Six Nations: Five storylines to follow in Round Two including a potential title decider in Dublin

Dylan Coetzee
Six Nations: Andy Farrell and Fabien Galthie

The Six Nations returned last weekend with a stunning round of matches loaded with rugby of the highest quality.

The Championship heats up in Round Two as a couple of title contenders face off whilst other teams look to hang on in a desperate attempt to keep their campaigns on track.

Planet Rugby has selected five storylines to follow as the Six Nations heads into its second weekend.

Title decider in Dublin

It is the game everyone has been waiting for; number one in the world meets number two as Ireland welcomes France to Dublin for the tournament’s most significant clash.

Both sides come into the encounter with great momentum, having not been on the losing end of a Test in some time. The two powerful nations enter the year as favourites for the Six Nations and the World Cup, and are the shining lights for northern hemisphere rugby at the moment.

The intense discipline and intensity of Ireland’s structures always make for an intriguing clash against the flair-filled French side. The teams are a fair way above the rest of the Championship, meaning the clash will probably define this year’s edition.

It is like having a final in Round Two. So buckle up for a fantastic Test complete with some of the most skilled and intelligent players the game has to offer.

Will Ireland buck their trend of dipping in a World Cup year or will Andy Farrell’s men leave the door open for back-to-back titles for Fabien Galthie’s Les Bleus?

Test of depth for top two

The massive clash is made even more fascinating by key injuries to both sides heading into the match.

The French are missing several stars, including the tireless Cameron Woki, robust Jonathan Danty and lightning-fast Gabin Villiere from the starting side, while regulars in the 23, Maxime Lucu, Peato Mauvaka and Jean-Baptiste Gros, are also absent.

Fortunately, France has great depth with the return of Paul Willemse and Yoram Moefana in those key positions. Galthie’s men only just got over the line against Italy last weekend but continue to prove that they know how to find a win regardless of circumstances. Saturday will further test how much the French squad can handle under the pressure of injury.

The Irish losses are fewer but perhaps even more significant with the experienced prop Tadhg Furlong, hooker Dan Sheehan and electric Jamison Gibson-Park sidelined.

To his credit, tighthead Finlay Bealham had a great outing against Wales and will most likely continue in the starting set-up, whilst scrum-half Test centurion Conor Murray is on hand to fill the space left by Gibson-Park.

Both sides have stars capable of filling in, but it’s all about who gets the combinations right to win the small battles in what is sure to be a huge contest in Dublin.

Can Scotland deliver back-to-back performances?

Another Six Nations starts, and another win for Scotland in the Calcutta Cup as Gregor Townsend’s men powered to a stunning 29-23 victory over England.

Scotland were excellent on the day and defended superbly, with 12 of their players reaching double digits in their tackle counts and two of those above 20. Matt Fagerson topped the chart with a whopping 26 tackles.

England had more ball and most of the territory, but Scotland would not stand down, and it is a testament to the passion and ethos within the group at the moment. Townsend’s men scored clever tries and maximised their chances, typified by Duhan van der Merwe’s try-of-the-season contender.

As good as Scotland were, their biggest hurdle is ahead of them, and it is not a specific fixture. It is their disappointing trend of tailing off as the Championship goes on. The last two Six Nations have seen the side beat England in the opening round and go on to win only two more games in 2021 and just one more in 2022.

The squad are wise to this and often speak of striving for consistency, and that starts again this weekend against a Wales side whose second stint under Warren Gatland got off to a horrific start in Round One against Ireland.

Warren Gatland’s task is as big as ever

There was a lot of optimism around Gatland’s return to Wales and belief he could steady the ship almost immediately, but those hopes were shattered by the freight train that was Ireland last weekend.

In Gatland’s defence, he inherited a disjointed and unconfident team who represented a union in disarray after several off-field issues.

The bottom line is that Gatland has some serious work to do to get Wales into a position for the World Cup, never mind the Six Nations which could end up being a teething period for the coach’s return.

The New Zealander would have loved to have travelled to Murrayfield with more positives from the Ireland game. Instead, he faces a Scottish side still basking in their sensational win at Twickenham.

It is an uphill battle for Gatland, and whilst he may still be the only man for the job, the road ahead of him just got that much longer.

Steve Borthwick cannot afford an upset against Italy

The rate of change at the highest level of rugby is brutally fast, and just one week into his first Six Nations campaign with England, Borthwick has already had a strong reality check.

Whilst some might see a fixture against Italy as an easy pressure release, it is very far from it. This Azzurri side under Kieran Crowley are a banana peel just waiting to happen for the Six Nations giants.

Borthwick is a great coach, but losing to Italy could spell early problems. It is simply a game he has to win.

England lacked gain line success against Scotland and, as a result, they need to improve the ball-carrying personnel. The side also had a boatload of territory but could not capitalise.

Ultimately, it is a team still developing under their new coach. Winning settles teams the fastest and the most effectively, and Borthwick knows that. He will be desperate to get a first Test win as a head coach under his belt.

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