Halfway through the competition the title is still up for grabs with four of the six teams having won twice and lost once. Ireland still sit top of the table despite their loss to England and along with the latter, Wales and France all have a realistic chance of winning the championship. Italy and Scotland have both struggled to compete with the other teams and the latters victory in Rome by a single point ensures that in all probability they won’t finish with the wooden spoon.

Ireland

The men in green currently lead the table despite a 13-10 loss at Twickenham to England due to their superior points difference. They also still have Italy to play, who whilst a potential stumbling block, provide the opportunity to further increase their points difference at the summit of the table. Peter O’Mahony and Rob Kearney have excelled in the competition so far and along with captain Paul O’Connell are key to Ireland’s hopes of reclaiming the trophy they last won in 2009. Their final match is against France in Paris and has the potential to be a title decider if other results in the next round of fixtures go their way.

England

The clash of the next round is most definitely England vs. Wales at Twickenham with the two teams both coming off good performances in the last round. The hosts’ defeat of the championship leaders Ireland, in Brian O’Driscoll’s 139th test match, was built on solid defence and incisive running particularly by full back Mike Brown who is having an outstanding tournament. Billy Vunipola has also been terrific but is ruled out with an ankle injury for the rest of the tournament and won’t have the opportunity to play against his cousin Taulupe Faletau. A win against the Welsh will have a very significant effect on this team, not only in this competition but building up to the World Cup in 2015. The opportunity also to win the Triple Crown for the hosts will make sure they are motivated to avenge the loss at the Millennium Stadium in last year’s competition.

France

The campaign of Les Bleus has been typical of their recent run of form. Whilst at times they have been fantastic – see the ten minute period against Italy where they scored the majority of their points – at others they have been flat and one dimensional, for example against Wales in their 27-6 loss. Their main problem is they are not using their centres in the best way possible, with Fofana not having the space to create and Bastareaud taking the ball at a standing start where his bulk is not at its most effective.

Their back three are working well with the limited opportunities they have but of the four teams on four points I think they have the least chance of winning the title. It all depends if they can get past Scotland without too much trouble and potentially increase their points difference significantly going into the decider with Ireland. However, Ireland seem to be too strong for the French based on current form, although Les Bleus always have the potential to surprise. They are now without Fofana and Picamoles with the former injured and the latter dropped for mocking referee Alain Rolland.

Of the four teams on four points I think they have the least chance of winning the title

Wales

Following their defeat to the Irish, the squad was told in no uncertain terms by coach Warren Gatland that their international futures were on the line against France. The resulting defeat of France showed signs of the Wales of the last few years with Sam Warburton immense at the breakdown, the scrum working efficiently and Leigh Halfpenny slotting penalties from all over the pitch. This performance was at odds with how they had been playing so far in the competition and they will hope it will give them confidence heading to Twickenham against a fired up English team.

The Welsh will fancy their chances going into this match on the back of this impressive performance as although they still lack the capacity to field two proper centres, their confidence is starting to build once again which is crucial if they are to win the championship. They need to win their last two matches if they have any chance of retaining the title and will hope victory over England will be followed by a big one over Scotland to aid their points difference.

Scotland

Before the victory over Italy this weekend the Scottish looked in pretty dire straights. A lock out by the English at Murrayfield following the loss to Ireland meant that questions started to be asked of head coach Scott Johnson, their style of play and potential divisions in the squad with captain Kelly Brown having been dropped for the test against the English. However, a narrow win against Italy assuaged some of these fears with a competitive display showcasing a lot more attacking incisiveness than had been present before this test. It may well have been against weaker opposition but the Scottish won’t care as they will not be winning the wooden spoon this year. However they face two tough tests ahead of them with France and Wales both aiming to win the championship on the back of wins against them. Unless they produce another performance like they did against the Italians it looks very difficult for them to get anything out of either of these two matches.

It may well have been against weaker opposition but the Scottish won’t care as they will not be winning the wooden spoon this year

Italy

The defeat by the Scottish in Rome would have damaged the Italians particularly as they were so competitive throughout, the visitors had a poor record in Rome and the hosts had been playing the better rugby of the two in the proceeding fixtures. It was disappointing as they had played well against the French and the Welsh despite losing both but the fixture they would have targeted could not be converted into a win. Sergio Parisse has been talismanic as always, with centre Campagnaro and lock Furno also standing out in separate matches. They now have to pick themselves up from this defeat to play Ireland and England and try to not let this defeat knock their confidence, as they have played good attacking rugby at times.

The Six Nations championship so far has been fantastic as at times all of the top four teams have put in stellar performances meaning the table is very open going into the last two rounds of fixtures. Ireland are in the driving seat at this moment due to their superior points difference but face a difficult trip to Paris. England shut Ireland out well but can they do it again against the improving Welsh when they come to Twickenham. All of this means an exciting two weekends are coming up for international rugby in the northern hemisphere.

James Oliver

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Image courtesy of telegraph.co.uk

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