World Rugby

Guinness Six Nations Round 4 Preview: Championship Up For Grabs In London

Guinness Six Nations Round 4 Preview: Championship Up For Grabs In London

Here's five key talking points ahead of Round 4 of the Guinness Six Nations. Can Ireland secure the title, will France rebound, Italian win? Find out here.

Mar 9, 2024 by Philip Bendon
Guinness Six Nations Round 4 Preview: Championship Up For Grabs In London

Round 4 of the 2024 Guinness Six Nations nearly is upon us, with the kickoff of Italy and Scotland in Rome mere hours away.

The penultimate round of this year’s Six Nations Championship sees it all to play for, with several key permutations in play as European Rugby’s big six take to the bench over the next 48 hours.

Here are five key talking points to track in this weekend’s action.

Ireland Chases Record Run And Title

Andy Farrell’s Ireland has firmly put to rest its agonizing Rugby World Cup quarterfinal exit by reasserting itself as Europe’s top team.

Thumping France, Italy and Wales without ever really hitting top gear shows just how far this side has come over the past four years. 

While the 2023 World Cup still feels very much like the one that got away, it does not detract from the fact that Ireland is right up there with South Africa and New Zealand as a candidate for the best side in the world.

A win at Twickenham on Saturday would further cement this legacy, as Ireland would break the most consecutive Six Nations wins record with 12. This would set up a shot at what would be a first back-to-back Six Nations Grand Slam when facing Scotland in Round 5.

Of course, this chat is unlikely to have been front and center for the team itself, but more one for scribes like this one to wax lyrical about.

Italy To Cause An Upset

Let’s be very clear here: Italy should’ve, and likely would’ve, beaten France in Round 3, if the match officials had correctly enforced the penalty kick rules.

Alas, a draw was the final result, and in reality, it still was a significant step forward for the Azzurri under new head coach Gonzalo Quesada.

Displaying exceptional resilience in the face of a French storm, Italy miraculously entered halftime trailing by just a long score and with a man up, due to Jonathan Danty’s impending red card. 

Certainly, one could make the case that Italy should have scored more tries, given the opportunities the team created, but it is also worth remembering that the Italy of old would have conspired to lose the match.

Now facing a team that once again will be favored to beat win, Italy has the capability to prey on Scotland’s ability to become complacent following a significant win over England. To do so, Italy will need to deliver a 9.9/10 performance with a moment of magic from someone like Ange Capuozzo.

French Power To Return 

There is little subtly in how French coach Fabien Galthie sees a path to victory for his team in Cardiff this week.

Shoehorning in returning captain Gregory Alldritt, Julian Marchand, Thibaut Flament and debutant secondrow Emmanuel Meafou as part of his eight total changes, Galthie is clearly looking to pulverize the young Welsh side.

In a bid to push the relentless nature of the fixture, the up-tempo Nolan Le Gerrac will start alongside Thomas Ramos in the halfbacks and will look to bring in his big one off runners early and often.

This strategy certainly was in play during the first half against Italy but was noticeably absent against Ireland and Scotland, where Les Bleus seemingly overplayed their hand.

At this point in the Championship, all that will matter for Galthie if he is to close out the final two rounds with victories and then reassess what needs to change to get France back to the dizzying heights of 2020-2023.

England Evolution Under Scrutiny 

It’s time to front up for Steve Borthwick’s England, which will face the best team in their year’s Championship. England will welcome Ireland to town.

In simple terms, a win of any kind would be a significant development for Borthwick, who is firmly in the firing line following a fourth consecutive Calcutta Cup loss to Scotland.

In 2024, it does not get tougher than facing an Irish team chasing a Six Nations Grand Slam, and as such, if the men in white can play spoilers, it would bring some much-needed respite for Borthwick and his team.

To do this, England will need a 10/10 performance, while Ireland will need to be slightly off, given where the two sides are in their development.

The much-heralded Felix Jones blitz defense has fired in fits and spurts but also has been brutally exposed and again will be, if England cannot execute it with more regularity.

In attack, outside of a significant shifting in the tides, England will need to be ruthless in its kick chase and rely on moments of brilliance from an undoubtedly talented backline.

Entering as 6:1 underdogs, there never has been a better moment for Borthwick’s side to shock the world; the question is, can they sow the seeds of doubt in what is an uber-confident and clinical Irish team?

Welsh Young Guns To Struggle

Moments are what fans of rebuilding teams hang onto, and this young Welsh side has had plenty of those.

Rallying from 27-0 down to come within a point of tying Scotland in Round 1 was followed by a late loss to England in Round 2, before being blasted by Ireland in Round 3.

Such is the disparity between Wales and the top sides, namely Ireland, at the moment Welsh fans and even their coach, Warren Gatland, took solace in pushing Ireland before losing 31-7.

Let’s be real, this mindset only has a limited shelf life for one of World Rugby’s proudest nations - one that is used to success.

To really leave this year’s Championship with a tangible marker of progress a win is non-negotiable, and as such, it would appear as though Gatland has targeted his team's final-round fixture with Italy.

This statement is built off the fact that he has dropped two of his most experienced and in-form players in Nick Tompkins and George North for this weekend’s clash with France.

In a rather head scratching move, the duo are replaced by Owen Watkin and Joe Roberts in the midfield against a vulnerable French side.

While Gatland has pitched this as rewarding his squad, from the outside, it feels like an odd juncture to pull off a move like this. Could he not have done this away to Ireland, where in reality, the result likely already was written?

Of course, Wales still could pull off the upset, but without its key backline leaders, the challenge just got that much tougher against a French side that could well click with its ultra-powerful ball-carrying pack and explosive backline.

Join The Rugby Conversation On FloRugby Social