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6 Nations: Round 4 Preview

By John Birch

Ireland v Wales
Friday, 7.30pm: Ashbourne,

The penultimate round of this years 6 Nations opens with a fascinating clash between Ireland and Wales at Ashbourne, with a chance of the runners-up spot still available to the winner. Historically Wales have the edge in the fixture and they will be desperate to put in a good performance following the tongue lashing they received from their coach after the last round, but last years game went down to the wire and this season Ireland have been far the more consistent of the two. With the addition of home advantage (and a ground where they have yet to lose) Ireland must start as very narrow favourites. There is also a fascinating sub-plot as the game also brings together arguably the best two goal kickers in European rugby, Niamh Briggs and Non Evans a battle that Non won last season.

Head to Head Stats:

First played: 1996
Overall: Played 14, Ireland 3, Wales 11
Six Nations: Played 12, Ireland 3, Wales 9
Last Irish win: Wales 6, Ireland 11 (2005)
Largest Welsh win: Wales 32, Ireland 5 (1997)
Largest Irish win: Ireland 22, Wales 6 (1996)

Scotland v England
Saturday, 1.30pm: Edinburgh

For a tournament that began so well, this seasons 6 Nations had been a little disappointing for Scotland. Comprehensive defeat away to Wales in round two was followed by a draw in Rome salvaged with a Sarah Gill penalty seven minutes from time. It is not the sort of form to take on probably the strongest team in the world. England have strolled through this seasons competition, four hours of rugby marred only by a single try conceded to Ireland in their last match. Although Scotland have never failed to score at home in the Six Nations, a substantial English win does seem inevitable.

Head to Head Stats:

First played: 1994
Overall: Played 18, Scotland 2, England 16
Six Nations: Played 14, Scotland 1, England 13
Last Scottish win: England 13, Scotland 15 (1999 European Championship, Belluno, Italy)
Largest English win: England 72, Scotland 3 (2009)

France v Italy,
Saturday, 8.30pm: Montpellier

Italy celebrate 25 years of international rugby in June. The third nation to field a womens international XV, in their opening fixture was in June 1985 in Riccione when they held France to a draw the first time the French had failed to win a game. In many respects that result remains one of the proudest moments of Italys rugby history. Though they came close to surpassing it last season when they lead the French until six minutes from the end, Italy have rarely troubled the major rugby nations since. They did dominate their last game two weeks ago against Scotland, and were unlucky not to record their second Six Nations win, but France are a different matter entirely especially France at home and on good (if not yet outstanding) form.

As well as a win, the French will also be looking for a strong performance to assist their bid for second place in the final table. That position is likely to be decided on points difference and though France already hold a 30 point advantage over both Ireland and Wales, they will be looking to extend that as much as possible ahead of their meeting with England in round five. A French win then and probably by a significant margin.

Head to Head Stats:

First played: 1985
Overall: Played 9, France 8, Italy 0, Draw 1 (France A also beat Italy in 2000)
Six Nations: Played 3, all won by France
Largest French win: France 53, Italy 0 (1999 European Championship, Madrid)
Largest Six Nations win: France 35, Italy 6 (2008)