The Six Nations enters its final round with England going for back-to-back Grand Slams in Dublin, while elsewhere there’s enough Super Rugby, NRL and Top 14 action to keep you going all week … not to mention silverware up for grabs in the Anglo-Welsh Cup.
NRL: Bulldogs vs Warriors (Friday, March 17, 3:00 pm HKT)
Rugby league is going indoors as the Bulldogs take a home game to the southern New Zealand paradise of Dunedin on Friday night. The Dogs and Warriors are both sleeper picks this season and both have lived up to that tag in the opening two rounds: the Dogs notching two narrow losses to the Storm and Roosters, while the Warriors only just beat the Knights before falling to the Storm. With home advantage effectively out the window, this is anyone’s game – it could end up 40-0 to either side, or we could end up in golden point.
Super Rugby: Hurricanes vs Highlanders (Saturday, March 18, 2:35 pm HKT)
Do the Highlanders even have 15 fit players this week? The injury crisis has even spread to the coaching staff with Tony Brown reportedly on crutches after picking up a knee injury at indoor soccer on Monday night. Still, their grinding win over the Blues last week showed they won’t go down without a fight when they take on the Hurricanes on Saturday. The Canes were outplayed by the Chiefs in pond-like conditions last week so will probably just be happy to be back on solid ground for this rematch of the 2015 Super Rugby final.
Six Nations: Scotland vs Italy (Saturday, March 18, 8:30 pm HKT)
The final match of Stern Vern’s Scotland tenure should be an easy win. The closest Italy have come to winning a match in this Six Nations was the 21-point loss against England at Twickenham in the third round of the tournament. It would be easy to predict another big defeat at Murrayfield this weekend, especially as, until last week’s rather limp effort against England, the Scots played some wonderful attacking rugby. But despite picking up their 12th wooden spoon in 17 years, Italy do have form here: they won on their last trip to Edinburgh in 2015. Still, despite dedicated Azzurri efforts to spoil the party, this has all the hallmarks of a high-scoring Scottish farewell to Big Vern.
Six Nations: France vs Wales (Saturday, March 18, 10:45pm HKT)
For Wales, permutations cover this match like a rash. Rob Howley’s side could finish second in the Six Nations with a win in Paris, if results elsewhere go their way. They could also move up to fourth in World Rugby’s rankings – which would boost their chances of a favourable draw when the World Cup pools are revealed in May. And, if Wales win by 15 points or more, France will drop down to ninth in the rankings, and into the third tier for the draw for Japan 2019 – or, as it’s colloquially known – the Pool of Death zone.
Six Nations: Ireland vs England (Sunday, March 19, 1:00 am HKT)
The Six Nations calls the tournament’s final round of matches, played one after the other in one day, Super Saturday. In recent years, it has lived up to that overblown title. In 2013, Wales demolished England at the then-Millennium Stadium to deny the visitors a Grand Slam, and win the tournament. There was Ireland’s epic win in Paris to round off the 2014 tournament with one final honour for the retiring Brian O’Driscoll. There was the bonkers 90-pointer between England and France at Twickenham in 2015. Now, there’s this. England, aiming for the double-whammy of a new world record of consecutive Test wins and what would be a first back-to-back Grand Slam in the 17 years since five became six, face Grand Slam-killers Ireland (Remember 2001? Remember 2011?). In Dublin. On Saint Patrick’s weekend.
Top 14: Montpellier vs Racing 92 (Sunday, March 19, 3:45 am HKT)
In all the brouhaha surrounding the proposed merger between Racing 92 and Stade Francais, it’s easy to forget there’s still the small matter of the Top 14 title race to decide. With the Stade half of Paris’ proposed new super-club likely to be on strike this weekend, it’s left to the Racing part to fly the flag for rugby in the capital. The problem is flag-flying has been beyond the defending Top 14 champions so far this season, so a trip to Montpellier, who are still riding a wave after last weekend’s big win at Clermont, is probably the last thing they need. Still … could be worse.
Top 14: Toulouse vs Lyon (Sunday, March 19, 7:30 pm HKT)
Things are getting desperate for Toulouse. The most successful team in French rugby history are languishing in 10th place, eight points adrift of the top six and in danger of not reaching the end-of-season play-offs they have, so far, never missed in the history of the Top 14. Missing out on the playoffs would mean no automatic qualification for next season’s big-money European Champions Cup – and that would be a disaster for a big club currently facing financial uncertainty. Their final six matches include tough trips to Bordeaux, Toulon, and Castres, so they really must pick up maximum points in their final three home games, starting this weekend against Lyon.
Anglo-Welsh Cup: Exeter Chiefs vs Leicester Tigers (Sunday, March 19, 11:00 pm HKT)
The Anglo-Welsh Cup, which helps clubs fill the domestic fixture gap in England and Wales during the November internationals and Six Nations windows, doesn’t often get a mention here – but silverware is up for grabs this week, as the next generation of Exeter and Leicester meet in the final at The Stoop.
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