To help matters along Italy and Scotland, still the tournaments lesser lights, face each other in Saturday’s early kick-off leaving the two sides still dreaming of a Grand Slam. England and France face the Grand Slam winners from the previous two seasons in Ireland and Wales.
It all kicks off tonight with a repeat of last yearÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s unprecedented Friday night fixture between a purring French side and a wounded-looking Welsh outfit in Cardiff. For anyone not required to negotiate CardiffÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s antiquated transport system to get home from what will no doubt be a feverish Millennium Stadium, this is the most salivating tie of the weekend.
Wales-France clashes are always titillating encounters and often the scoreline fails to reflect the form or supposed strength of either side. On paper, France should be odds on to crush a Wales side who were fortunate to defeat Scotland and who are missing three Lions from their tight five.
Marc LievremontÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s much derided long-term approach since he took over as coach in 2007 appears to be paying dividends with the likes of half back pairing Francois Trinh-Duc and Morgan Parra starting to look like the real deal. They also possess the game’s most in-form back row and Warren Gatland has called for improved performances from the experienced pairing of Martin Williams and Captain Ryan Jones in an attempt to nullify the likes of Imanol Harinordoquy and Thierry Dusautoir.
Wales, and for that matter the neutrals, will be hoping that it will be the mercurial French rather than the methodical one glimpsed so far this tournament who turn up in Cardiff and attempt to engage the hosts in an open attacking game. With so much talent in both back divisions, including the returning Mike Phillips who will make an appearance from the Welsh bench, we could be in for an explosive try-fest.
If it comes down to a matter of might however, then the French may well dispose of the Welsh with as little fuss as they did Ireland two weeks ago in Paris, and the odds on a Les Blues Grand Slam will narrow even further.
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BIOGRAPHY: Daniel Sturridge
BIOGRAPHY: Kepa Arrizabalaga