The Six Nations has been a chance for World Cup hopefuls to show off their credentials in the annual tournament before travelling to Japan to fight it out against the best sides in world Rugby this autumn.
The tournament has thrown up twists and turns in it’s four games so far, leaving three chasing top spot in match-week five.
Ireland’s poor start against England in Dublin saw them respond with three victories against Italy, France and Scotland, earning two bonus points on their run.
England stunned the Irish with their win and bonus point in Dublin, and have registered three bonus points in total so far this campaign. However they were halted in Cardiff as a resilient and stubborn Welsh side slowed down a rampant England.
Wales remain the only undefeated side and therefore the only nation who could claim the Grand Slam. Victory would see them win the competition for the first time since 2013, but in order to do that they’ll need to overcome an Irish side who they themselves could retain their title with a win.
If Wales fail to win, all eyes will be on Twickenham and England as they hope to beat the Scots and claim the Championship.
Former Scottish captain, Eric Peters, believes there’s quality in the Scotland side heading into the Calcutta Cup, which they haven’t won since 2008. Despite his optimism, he believes they’ll be disappointed with how their campaign has gone this year.
He said: “Scotland will be disappointed so far, last year they only won 3 out of the 5 games, and they’ve already lost three this year with England at Twickenham still to come, so it’s a tough battle.
“Scotland are struggling a little bit from strength in depth and they’ve always struggled in this area. Their first team is always up there and on their day they can win.
“Gregor Townsend is one of the players I played with and I think he’s doing a very good job with the current batch. I think they’re struggling with injuries and a lot of guys who would be considered for selection aren’t fit and I do think that affects Scotland more than a bigger nation like England or France where they have a much bigger pool”.
Despite the strength of other sides, expectation is always high in Scotland. Peters understands that better than most, having vice-captained his nation in the last year Scotland won the Championship, back in 1999 before Italy joined to take it from the Five Nations to six.
“I think Scotland have had some very good players over the years. It’s a bit like Italy. People are saying Italy haven’t won a game for a while, but for Scotland they’re saying they haven’t won the Championship since 1999. 20 years is a long time but they are showing some very good signs that they can compete with the very best sides.
“They beat England last year, they beat France last year and they’ve beaten quite a few of the southern hemisphere sides as well. The elusive victory against the All-Blacks is very hard, but other than that they’ve beaten Argentina, they’ve beaten South Africa, they’ve been Australia, so you’ve got to take confidence from that and on their day they can do it”, Eric said.
Having won the Championship before, Eric knows exactly what it takes to do so, and wonders whether the Scottish side have the consistency to go through a whole campaign maintaining high levels, but also finding a way to win when games don’t go there way, just as Wales have done this year.
“The issue is trying to get that consistency. To win that Championship you’ve got to get a momentum going and that comes from winning the first game and keeping it up. It does seem to be, and we’ve seen that with England, if they played the Wales game at home they’d have won that game. The Welsh sucked it up and were in with a shout, with the crowd behind them.”
If there’s one thing the Welsh have had over their rivals it’s consistency. They haven’t been stellar in individual games where you could argue England and Ireland have. Despite that though, they’ve found a way to win difficult away games before beating England, who enjoyed a dominant display in Ireland weeks earlier.
Wales have proved before that they’re more than capable of stopping the favourites, and with the added motivation of the Grand Slam and a sold out Principality Stadium, there’s no reason why they can’t do it again.
Peters echoed those thoughts: “The Welsh have quietly gone about their business, they didn’t play brilliantly in their first two games but they won them and they won them away from home so that really puts them in a strong position. They’re at home this weekend which makes it incredibly interesting”
Scotland could have a real part to play in the final day of the Six Nations, though perhaps it won’t be in the fashion they’d have hoped for. If Wales fail to beat Ireland, then it all comes down to whether Scotland can hold England out and land the trophy in the hands of the Irish, whilst claiming themselves a first Calcutta Cup triumph for 11 years.
Eric himself is undecided on who will run out eventual winners by the end: “I could see the Irish sneaking it on the final day. They’ve still got the chance to win it against Wales. England still have a great chance to win the Championship but it’s up to Wales not to lose the game! That’s part of the beauty of the Championship, it doesn’t always go to what people perceive as form. At the start of the Championship I’d have said Ireland, now Ireland haven’t really played that well yet, but they’re a capable side and they’ve had injuries.
“First week we thought Ireland were the strongest but they didn’t turn up, then two great performances by England made you think it could be them, but it’s for Wales to lose now. I think it could come down to bonus points as the Welsh may lose the game. It’s a three-horse race.”