It’s hard to look at this weekend’s Six Nations match between France and Ireland and not see it as a Grand Slam decider.
We may only be in the second round of the championship but if there turns out to be an unbeaten side this year it’ll be the winner of this match. I don’t think Scotland, the other round one winners, will achieve the feat.
It’s going to be a humdinger in Paris – two brilliant sides going at it – but it’s such a shame to see Johnny Sexton missing from the Ireland squad with a hamstring injury.
The player is absolutely class but he is so brittle, and any Irish replacement just isn’t at his level.
Ireland’s stand-in Joey Carbery or France No10 Romain Ntamack? I know which one I would have. The level between Sexton and everyone else – Carbery included – is noticeable.
He could struggle up against the class of Antoine Dupont and Ntamack and the kicking option of Melvyn Jaminet, but at least he’s got the brilliant Jamison Gibson-Park alongside him to help.
On the bench, it’s noticeable too that Ireland have Iain Henderson and Robbie Henshaw back while France have gone for a six-two split between forwards and backs.
It’s clear this game is going to be one of high quality but France should have enough to win the bruising encounter. It really is a decider.
Slam in Cardiff?
Back on home nation shores however, Scotland have got a really good chance of going two from two when they face Wales in Cardiff for the Doddie Weir Cup.
I was due to be cycling with other ex-players from Edinburgh to Cardiff and delivering the match ball as part of the Doddie Weir 500 charity ride, but I am taking part virtually now as I caught Covid-19.
I just don’t see Wales winning. Josh Adams struggled at No13 last week and he’s since picked up a tight calf, while Ellis Jenkins doesn’t feature – which is a surprise.
On the Scotland side it was confirmed yesterday that Jamie Richie would be out for the tournament which is a massive shame for them. He’s a huge loss.
Wales will come into this with fire in their belly. They were totally outplayed last week and can’t let it happen again.
If Scotland continue their winning start then their match in round three against France becomes their biggest in years.
The less said about England the better. The game at Murrayfield last weekend was perfectly good and the momentum swung on a single moment: Luke Cowan-Dickie’s yellow card and the penalty try.
Neither side played badly and England still picked an exciting squad in my eyes.
Consistency can be key at international level – such as the Damian De Allende and Lukhanyo Am centre partnership for South Africa – and I think England need a bit more of that going forward.
Italy is always a poisoned chalice. You’re expected to win but criticised if it’s not by enough – though many who want France to win the Grand Slam were quiet about them winning by 27 when it could have been much more.
Former England Sevens captain Ollie Phillips is participating in the Doddie Weir 500 to raise money for the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation. To donate: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/the-wheel-deals Follow Ollie on Twitter and on LinkedIn.