10 Bold Predictions for Six Nations Matchday 3
A third of the way through this year's Six Nations championship and teams are already giving their impressions as to what might be expected of their prospects in the tournament.
Ireland and France have taken the initiative in assuming an early lead at the table's summit, while England and Wales still hold out hope of rescuing their claims for silverware.
With this weekend's break, we have a chance to look over the competition's opening encounters, amassing a host of predictions ready to be put to the test when proceedings resume in a week's time.
1. England Will Name Unchanged Side for Third Consecutive Week
Stuart Lancaster has come into this year's contest with his experimental line-up standing as one of the most discussed topics on hand.
However, despite featuring a back line of names many of whom have but a handful of caps to their name, the England XV has remained consistent thus far, with the promising start in France being followed up by a much more confident display against Scotland.
With Ireland next on the schedule, Lancaster will again field the same starting XV, with Manu Tuilagi unlikely to make his full comeback from injury just yet.
2. France Will Maintain Perfect Start in Cardiff
Yet to venture outside of the Stade de France in this year's competition, France receive their first Test in foreign territory on Feb. 21 with a Friday night fixture in Cardiff.
Philippe Saint-Andre's side are one of the front-runners to claim winning honours thanks to their last-minute win over England in Week 1, while Wales' lack of tactical awareness was a shock to see exposed in such a damning manner in Dublin.
Although the Welsh will still be a threat at home, Les Bleus will look to rip through the same holes that Italy found three weeks ago, but with greater clinical nature in the opponent's half.
3. England's Title Hopes Will End at Twickenham
Two defeats during a competition of this nature is a result that no team hoping to come out on top of the pile can afford to withstand, but it's a fate that awaits England when they welcome Ireland to London in Week 3.
Joe Schmidt's side won't be able to go at the English with an identical strategy to the patient, territory-based one that it took against Wales, but the New Zealander's squad are malleable enough to adapt to the more expansive approach at Twickenham.
Ireland's stars currently head the Six Nations table and will manage to overcome the task put before them in a ground that plenty of Schmidt's men will be familiar with.
4. Scott Johnson's Scotland Will Break Scoreless Drought
Scotland are yet to cross over the whitewash in this year's tournament, with a lot of the offensive progress shown under Scott Johnson's reign so far failing to show.
However, the prospect of travelling to the Stadio Olimpico offers Scotland the promise of an easier defensive wall in need of breaking down.
Jacques Brunel's young back line has already been penetrated en masse by the likes of Wales and France, and Stuart Hogg will lead the assault as his side break an extremely disappointing drought.
5. Italy Will Clinch Redemption over the Scots
A rather big "but" in that conversation, however, is that Italy have the means to hand Scotland a third consecutive defeat of their tournament.
Against France in Week 2, it was but a 10-minute stretch in complacency that led the Azzurri to a painful 30-10 defeat, but there were moments of great prospect prior to and after that.
The Italians matched Les Bleus in the scrum, even overpowering them at times, and it was fixable blips in concentration that led to their downfall, but the Scots won't be exerting the same pressure on their foes this time around.
6. More Than 40 Points Will Be Scored at the Millennium Stadium
Not since 2010 has Wales and France produced a game so rife with scoring that the combined points total has exceeded 40, but that pattern is set to be put to an end.
Saint-Andre's batch of bruisers travel to Cardiff in Week 3 with their back ranks in fine scoring form, with both starting stars like Yoann Huget and Wesley Fofana living up to their billing, as well as the reserve resources such as Gael Fickou.
Wales' attacking threat was restrained completely at the Aviva Stadium, but Cardiff's environment will be a more relaxing area for Warren Gatland's men to explore, with a bigger points tally coming as a result.
Possibly one of the most open attacking games of the championship is set to ensue in the third round, as forward packs and back lines alike posing significant threats with ball in hand.
7. Luther Burrell's 100 Percent Scoring Record Will Reach Its End
In Week 2, Gordon D'Arcy came back into the Ireland setup for Luke Marshall, presumably with the responsibility of ensuring that Jamie Roberts' physicality wasn't allowed to become an issue.
It's a tactic that worked for Schmidt's side, and the same will be the case against England.
Luther Burrell comes back to Twickenham having scored in his first two international appearances, but the same defensive holes aren't likely to be found against Brian O'Driscoll and D'Arcy, who restrained the Welsh danger with aplomb in Round 2.
8. Michele Campagnaro Will Top the Try-Scoring Charts
As things stand, Italy's Michele Campagnaro stands alongside Huget, Mike Brown and Burrell as the top scorer in the tournament.
However, the young Azzurri centre will find his scoring record rise when Scotland make the trip to Rome, Alex Dunbar, Matt Scott and Duncan Taylor not quite showing the stopping form needed to restrict their upcoming challenge.
Burrell and Brown face a difficult task in stretching their try counts against Ireland, but Huget would be a competitor to add more tries to his name should George North move from the wing and into the centre.
9. Cardiff's Centre Clash Will Tell the Tale
And that will be an extremely poignant part of whichever way Gatland decides to deal with the injury of outside centre Scott Williams, who came off with a shoulder injury after clashing with O'Driscoll in Week 2.
One option on the coach's hands is to shift North into the centre just as he did in Dublin or to bring the Ospreys' Ashley Beck into the fold, which would be a significant drop-off in the quality of the centre partnership.
Mathieu Bastareaud and Fofana have given testament to the fact that they're one of the most senior centre relationships in this Six Nations tournament; even the smallest crack in Wales' ranks is likely to be pulled apart by the French midfield.
10. Chris Robshaw Will Meet His Match in Chris Henry
Speaking of individual battles, an intriguing matchup stands to come to a head in Week 3, when Ireland's in-form open-side hero Chris Henry takes on England captain Chris Robshaw.
This tournament has seen Henry excel as Ireland's natural open figure, providing all the space-shrinking, ball-retaining mastery that one would like to reveal in the absence of a certain Sean O'Brien.
However, while Robshaw has been no shrinking violet as Lancaster's leader either, it will be Henry who again prevails over his opposite number, with Man of the Match honours not to be considered out of the realms of possibility.
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