can compete and are not out of sight long before the end.
Will we see into the future in Cardiff?
Despite a mixed bag of results, you could still argue Wales have been something of a surprise package in this Six Nations.
A new style of play, and the revelation of a greater strength in depth than the Welsh public thought has Warren Gatland’s men looking in a good place.
With the injection of new-blood has come a greater sense of optimism, not only for the immediate future, but for the World Cup which is quickly creeping upon us.
End the Six Nations on a high, and a likely second-place finish and there are more than solid foundations to build on for the coming years.
As for the French, who knows what the future could hold? They need to get out of Cardiff with their pride intact and back to the drawing board.
England captain Dylan Hartley is expected to be available to face Ireland at Twickenham on Saturday but doubt now hovers over the fitness of Elliot Daly.
Hartley could return for the final round of the NatWest 6 Nations against the newly crowned champions after missing the 22-16 defeat in France because of a tight calf that developed in training last week.
Jamie George deputised at hooker in Hartley’s absence – Owen Farrell took over as skipper – but the Saracen failed to make an impact at the Stade de France so Hartley is poised to make an immediate comeback.
“Dylan ran this morning (Monday) but we need to get a medical report on him,” head coach Eddie Jones said.
“I expect him to be available but we’ll just have to wait and see. If he’s fit then he’ll be playing.”
Daly’s fitness hinges on a scan for a foot injury with the Wasps wing currently wearing a protective boot around his left leg.
The trip to Paris was Daly’s first appearance of the 2018 Six Nations, having recovered from ankle and calf problems, and he acquitted himself well in difficult circumstances.
“The boot is just a precaution. He’ll go for a scan today (Monday),” Jones said.
Defeat by Ireland would condemn England to their worst Six Nations performance since 2006 – the last time they lost three games in a Championship – and they could finish as low as fifth in the table.
The latest world rankings, published on Monday, revealed that they have been replaced by Joe Schmidt’s men in second place in the wake of successive defeats by Scotland and France.
Asked if his belief in what the team can achieve has been shaken, Jones replied: “No, not at all.
“Every good team goes through this period. It’s actually an essential part of developing a great team.
“The learnings we’ll get from this, albeit very painful, are absolutely crucial going forward because it’s about how we respond.
“It’s not as if we can’t play Rugby, we know we’ve got good players as they’ve played for the Lions and won games for England.
“When you get a loss it tests your mental resolve and that’s the test we’ve got to face.
“Obviously we need to get over the disappointment of losing to France. We’ve reflected on the game and we did enough to win, but sometimes the result doesn’t go your way.
“We’ve just got to focus now on Ireland. We’ve started that with a short run this (Monday) morning and a couple of meetings to get us on the front foot.
“Ireland are a good team. I said at the start of the tournament they’re a good team and they’ve proved that – they’re worthy champions of the Six Nations.”
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