Rugby fans delight in thrill of four-way Six Nations contest

Reuters, LONDON

Fri, Mar 07, 2014 - Page 18

Southern hemisphere rugby fans might be underwhelmed by the standard of some Six Nations matches, but they cannot help but envy the excitement, with this season’s championship turning into a real nail-biter.

Ireland, England, Wales and France are all on four points after winning two and losing one of their up for grabs going into the penultimate weekend.

After losing their first game in Paris, England have fought back to put themselves in a great position to win what would be only their second title in 11 years.

They host Wales on Sunday and finish off away to Italy six days later and, although two more wins might not be enough, it could well be.

Wales are also in a good spot, considering they suffered a 26-3 thrashing in Dublin on Feb. 8. Should they triumph at Twickenham as they did in 2012, then the Welsh side might need only a home win over Scotland to secure an unprecedented third straight outright title.

Ireland have the advantage in terms of points difference — 42 to the 21 of England, six of Wales and one for France — and will expect to extend that at home to Italy tomorrow. However, they finish off with a daunting trip to Paris in the final game of the championship on March 15.

The points difference might prove too much for the French side to make up, but they should improve it tomorrow when they seek their 15th win in 16 championship meetings with Scotland.

Last season, Italy and Scotland beat Ireland, while France came last after losses to Italy and Wales. England went into their final match dreaming of a grand slam, but got smashed 30-3 as Wales took the title from their grasp.

The two teams meet again on Sunday and nobody in the England camp is shying away from the debt they owe , the only European side that England coach Stuart Lancaster has failed to beat in his two and a bit years in charge.

“I’d be lying if I said we didn’t still carry an awful lot of hurt because that was a tough one to take. We ended up with a pretty embarrassing scoreline,” said Tom Wood, forced into an emergency No. 8 at the Millennium Stadium, but back on the blindside flank on Sunday. “I don’t think we were bullied, I think we just got shell-shocked a little bit. That was a pretty harsh lesson so I’m looking forward to, hopefully, reciprocating.”

England are already looking a different side 12 months on, with a host of new faces, especially in the backline. Yet Wales will go into the game with their British and Irish Lions backbone intact and equally confident.

They are further boosted by the return of Jonathan Davies, one of the biggest successes of the Lions’ series victory over Australia.

The center will make his first appearance since suffering a chest injury in November last year, paving the way for George North to return to his favored wing position.