We take a look at five key talking points in the 2014 Six Nations as the Championship enters yet another pivotal weekend in Round Four.
We take a look at five key talking points in the Six Nations as the Championship enters a pivotal weekend in Round Four.
With delicious symmetry and a degree of cruel humour, the weekend's big clash at Twickenham features a triumvirate of last year's successful Lions coaches.
In the red corner, Warren Gatland, rotund and realistic. In the white corner, Andy Farrell and Graham Rowntree, pragmatic and honest.
Gatland has been in his most puckish mood this week, teasing England about scrummaging unavailabilities and injuries in the back line.
The debate has centred around the fact that England, and their coaching backroom of Farrell and Rowntree, know every facet of 'Warrenball', the moniker for Gatland's power-based rugby. The word on the street is once you've got the inside track, then it's easy to unlock it.
However, the paradox is that this is a state of equality; as well as the English understand Gatland, so the Welsh boys know most of the tactical wheezes up the English sleeves after spending 12 Antipodean weeks under the tutelage of 'Faz' and 'Wig'.
The simple truism is that it's one thing knowing the tricks of the trade and another challenge altogether to beat those tricks. Wales are the men in possession; England have the bigger hurdle to mount and we believe it'll be more down to which team pulls something new out of the bag than focusing on what's gone before.
All Change Please
The beleaguered Head Coaches of both France and Scotland have yet again been re-arranging the deckchairs on their very own rugby Titanic.
In Philippe Saint-AndrÃ©'s case, injury has removed two of his senior leaders; line-out captain Yannick Nyanga and defensive skipper Wesley Fofana.
His reaction has been interesting; the gargantuan frame of SÃ©bastien Vahaamahina somehow will make the step from the second row to the openside flank; undoubtedly Nyanga's line-out absence informing Saint-Andre's thinking. In the back division Maxime Mermoz is a like for like option for Fofana. In total, France have five changes through injury or choice.
Scott Johnson, finally forcing a Caledonian win after a gritty affair in Rome, has contrarily chosen this weekend to display a rather more circumspect approach to selection; world-class loose forwards Kelly Brown and David Denton return and, after careful checking of dates, celestial alignment and cultural sensitivities, Euan Murray returns to shore up the front row, alongside the robust Geoff Cross.
For once Johnson, the clown prince of coaches, may just have gotten this right. France look weakened for their changes; Scotland look rejuvenated by theirs.
Change is a cruel mistress and this time may just be favouring Scotland the Brave. If France do lose, Saint-AndrÃ© may well find himself looking back in Nyanga.
The Final Curtain
14 years ago the name B.G.A. O'Driscoll featured in a rugby Test programme for the very first time. It wasn't long before this morphed firstly into Waltzing O'Driscoll and latterly to the fans he became BOD, but Drico always to the players.
Not many have had all the rugby talents; O'Driscoll possesses them in abundance.
Flankers such as Martyn Williams and Richard Hill will speak in awe of his jackaling and tackling. Wingers like Jason Robinson and Shane Williams have been flabbergasted by the Irishman's pace. And both Wilkinson and Carter would need to be somewhere near the pinnacle of their collective game to match O'Driscoll's vision and distribution.
The most capped player of in history of the sport, the most test tries by a centre, the most test tries by an Irishman… we could list the raw stats all night but they still wouldn't do justice to his glittering talent.
Whatever your national allegiance, the Six Nations this Saturday is all about the Leinster warrior.
If you are going to the match, let the man know the rugby world is a better place for his existence; shout, applaud and holler; thank him for his immense contribution, and keep that celebration going well into the Irish night.
Make his last home game extraordinary, because that's exactly what his talent was.
The Direct Approach
Billy Twelvetrees did well against Ireland. Against the silky skills of Gordon D'Arcy and his Irish cohorts, the Gloucester inside centre made an impressive 74m with ball in hand, and offloaded four times.
He's a gifted kicker and an intelligent footballer who is growing into the 12 shirt for his country and has already been a factor in England winning two tests this season.
Contrast that with Doctor Jamie Roberts. The Lion made a mammoth 134m beating eight players in the process. Stats like that do not simply help to win Tests; it puts them way beyond the reach of the opposition.
You can be sure of two things however; when Wales win, Roberts generally plays well, and when Roberts performs, Wales generally are victorious.
This weekend, it'll be variety versus the battering ram. With both sides as noted earlier well informed about each other's tactical nuances, we will be interested to see which man comes out on top and that battle down the inside channel will be one to savour.
The last round was a huge step back from Italy. Challenged to demonstrate their much-vaunted new dawn of rugby with a scoreline to match, they simply could not hold out long enough against a spirited Scottish side to secure a win.
This weekend we've highlighted that Ireland, the Championship leaders, are in a spirited mood and looking to celebrate the career of their Prodigal Son.
Italy normally possess a player almost the equal of the great O'Driscoll in the sublimely talented Sergio Parisse, as good an eight as any to have graced the pitch. 104 caps, 11 test tries and even the odd drop goal.
But this weekend the great man is not there to inspire his troops. Italian reports suggest his leg is not up to it and they're saving him for the English clash.
Enter elderly lock Marco Bortolami to take the armband, another veteran of 100 tests, a man that has the unenviable task of providing enough inspiration for Italy to stop the floodgates from opening wider than the Irish Sea.
To coin an Irish phrase, things look desperate but not hopeless.
A win would be a miracle; a close game an achievement, but neither is possible unless Italian rugby support their stand-in leader and put in a performance of immense character in adversity.
by James While