The Six Nations builds up to its crescendo this weekend and all the indications are that it will be an intriguing one.
With three sides still able to win the tournament there’s no problem with dead rubbers, although Wales against Ireland is the match which will shape the outcome.
England’s hopes of winning the trophy with victory over Scotland at Twickenham on Saturday are reliant on Ireland preventing a Wales Grand Slam in Cardiff beforehand.
Eddie Jones has stirred the pot by saying he thinks Wales could be tired because they’ve made the most tackles, while Ireland’s big-game players are peaking.
It’s definitely a case of mind games from England’s head coach, because I think Ireland are miles off it at the moment. They’re winning but are not at their dominant and convincing best, with things just not clicking.
However, as they showed in the autumn, they are a top-notch side and it was just the disappointment in the opening game against England in Dublin which has undermined their tournament.
Ireland struggled with the tag of favourites in trying to repeat last year’s Grand Slam, but this weekend they’re underdogs – a status which I think will suit them much better.
Joe Schmidt’s team head to Cardiff with the stage set for a typical Ireland performance where they can take pleasure in raining on a Welsh parade.
If Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray and Co can bring back their A game they have a great chance of doing just that.
Full credit to Wales so far, they’ve ground out wins but they’ve been dogged and determined to come from behind twice, rather than playing mind-blowing stuff.
I think Ireland will win and open up the tournament for England to claim in the later kick off.
Shuffling the pack
Jones has made four changes to his side to name a full-strength XV for the must-win tie at Twickenham but the exclusion of Joe Cokanasiga from the 23-man squad surprised me.
The 21-year-old winger was man of the match in the thrashing of Italy last weekend and although Jack Nowell has been excellent of late, I would have had Cokanasiga on the bench as an impact substitute.
Henry Slade comes back in for Ben Te’o after the experiment of two bruising centres in the last game. Alongside Mark Wilson he’s been England’s stand-out player and is fully deserving of a starting spot.
Although England ran in 57 points last weekend I don’t feel Jones will have learnt much about the Te’o-Manu Tuilagi partnership because Italy weren’t much of a test.
Overall the strength and depth of the squad is hugely encouraging, with the bigger picture of this year’s World Cup in mind, but I do have one concern.
Ben Youngs will become England’s most-capped scrum-half on Saturday, but there are questions about those behind him.
Dan Robson has dropped out of the squad with illness after little game-time, with Saracens’ Ben Spencer called up ahead of Danny Care, who must be worried by his lack of involvement. The depth is there at No9, but the order is muddied.
England will be buoyed by getting revenge for their defeat against Scotland last year, and if Ireland keep up their end of the bargain the Championship Trophy could still be coming to Twickenham.