After a one-week absence, the Six Nations and Americas Rugby Championship return with some mouth-watering games in prospect.
Two decades have passed since Scotland last won in Paris, and on Saturday the memories of that occasion will no doubt come flooding back for coach Gregor Townsend who scored his side's third try in a famous 36-22 victory. Despite a lengthy injury list, Scotland know this weekend's game represents an ideal opportunity to end the 20-year wait as they come up against a French side that has slipped down the World Rugby Rankings and lost both of their games in the Championship.
Following on from that intriguing match-up is the small matter of Wales versus England in Cardiff. Passions always run high when these two great rivals come together and Saturday's game has even more spice given that both sides go into the game with two wins from two. Wales will also set a new national record for consecutive wins (12) should they prevail.
Sunday's game is in Rome where Italy will be desperate to prevent their record losing run in the Championship stretching to 20 games. Up against them, though, is an Ireland side that knows they cannot afford any further slip-ups if they are to harbour any hopes of bouncing back from their round one loss to England and successfully defend their title.
In the Americas, Argentina XV are in pole position to reclaim the Americas Rugby Championship title they last won in 2016, the year the continental tournament was born. Should Ignacio Fernandez Lobbe's side follow up their win over USA in round two with a victory over Uruguay, it is hard to see them being stopped. Los Teros have their own ambitions, however, and have proved a worthy opponent in recent times. The two games that count towards the rankings feature the USA versus Brazil and Canada's home game against Chile, two sides in need of a morale-boosting victory.
France (10) v Scotland (7)
France will field a different half-back combination for the third match in a row. Out go experienced pairing Morgan Parra and Camille Lopez with 22-year-old Antoine Dupont and 19-year-old Romain Ntamack the new men in the nine and 10 jerseys. Thomas Ramos makes his first start for Les Bleus at full-back, while the final change sees Wenceslas Lauret – who started against Wales on the opening weekend – return to the starting XV at blindside flanker for Yacouba Camara. There are two positional changes, too, with Yoann Huget and Gaël Fickou reverting back to their more accustomed positions on the wing and centre respectively.
Scotland have made four injury-enforced changes to their starting line-up as they go in search of their first win in Paris for 20 years. Edinburgh back-row Magnus Bradbury is the only change to the pack – after a timely, man-of the-match-winning return from injury last weekend – to start in place of the injured Ryan Wilson. The three remaining changes come in the back division, where Glasgow Warriors playmaker Pete Horne – also in man-of-the-match winning form in the PRO14 last weekend – starts at fly-off in place of Finn Russell, who is sidelined following a head knock. Blair Kinghorn replaces the injured Stuart Hogg to earn his third test start at full-back, while Nick Grigg comes into the midfield for the injured Huw Jones.
- France have never lost a home match against Scotland in the Six Nations
- Scotland won the last Six Nations meeting between the sides in 2018, coming back from 26-20 down with 20 minutes remaining to win 32-26
- France have only won two of their last 10 games
- France have scored only three points in the second half so far in the 2019 Championship – all other nations have scored at least 20 points
- France have made just 37.5 per cent of their kicks at goal (excluding drop goals), the lowest percentage in the 2019 Championship, while Scotland are the best in this respect with 87.5 per cent
- France will move above Fiji and Argentina and into eighth place with victory but cannot overtake Scotland regardless of the margin of victory
- A heavy defeat for France (more than 15 points) and an Italian win by an equally big margin would see Les Bleus fall outside of the top 10 for the first time, with the Azzurri taking their place
- Scotland need to win by that big a margin to take sixth spot off Australia
Eddie Jones made a bold claim yesterday...— Guinness Six Nations (@SixNationsRugby) 22 February 2019
Here's how Warren Gatland reacted to the 'greatest Welsh team ever' claim https://t.co/v7Q7JRqaZu
Wales (4) v England (3)
Warren Gatland has rung the changes from the team which beat Italy last time out, with Alun Wyn Jones returning to captain the side. The Ospreys man will lead Wales out for the 22nd time in tests, placing him joint fourth in the all-time captain's honours list alongside Colin Charvis and Rob Howley. He will be partnered in the second row by Cory Hill, who has been preferred to Adam Beard and Jake Ball. Justin Tipuric and Josh Navidi are back on the flanks, packing down either side of Ross Moriarty at number eight. Gareth Anscombe gets the call at fly-half and George North is back on the wing.
With Mako Vunipola and Chris Ashton both out injured, the Exeter Chiefs duo of Jack Nowell and Ben Moon come in at right wing and loose-head prop respectively. There are also changes on the bench as Joe Cokanasiga and Brad Shields both come into the match-day 23 for the first time this Championship. Shields will make his Six Nations debut if he comes onto the field at the Principality Stadium.
- England have won their last five meetings against Wales in the Six Nations, including a 12-6 victory at Twickenham in 2018. Wales had won five of the previous seven Six Nations meetings between the sides prior to this run
- Wales’ last Six Nations win against England was a 30-3 home victory in March 2013, which represented their biggest ever victory in the fixture
- Wales have lost only four of their last 21 Six Nations games at home. However, three of those defeats were against England
- England have scored 47 (61.9 per cent) of their 76 points in the first half so far in the 2019 Championship, while Wales have scored 38 (76.0 per cent) of their 50 points in the second half
- England’s Owen Farrell (29) and Jonny May (20) are the top two leading points scorers after the first two rounds, while Wales’ Dan Biggar (19) is third
- A Wales victory will make them the higher-ranked of the two nations
- If Wales win and Ireland are beaten in Italy, Wales will occupy second place to match their previous best ranking
- England can only take second spot off Ireland if they win by more than 15 points and the Irish fail to beat Italy
Italy (15) v Ireland (2)
Tito Tebaldi belatedly makes an entrance into the Championship, having been forced to withdraw from the Azzurri's opening game against Scotland at the 11th hour due to injury. He also missed the home defeat to Wales. The Benetton scrum-half's inclusion is one of five changes to the Italian starting line-up, the rest all coming in the pack. Maxime Mbandà and Jimmy Tuivaiti are both called up by Conor O'Shea in place of Sergio Parisse and Sebastian Negri, who are suffering from concussion and illness respectively. With Parisse out, Braam Steyn moves across to number eight, while Leonardo Ghiraldini takes over the captaincy. Elsewhere, Federico Ruzza earns a first start this season, while Andrea Lovotti has recovered from the flu to start at loose-head prop.
Sean Cronin will get to wear the number two jersey for the first time in a Six Nations match after being handed an elusive first start in the competition – nine years after his first appearance. Cronin has warmed the bench more times in the Six Nations than any other player but is preferred on this occasion to Rory Best, who is omitted from the 23-man squad altogether. Niall Scannell will occupy the spot normally reserved for Cronin. In Best’s absence, Peter O’Mahony will captain Ireland for the seventh time at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, with Ireland making four changes. Dave Kilcoyne starts at loose-head prop, second-row Ultan Dillane is also handed a start, while Jordi Murphy also comes into the back row. Fly-half Jack Carty, who is named on the bench, could earn his first Ireland cap, while Iain Henderson is also named among the replacements.
- Out of 31 test meetings, Ireland have won 27 and Italy four
- Italy managed three consecutive wins from 1995-97 but only once since, 22-15 in 2013 in Rome. That remains their only Six Nations success against Ireland
- Ireland have scored more than 50 points in each of the last four fixtures between the sides
- Ireland scored a record number of points against Italy on their last visit to Rome, winning 63-10
- A first win in 19 Six Nations matches would lift Italy up three places and into 12th
- If the margin is greater than 15 points, they will also overtake Japan and claim 11th place
- Ireland will drop to third if they are beaten and England avoid defeat against Wales in Cardiff
- The gap between Ireland and top-ranked New Zealand will remain at 2.62 points regardless of how well Ireland win
AMERICAS RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP
The captain’s runs took place yesterday ahead of the Americas Rugby Championship round three, kicking off with @chilerugby1 v @RugbyCanada— World Rugby (@WorldRugby) 22 February 2019
Where to watch: https://t.co/Qq7QdCpVJ8 #ARC2019 pic.twitter.com/fpRSwveWJE
Canada (21) v Chile (29)
Justin Blanchet is set to win his first start at blindside flanker for Canada after making his debut against Brazil in Sao Paulo a fortnight ago. The 25-year-old from Montreal will be joined in the back row by captain Lucas Rumball and Dustin Dobravsky, who makes his #ARC2019 debut at number eight. Elsewhere in the pack, Canada’s front row sees two changes, as veteran Hubert Buydens and youngster Cole Keith join hooker Eric Howard. Kyle Baillie moves from flanker to second row and joins Mike Sheppard to form a powerful duo. In the backs, Theo Sauder returns from injury to his usual position at full-back, moving Ciaran Hearn back to the centres, partnering with the experienced Nick Blevins, who replaces Ben LeSage who is unavailable due to his studies. Wingers Andrew Coe and Kainoa Lloyd once again return to the starting line-up, while Benoit Piffero could make his first appearance for Canada off the bench since facing Uruguay in Montevideo in 2018 as part of the Rugby World Cup qualifiers.
Chile coach Pablo Lemoine has made five changes of personnel – three in the forwards and two in the backs – and one positional to the team that gave Uruguay a tough test in Montevideo a fortnight ago. Loose-head Marcelo Huerta comes into the starting line-up for the first time in a test and he is joined in a rejigged front-row by hooker Augusto Bohme, who is promoted from the bench. In the back row, there is a debut for flanker Juan Orpis and his inclusion on the blindside results in captain Martin Sigren shifting to number eight. In an otherwise unchanged backline, Gonzalo Lara and Julio Blanc take their place on the wings.
- Canada have won all five previous meetings by an average of 26 points
- Canada are playing their first game on home soil since being beaten 42-17 by USA in June 2018
- Canada have won four out of the last five internationals played at the Westhills Stadium in Langford
- Chile have conceded 202 points in their last four games, all defeats, but kept Uruguay to 20 points last time out
- Chile are without a win in the Americas Rugby Championship since the opening game of the inaugural competition in 2016, a run of 16 defeats
- Canada cannot improve on their current position of 21st
- Chile need to win by more than 15 points to climb above Germany and into 28th in the rankings
USA (13) v Brazil (26)
Winger Blaine Scully returns from injury to captain an Eagles side showing multiple changes from the one that lost to Argentina XV last time out. The backline is also boosted by the inclusion of Mike Te'o on the other wing, the San Diego Legion player winning his 22nd cap and his first for over a year. Club team-mate Kapeli Pifeleti could make his international debut if called off the bench. Marcel Brache moves to full-back following Te'o's long-awaited call-up and, in another positional shift, Will Magee moves from full-back to fly-half in the absence of AJ MacGinty. In the forwards, Chance Wenglewski, James Hilterbrand and Paul Mullen make up a new-look front row and Nate Brakeley is Nick Civetta's new partner in the second row.
Matteo Dell'acqua makes his test debut for Brazil after replacing Gabriel Paganini in the second row. Dell'acqua's only previous appearance for Brazil came as a replacement against the Maori All Blacks in November last year. The Os Tupis starting line-up is otherwise unchanged.
- USA's 11-game unbeaten run in the ARC came to an end when they were beaten 45-18 by Argentina XV in round two
- The Eagles haven't lost back-to-back games since June 2017
- Brazil won the first meeting between the sides, 24-23 in Sao Paulo in 2016, but the US have won the last two
- Brazil have won their last three tests: 18-10 v Canada, 28-12 v Chile and 67-5 v Colombia
- Last year's fixture ended in a 45-16 win for the Eagles
- USA cannot improve on their current position of 13th
- Brazil will climb to a new all-time high of 23rd if they beat the Eagles and claim back-to-back wins against North America’s top two nations
- Os Tupis could even move above Canada, who they defeated a fortnight ago, if they win by more than 16 points and the Canucks fail to beat Chile on Friday
The World Rugby Rankings update every Monday at 12:00 GMT.