Passion and pride in Cardiff, other agendas in Paris and Rome

Passion and pride in Cardiff, other agendas in Paris and Rome

In the build-up to a potential decider of this year’s Six Nations Championship between Wales and England at the Principality Stadium on Saturday (kick-off 16:45) the word ‘hatred’ was used by some present and a few former English players.

Yes, in a real rugby country, few occasions stir Welsh passion more than a visit from the England rugby team to Cardiff, and this time there is also a possible Grand Slam on the line with both sides still unbeaten.

England scrum-half Danny Care who, although he won’t be playing on Saturday, knows what Eddie Jones's team can expect.

"You are hated there," Care told the Rugby Union Weekly podcast. "Some of the fans genuinely hate you. They want to make it miserable, make the atmosphere intimidating and hostile.

"The hype is exactly what you've heard. It's an unbelievable place to play. The drive to the stadium goes through the middle of Cardiff and the stories of people swearing at you are true.”

A win for Wales would bring Ireland into the championship permutation again after their loss to England in Round One. A win for England would virtually assure them of the championship and a Grand Slam, their second in three years under Eddie Jones and a huge comeback from last year’s disastrous campaign

But that is putting the cart before he horse.

To take a few steps back, the past 11 results since 2011 give an indication of how tough it would be for England, who are nevertheless the favourites for Saturday’s clash.

The Welsh have won four of those 11 matches and England’s biggest victory was 27-13 in 2016 and 29-18 in 2014, with all five their other wins by six points or less.

The last 11 matches also includes a 30-3 win for Wales in Cardiff in 2013, their third successive win at home since 2011 when they won 19-9.

England have won the last four meetings between the sides since their World Cup loss in 2015, but the scores, scorecard of 25-21, 27-13 (both in 2016) and  21-16 and 12-6 in the following two years tell the story of how tough it will be. The 2017 win was achieved in Cardiff.

France vs Scotland, Stade de France, Saturday 15:15

The longer lasts, the sooner it will end, is one view that should make Scotland as shoe-in at Stade de France.

But it won’t be that easy. Scotland coach Gregor Townsend will not forget that France outplayed Wales in the first half of their match in Round One before imploding; he also played in the last match that Scotland won in France, a full 20 years ago in 1999; and there is the reality that Scotland, even at home, had to work hard to see off Les Bleus by a winning margin of just six points, 32-26, last year..

On the other hand, the French have lost 10 of their last 13 games and will also be without three of their main playmakers, fullback Stuart Hogg, centre Huw Jones and flyhalf Russell Finn.

If the past is any indication, it should be a tight match with the two sides having been separated by more than seven points only once in their last eight meetings when Scotland won 29-18 in Edinburgh in 2016.

Italy vs Ireland, Stadio Olympico, Sunday 17:00

Ireland, unlike the other sides, have stuck with their near-best and made only four changes for the match against Italy. Without their captain Sergio Parisse, out after a knock to the head last week, the Italians are sue to suffer their 20th successive loss in the Six Nations.

They have only beaten Ireland once in 20 years, and a win by 15 points or more for the Irish seem a near-reality.

Ireland, however, regard this match as an opportunity to keep their campaign on the (already broken) track and fine-tune for their match against Wales, which – depending on Wales’ result against England ‒ could be the Championship decider in the very last match of the 2019 competition on 16 March.