Going into the final 2 rounds of Ireland’s Six Nations fixtures, there are four teams left with a realistic chance of taking home the title. Here we look at who faces who, and exactly what each team requires for victory.
(H) Italy, Sat 8th March 2:30pm
(A) France, Sat 15th March 6pm
Despite a frustrating defeat to England, Ireland are perhaps the team most in control of their own destiny. The dominant opening defeats of Scotland and Wales leave them with a far superior points difference to their closest rivals. Indeed it is that points difference which seems them top the table as things stand, despite four teams – Ireland, England, Wales, and France – all sitting on 4 points. It is that points difference which may prove critical by the final weekend.
Points difference currently sees Ireland 21 points ahead of England, 36 ahead of Wales, and 41 ahead of France. In the event of a tie, PD will decide who wins the Championship. Clearly then Ireland are in a commanding position, highly unlikely to be overtaken on points difference by anyone except the English, and even that is unlikely, as they would need to run up big scores against Wales and Italy.
The bottom line here is that if Ireland win their remaining two games, they will almost certainly win the Championship. Simple on paper for Schmidt’s charges, but that will not make the execution any easier, particularly with an away trip to France looming on the horizon, traditionally a barren hunting ground for Ireland, with not a single Irish team registering a victory there since the debut of a certain Brian O’Driscoll 14 years ago.
Realistically England must rely on Ireland to slip up if they are to lift the trophy, whether that is through a loss or simply the failure to improve their points difference. England will not have fond memories of Wales, who were the last team to win a Six Nations game in Twickeham in 2012, and who crushed English title ambitions in the final game last year with a comprehensive 30-3 defeat, not a game that supporters of either side will be forgetting any time soon.
A win at Twickenham though will set England up nicely, ending Wales’ title challenge and putting the pressure back on Ireland to deliver the two wins they need to take the title. A win away to the rapidly improving Italy will be no formality, but England may have to take chances, knowing that their only chance of overall success, should Ireland win in Paris, lies in overtaking the Irish on points difference. England are at a disadvantage by playing first on the final weekend, not knowing exactly what they will need, and as a result they will probably be looking to put as many points on the board as possible.
It may have been hard to imagine them holding the trophy following their Round 2 capitulation in Ireland, but, just like last year, Wales have fought their way back into a position where they will be ready to pounce if other sides slip up.
Travelling to Twickenham will be an enormous test, one that could rather quickly end their title aspirations, but should they scrape a victory in London, they will fancy their chances of defeating a stuttering Scotland side at home on the final weekend.
Two wins would leave them on 8 points, so they would also be relying on Ireland losing one of their final two games, as overtaking the Irish on points difference is a virtual impossibility for Wales at this stage.
It has not been a vintage tournament from France. A moment of brilliance at the end of their game against England rescued an otherwise unconvincing performance, and despite showing some flashes of attacking flair against Italy, they were comprehensively outplayed in Cardiff.
Like Wales, the damage done to their points difference is irrecoverable, and so they must hope both England and Ireland fail to win their final two games.
Scotland will take heart from their last-gasp victory in Italy, but France will surely be looking for a reaction after a shambolic showing against Wales. A victory in Edinburgh will set France up with a must win clash against Ireland.
An Irish win in Paris has been a once in a generation occurrence, and although Joe Schmidt will almost certainly be playing down any perceived ‘mental block’, the fact only one of the current squad can boast a victory in the Stade de France is significant, if only because the preservation of that record will be foremost in French minds.
A win against Ireland may still not be enough for France to top the table however. Should England win both of their remaining games, they would move up to 8 points, the maximum achievable by any team, but they currently boast a 20 point advantage over France in their points difference.
Unless other teams slip up, it would seem the most France can do with a victory in Paris is deny Ireland the title, but you can be sure the pressure to perform in front of a notoriously demanding home crowd will be more than enough motivation, regardless of their standing in the table.