England and Wales face-off at 4.45pm on Saturday, while Scotland host France earlier in the day at 2.15pm
We look at some key talking points ahead of England vs Wales and Scotland vs France in the Six Nations on Saturday, including Twickenham’s must-win Test, key returning players, and damaging Scottish injuries…
A must-win encounter at Twickenham
With both England and Wales heading into Saturday’s Six Nations clash on the back of a win and a defeat from two fixtures so far, neither can afford to lose if they are to maintain hopes of remaining in the title hunt.
Defending champions Wales were dismantled 29-7 in Dublin on the opening weekend, while England suffered a 20-17 defeat to Scotland in Edinburgh.
Wales recovered to beat Scotland 20-17 in Cardiff in Round Two, while England recorded a routine 33-0 win over Italy in Rome on the same weekend.
A second defeat for either would effectively end their campaigns by the halfway stage, and as a result Eddie Jones, Wayne Pivac and their respective squads, go into the clash under some considerable pressure.
Not since 2012 have Wales won at the home of English rugby in the Six Nations, though they did pick up a famous 2015 Rugby World Cup pool stage win at Twickenham on a day when they were beset by injuries – just as they have been in this year’s Championship.
Clashes between the sides, irrespective of venue, have been more even of late, with three wins apiece from their last six Tests.
Guinness Six Nations- Round Three Fixtures
Saturday at 2.15pm Scotland vs France Saturday at 4.45pm England vs Wales Sunday at 3pm Ireland vs Italy
New plan of attack needed as Tuilagi ruled out again for England
England have not looked great in the Championship so far and were abysmal in the 2021 Six Nations.
Head coach Eddie Jones hoped that Manu Tuilagi’s return from a hamstring injury could have made a major difference – only for a similar ailment to rule him out hours after he was recalled to the XV.
The 30-year-old is a wrecking ball of a midfielder and transforms Jones’ England whenever he is in the side with his immense physicality and powerful go-forward carries.
“Manu gives us a different way to attack in the backs,” Jones had said on Thursday, before the injury was announced. “He’s a gain line accumulator. He wins the gain line consistently and draws defenders in, which creates space for other options.
“He does that better than anyone else in the world when he’s at full tilt,” Jones noted. “We’re planning for him to be at full tilt on Saturday.” England will need a plan B once again.
England hoped to have Manu Tuilagi back to face Wales – but another hamstring injury has ruled him out
The problem for Jones is that he has not seen enough of Tuilagi, who has missed 50 of the 71 matches that Jones has been in charge, a number that will rise again on Saturday.
Tuilagi’s continued absence could be keenly felt at Twickenham with the stats making for startling reading. In his last 17 starts for England, they’ve won 14 of them and only lost three. Without him, they have lost three of their last seven games.
Lawes, Faletau – key returning players on both sides
England do have one key player returning, though, in the shape of Courtney Lawes, who is back in the back row and back as captain.
Lawes is fit enough to start again for England having passed the return to play protocols for concussion.
🏴 Captain 🤝 Captain 🏴
For the first time in our 142-year history, two Saints will face off as Captains of their countries 😇 pic.twitter.com/GDkHXJbVOb
— Northampton Saints 😇 (@SaintsRugby) February 24, 2022
Lawes provides a huge physical element to his displays which benefits England enormously, while he also provides defensive solidity and set-piece expertise.
Against Wales, England’s focus is likely to be on overpowering and outmuscling their opponents in front of a vocal home support.
Wales, still shorn of the experience of Alun Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, Justin Tipuric, Josh Navidi, Leigh Halfpenny and George North, have welcomed back No 8 Taulupe Faletau.
Taulupe Faletau will return for Wales against England
The five-time Test British and Irish Lion has 86 caps for Wales, and when on form – as he was in the autumn of 2020 and last year’s Six Nations – the sides he plays in invariably win.
Coming back from a seven-month ankle injury, and up against a physical England pack at Twickenham, is a very tough first assignment though.
England XV: (Eddie Jones will now name his team on matchday following Tuilagi’s injury)
Wales XV: 15. Liam Williams, 14. Alex Cuthbert, 13. Owen Watkin, 12. Nick Tompkins, 11. Josh Adams, 10. Dan Biggar (captain), 9. Tomos Williams, 1. Wyn Jones, 2. Ryan Elias, 3. Tomas Francis, 4. Will Rowlands, 5. Adam Beard, 6. Ross Moriarty, 7. Taine Basham, 8. Taulupe Faletau.
Replacements: 16. Dewi Lake, 17. Gareth Thomas, 18. Leon Brown, 19. Seb Davies, 20. Jac Morgan, 21. Kieran Hardy, 22. Gareth Anscombe, 23. Jonathan Davies.
Guinness Six Nations – Table
Played Win Draw Loss BP LBP Points 1. France 2 2 0 0 1 0 9 2. England 2 1 0 1 1 1 6 3. Ireland 2 1 0 1 1 1 6 4. Scotland 2 1 0 1 0 1 5 5. Wales 2 1 0 1 0 0 4 6. Italy 2 0 0 2 0 0 0
Scottish injuries to derail chances of challenging France?
Having begun the Championship with a confidence-boosting win over England at Murrayfield, Scotland’s hopes came crashing down with defeat in Wales a week on.
The last two Six Nations campaigns have seen Scotland pick up big victories – indeed significant enough to engender title hopes – before losing other games to take them firmly out of the mix.
Victories over France and in Wales in 2020 were negated by losses in Ireland and at home to England, while last year’s history-making wins at Twickenham (first time since 1984) and in Paris (first time since 1999) sat alongside home defeats to Wales and Ireland.
Lose at home to France on Saturday and another promising Championship start will count for nothing in terms of silverware again, and their challenge has been made all the more difficult due to injuries.
Jonny Gray is replaced by his Exeter Chiefs’ club team-mate Sam Skinner in Scotland’s line-up
Key forwards Rory Sutherland (loosehead prop, rib injury) and Jonny Gray (second row, ankle injury) have been ruled out in two big blows, joining the already stricken Jamie Ritchie (back row, hamstring) on the sidelines.
Centre Cam Redpath (neck) and lock Scott Cummings (knee) have also returned to their clubs due to injury issues, while No 8 Matt Fagerson – man of the match in victory over England – was not named in the squad to face France.
“While it is disappointing to lose players to injury ahead of the France match, this is a great opportunity for the new players to impress and force their way into our matchday squad,” Gregor Townsend, Scotland’s head coach said.
“The attritional nature of the Six Nations means there are often changes made to the squad throughout the championship and it is a challenge we are much better equipped to deal with given our current squad depth.”
The task for Scotland up against a supremely talented France was tough anyway. The injuries make it all the tougher.
Les Bleus looking to get over their recent bogey team
Jonathan Danty returns into France’s XV for their trip to Scotland
Scotland may be up against it for Saturday’s clash, but Les Bleus head to the Scottish capital knowing they are facing their bogey team of the last few years.
France have played the best rugby in the Six Nations over the last two seasons by and large, but have failed to pick up titles. The reason in both years has been defeat to the Scots.
In both 2020 and 2021, France failed to pick up the trophy despite beating the eventual winners (England, 2020), (Wales, 2021), as a 28-17 defeat to Scotland at Murrayfield in 2020 allowed England to sneak in on points difference, while a 27-23 loss to Scotland in Paris ended their chances last year.
More than that though, France have actually lost on their last three Six Nations visits to Murrayfield: 29-18 in 2016, 32-26 2018, and the aforementioned 28-17 in 2020.
France have overseen their first big hurdle of 2022, beating an in-form Ireland in Paris last week. They must now prove they can do it on the road with trips to Murrayfield and the Principality to come.
A Grand Slam is the target for Fabien Galthie and co, make no mistake, but having waited 22 years for a Six Nations title win, they need to get over hurdles they have fallen at in previous years to make it happen.
Scotland XV: 15. Stuart Hogg, 14. Darcy Graham, 13. Chris Harris, 12. Sione Tuipulotu, 11. Duhan van der Merwe, 10. Finn Russell, 9. Ali Price, 1. Pierre Schoeman, 2. Stuart McInally, 3. Zander Fagerson, 4. Sam Skinner, 5. Grant Gilchrist (vice-captain), 6. Rory Darge, 7. Hamish Watson, 8. Magnus Bradbury.
Replacements: 16. George Turner, 17. Oli Kebble, 18. WP Nel, 19. Jamie Hodgson, 20. Nick Haining, 21. Ben White, 22. Blair Kinghorn, 23. Mark Bennett.
France XV: 15. Melvyn Jaminet, 14. Damian Penaud, 13. Gael Fickou, 12. Jonathan Danty, 11. Yoram Moefana, 10. Romain Ntamack. 9. Antoine Dupont, 1. Cyril Baille, 2. Julien Marchand, 3. Uini Atonio, 4. Cameron Woki, 5. Paul Willemse, 6. François Cros, 7. Anthony Jelonch, 8. Gregory Alldritt.
Replacements: 16. Peato Mauvaka, 17. Jean-Baptiste Gros, 18. Demba Bamba, 19. Romain Taofifenua, 20. Thibaud Flament, 21. Dylan Cretin, 22. Maxime Lucu, 23. Thomas Ramos.