For the second year running the Six Nations Championship comes down to a thrilling final day with several teams still in the running to take the title.
A year ago, England and Ireland were neck and neck with France also in with a shout, albeit a slim one.
England trounced Italy 52-11 in Rome, but it was not enough as Ireland’s 22-20 win over France in Paris gave them the silverware on points-difference and this season, points-difference is likely to decide the championship once again, with potentially three teams finishing level at the top.
Ireland, England and Wales are separated by points-difference and with none of them playing each other this weekend, they could all win and finish tied on points.
England have the current edge with a points-difference of plus-37, but on paper and traditionally at least, they have the hardest task.
The 2003 world champions host France at Twickenham looking for their first Six Nations crown since 2011, having finished second the past three years.
“Having gone so close in recent years has been tough for myself and the other guys involved. As a player you want to be picking up silverware,” England captain Chris Robshaw said. “Unfortunately, that’s eluded us a couple of times. We’ve collected the odd bit here and there, but to finally pick up the main trophy would be great.”
Ireland have a points-difference of plus-33 and travel to Murrayfield to take on winless Scotland.
On paper that looks an easier task, but Ireland have lost on their past two trips to Edinburgh.
They have never won back-to-back Six Nations titles, but prop Mike Ross believes managing to do so would prove more than merely a historic success.
“It would be huge, it would be a huge one for us,” Ross said. “It would certainly give us a huge lift going into the World Cup.”
Wales start as outsiders, despite a trip to Rome to face Italy on their agenda.
Their points-difference of plus-12 means they have to make up 25 points on England and 21 on Ireland to claim the title.
Although they have beaten Italy seven times in a row — including on their past three visits to Rome — it is 16 years since they last won in Italy by a score that would suffice to take them to the title.
Their past three visits to Rome saw them win by 17, eight and five points, none of which would be enough.
It means the 2012 and 2013 champions must not only try to win the game, but also be mindful of the need to score a sackful of points.
Perhaps, more realistically, they need Ireland and England to both fail to pick up a win.
“It’s a tough ask, but I think we can do it. We’ve reacted well in the past to certain situations like this,” center Jonathan Davies said.
There is another factor to take into consideration, albeit an unlikely one.
France can still win the title following their 29-0 victory in Italy last week — a score Wales would gladly settle for today.
However, for France to do so, they must beat England by at least eight points and hope that both Ireland and Wales lose — although they also need to overturn an 11-point difference to Ireland.
France have only ever won by that much at Twickenham once — an 11-3 success back in 1951.
Nonetheless, with England playing France in the final match of the tournament, it means Twickenham looks set for a thrilling climax to the Six Nations and a fitting prelude to the World Cup later this year.
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