With the final warm-up games for the home nations coming up, it’s interesting to view the mind-games and the pressures that are mounting up for the respective teams.
For Wales, a home game against an Italian side reeling from a record defeat to Scotland in their previous outing seems a foregone conclusion, however it will be the means of the victory that will be important – and as with all of the other teams, getting through the 80 minutes without any tournament-ending injuries for their players.
Scotland face the toughest challenge of the weekend perhaps with a visit to Paris to face an apparently rejuvenated French side. A win would be a great leap forward for Scottish confidence although they face an uphill struggle.
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Arguably the closest match-up comes at Twickenham with England facing Ireland.
Both having been beaten the last time out will leave them desperate to avoid a second successive defeat before the tournament begins.
Both losses came with near full-strength teams on the field and came up short – in both cases with the opportunity to win the game, but not taking their chances.
Ireland, being the Six Nations champions, would on paper seem to be in a better situation: a settled team and in terms of world class players, they seem to have the balance – O’Connell, Sexton, Murray all have strong cases to being in the handful of best players in their position, something which as previously discussed, England hardly have in spades.
Home advantage, much hyped to give England an edge at the tournament, seems to matter less between these old foes than between other teams – the past 10 matches have been shared at five wins a piece; though in the last 5 matches, England have won all but the most recent encounter.
This tension has been added to a little by the quiet barb left by the Wales coach, Warren Gatland who suggested that whilst he’d like the strength in depth of the English set-up, he feels secure in that he knows what his best team would look like – England, he says, do not.
That can only add a little bit of anxiety to the heads of the players for the next game – already aware that it’s their final chance to state their cases for the starting XV for the World Cup.
Whilst England’s coach Stuart Lancaster denies that any comments from other coaches make a difference to their preparation, however in some distant corner of the Englishman’s mind there must be the thought that they need to impress.
Gatland’s charges would be content to cruise through their next test, whilst Scotland will be able to throw everything at their efforts against France without fear of failure. However for the parties at Twickenham on Saturday, there’s not much to gain but an awful lot to lose in terms of momentum for the World Cup.