Six Nations: The FIVE things to look out for this weekend – CHAOS, cards and decline | Rugby | Sport



England manager Eddie Jones has already named Ireland as his favourites for the tournament.

Joe Schmidt’s side claimed a historic Grand Slam last time out with an emphatic final-day victory over England – who had won the trophy in the previous two years.

In Johnny Sexton, Ireland have the reigning world player of the year but the rest of their squad is not short of talent.

Their final fixture is a trip to Wales in a potential slip-up – and it remains to be seen how they will handle the mantle of being favourites.

England injury woes

Eddie Jones has named fly-half Owen Farrell as captain for their opener against Ireland and the following fixture against Italy.

Farrell’s co-captain Dylan Hartley could return for England’s third match in this year’s tournament against Wales if he can recover from a knee injury.

Farrell will make his 64th England appearance in the trip to Dublin, but Jones is still reluctant to give him full captaincy whilst Hartley is around the squad.

This tournament could be huge in the development of the 27-year-old Saracens playmaker who has been warned that he needs to soften his communication with officials.

Dangerous hit debate

Angus Gardner, who will referee throughout the 2019 Six Nations, recently admitted that he should’ve sent Farrell off for a shoulder-led tackle against South Africa in November.

Referees have been criticised for their lack of consistency surrounding ‘dangerous tackle’ rulings – with both yellow and red cards being branded for similar challenges in recent international rugby fixtures.

World Rugby is currently enforcing a crackdown on dangerous hits designed to keep players out of harms way.

If a risky tackle is made early on in the tournament it wouldn’t be a surprise if a red card is shown, the tone needs to be set early on to keep players out of immediate danger.

Wales vs France showdown

Wales boss Warren Gatland has revealed that he is targeting nothing but top spot in this year’s final table.

The New Zealander has been Wales coach since 2007 and hopes to seal his first Six Nations title since back-to-back victories in 2014 and 2015.

The 55-year-old reckons that Wales have a ”great chance” at winning the title and that they’re “in as good a position as anybody”.

The Welsh national record of 11 straight wins could be beaten during this campaign, with Gatland’s side currently sitting on nine.

The coach has revealed that this will be his last campaign as Wales boss, and wants them to use their underdog titles to shock the opposition.

French shortcomings

France have struggled in the Six Nations in recent seasons and haven’t picked up a title for nine years.

Their recent slump is showing no signs of stopping, practically ruling them out as potential champions.

Last time out they lost 21-14 at home to Fiji in a huge scalp for the Pacific islands side but a demoralising defeat for the three-time World Cup finalists.

France need to provide a massive upset if they are to win more than one game in this year’s showpiece and are second favourites to finish bottom.

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