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'Super Saturday': Six Nations title is Ireland's to lose

SPOTLIGHT: Ireland head into the “Super Saturday” final round of the Six Nations as firm favourites to retain their title where a surprise slip-up could result in the trophy heading elsewhere.

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The Irish are four points clear at the top of the table after second-placed England ended their dreams of back-to-back Grand Slams with a thrilling 23-22 win at Twickenham last week.

But if Ireland avoid defeat or claim two bonus points against Scotland they will be assured of winning the championship, while even a solitary bonus point would likely prove enough.

But a pointless defeat would leave Ireland sweating on the result of England’s game away to France later in the day, the final match of the tournament.

Scotland will be bidding for their first Triple Crown – when one of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales beats each of those other teams in a single championship season – since 1990.

But they have lost their past nine matches against Ireland in all competitions, with their most recent reverse a 14-36 pool defeat at last year’s World Cup in France.

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Scotland also have only the slimmest of title hopes after letting things slip in a 29-31 fourth-round loss to Italy in Rome, but wary Ireland coach Andy Farrell said: “When you’re disappointed, all you want is an opportunity where there’s a trophy on the line.

“And I know that as far as the Triple Crown is concerned, they’ve not won that for some time now and that makes them dangerous in our view.”

Former England international Farrell wants Ireland to finish the tournament with a flourish.

“I love winning titles, there’s no doubt about that, but this is an occasion for us to perform when it really matters,” he said.

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Scotland boss Gregor Townsend is under no illusions about the challenge facing his side.

“We know how tough it’s going to be,” he said. “They [Ireland] are one of the top two teams in the world and at home they’ve been virtually unbeatable the last few years so it’s going to require something special from our players.”

England eager to ‘back-up’ against France

England have travelled to France following arguably their best performance since a 2019 World Cup semifinal win over New Zealand, but they now face a France team whose formidable bench proved too strong for Wales in a 45-24 win in Cardiff.

“After such a hard-fought win against Ireland last week, we realise how important it is to back that performance up with another similar display in Lyon on Saturday,” said England coach Steve Borthwick.

France thrashed England 53-10 at Twickenham last season but, following the disappointment of failing to win the 2023 World Cup on home soil, have rarely hit those heights this year.

Concerns remain about their defence, which is set to be tested by an improving England.

“In their game-plan, they [England] attack often, powerfully in the middle of the field,” explained France coach Fabien Galthie. “We have to put our hands up and be counted, as we’ve done in the past.”

In Saturday’s first match, Wales will be bidding to avoid losing all five games in a Six Nations for the first time since 2003 – the last occasion they finished bottom of the table.

The Cardiff clash with a resurgent Italy has been given added significance after recalled Wales centre George North announced he would be making his 121st and final appearance for his country.

But North, whose current tally of 47 tries for Wales is bettered only by Shane Williams’s 58, is determined it should be business as usual, saying: “I asked them [the Wales squad] for nothing to change from what we always do.

“For us, it is a must-win game and the focus should never be on one individual.”

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