As the 2020 Guinness Six Nations draws to a close, Andy Farrell’s Ireland head to France with their destiny in their own hands on Super Saturday, taking a one-point lead in the standings to Paris after an emphatic 50-17 triumph over Italy at the Aviva Stadium last weekend.
Fabien Galthié’s Frenchmen will also be eyeing the top prize, which they can claim by reigning supreme at the Stade de France and bettering England’s result against the Azzurri.
With the showdown in the French capital kicking-off last, all eyes will be on the Red Rose’s trip to Rome earlier in the day, with Eddie Jones’ charges having to win to remain in the fight, preferably with a bonus point.
In the early game, a win for Scotland over Wales in Llanelli could help them finish as high as second in the standings if other results go their way, while home boss Wayne Pivac will be hoping to finish on a high after three straight defeats.
Away from Six Nations action, the Guinness PRO14 continues to get into full swing with another batch of hotly-anticipated fixtures across Sunday and Monday, with both the pace-setters and early-season strugglers looking to get the all-important points.
JONES SET TO BREAK WORLD RECORD
While Wales are ultimately playing for pride in the first of the weekend’s Six Nations matches at home to Scotland, there will at least be a cause for celebration for captain Alun Wyn Jones, who is in line to become the most capped player ever in international rugby.
The 35-year-old – who made his British & Irish Lions debut on the 2009 Tour to South Africa and has made nine Test appearances – is set to win his 149th overall cap at Parc y Scarlets, surpassing Richie McCaw’s previous record of 148.
Shane Lewis-Hughes will make his Wales debut in the back row alongside Justin Tipuric and Taulupe Faletau, while Liam Williams comes in on the wing having proved his fitness for Scarlets last week.
Finn Russell – who earned his 50th Scotland cap in their 48-7 triumph over Georgia last weekend – lines up at fly-half for the visitors, while Stuart Hogg and Jonny Gray return after their English Premiership-winning exploits with Exeter Chiefs, hoping to help Scotland to a third win of the 2020 Championship.
MULTIPLE MILESTONES IN ENGLAND CAMP
There are similar individual feats to recognise within the England camp, with scrum-half Ben Youngs hoping to cap his 100th England appearance with a bonus-point win in Italy that would shift all the pressure onto Ireland’s shoulders.
The 31-year-old will form a half-back pairing with fellow Lions star Owen Farrell, while boss Eddie Jones is able to call upon No.8 Billy Vunipola for the first time since the Rugby World Cup final almost a year ago.
In the front row, hooker Jamie George is also celebrating a landmark 50th appearance for the Red Rose, with the 30-year-old also having played three Test matches for the Lions on the 2017 Tour to New Zealand.
While England are strong favourites for victory at the Stadio Olimpico, Italy boss Franco Smith will be desperate to end a disappointing campaign on a high after their fourth straight loss last weekend, and lively youngster Paolo Garbisi could be among their biggest threats.
HEALY TO MAKE HISTORY
Ireland ran in seven tries as they blew away the Italians on home soil last time out, and lifting the coveted Six Nations trophy would certainly be a fitting way to mark stalwart Cian Healy’s 100th cap.
The 33-year-old – who made his debut against Australia in 2009 and went on to feature as part of the squad for the 2013 Lions Tour – lines up in the front row alongside Rob Herring and Andrew Porter.
A two-time Lions assistant coach, boss Farrell has made just one injury-enforced change in the midfield, with Robbie Henshaw partnering Bundee Aki in place of Garry Ringrose.
France haven’t won the Championship in a decade but impressed en route to victories over England, Italy and Wales earlier in the campaign, suggesting there will be plenty of fireworks in the final 80 minutes of the Championship that will decide everything.
PRO14 CONTINUES TO TAKE SHAPE
Away from the international scene, three unbeaten sides will aim to maintain their irresistible form towards the top of the Guinness PRO14 ranks, with Munster, Leinster and Ulster all boasting 100 per cent records so far.
Munster take on Dragons in the first of the weekend’s clashes, with former Lion Jamie Roberts set to feature for the Welshmen, who claimed Round 2 victory over Zebre in between defeats to last year’s finalists Leinster and Ulster.
Semi-finalists in 2019/20, Edinburgh will look to get their first win of the campaign away at 2016/17 champions Scarlets, before Dan McFarland’s Ulster kick-off the second bout of Monday Night Rugby away at Cardiff Blues.
Last season’s Conference A bottom sides Zebre and Ospreys will lock horns in Italy, while Richie Gray and Tommy Seymour will look to inspire 2018/19 beaten finalists Glasgow Warriors to victory over defending champions Leinster.