O’DRISCOLL TO MAKE HISTORY/SEXTON INJURY RECOVERY

* O’DRISCOLL SET TO MAKE RECORD APPEARANCE
 
* SEXTON RECOVERS FROM INJURY
 
* HENDERSON IN FOR INJURED O’MAHONY
 
* FRANCE MAKE 7 CHANGES FOR MURRAYFIELD CLASH
 
* DAVIES BACK FOR TWICKENHAM CLASH
 
(Before I begin I have to say that I made a mistake in my last report. I had written that Mike Blair scored a try for England. I actually meant Danny Care! Mike Blair is a former SCOTTISH rugby player. Apologies!)
 
Well, Brian O’Driscoll looks set to make history when he runs out to the field on Saturday at the Aviva. His match against Italy will be his 140th test appearance, making him the world’s most capped player ever (he will have made 132 appearances for Ireland and 8 for the Lions)!
 
It’s a terrific achievement for the great man and does even more for his reputation as 1 of the best players ever and great to see him making that mark in his last international at the Aviva/Landsdowne (his home ground), but I wouldn’t have picked him to play against Italy.
 
I think O’Driscoll should have been rested for the Italian game as Ireland are playing France a week later and we need our best players in top form. The more games played the less potent the players will be. There are also the tough games ahead for the provinces in the Heineken and Rabo tournaments to think of.
 
Jonny Sexton has overcome injury concerns and is also picked for the game against Italy. However, I also would have kept him out of the game. He has already had a very tough season fro Racing Metro and has played 3 near-full tests for Ireland in 5 weeks.
 
That’s too much to ask of a player and expect him to remain on top form. He was clearly struggling in the last quarter against England. Taking nothing away from Italy (they beat Ireland last year, let’s not forget) but players need to be rested and Paddy Jackson needs to have at least 1 start.
 
Irish coach Joe Schmidt has made only 1 change to the team that lost to England 2 weeks ago, with Iain Henderson coming in for the injured Peter O’Mahony at blindside flanker (6). Italy have made some changes to their side, most notably bringing in Barbieri for Sergio Parisse at no. 8. Italian second row, Marco Bortolami captains the side, on his 103rd appearance for his country.
 
I would have liked players like Simon Zebo and Robbie Henshaw included in the team, both to give those players a start and to rest the more experienced players. Neither Zebo nor Henshaw are likely to be picked for the match against France, which means they will have not started a game in the whole of the 6 Nations. They would also provide more attacking flair, which Ireland are lacking at the moment.  
 
Italy will provide a pretty tough challenge for Ireland. Although Italy have yet to win a game so far in the tournament this year, they haven’t gone quietly. They lost narrowly to Wales and made a few mistakes against France before losing by a point against Scotland. Italy can never be underestimated. Ireland will want to make up for the 22-15 loss they suffered to Italy last year.
 
Ireland are still in the running for the 6 Nations’ title, being top of the table on points difference. If they manage a heavy defeat against Italy this should only increase  their lead as I don’t see big scores being achieved in either of the other 2 games this weekend. Ireland face Italy in the Aviva this Saturday, 8th March at 2.30 pm.
 
FRANCE V SCOTLAND
 
France and Scotland come into this contest with differing fortunes. France suffered a heavy defeat to Wales 2 weeks ago while Scotland narrowly beat Italy. France, however have had a better overall campaign so far, as they’ve also beaten England and inflicted a heavy defeat on Italy. Scotland themselves have suffered a heavy defeat against Ireland and an even heavier defeat against England in what was 1 Scotland’s worst performances in recent years.
 
Scotland’s record against France has been poor in recent years, managing only 1 victory in the last 11 years, a narrow 20-16 win in 2006. France have made a number of changes to the team that were steamrolled against Wales, while Scotland have reinstated captain Kelly Brown, who had been dropped after Scotland’s poor effort against Ireland and missed the subsequent matches against England and Italy.
 
Neither France nor Scotland have been particularly impressive so far this year, with both Phillipe Saint-Andre (French coach) and Scott Johnson (Scotland coach) coming under scrutiny for the somewhat lacklustre performances of their teams. Both countries are looking to restore pride to restore some pride. Scotland have the home advantage, which is a slight comfort. The match takes place in Murrayfield on Saturday at 5 pm. France are still in the running for the 6 Nations’ trophy but they’re last of the 4 contenders with only 1 solitary point difference!
 
WALES V ENGLAND
 
Save the best ’til last! This match looks set to be the barn-burner of the weekend. Wales comes into the contest with 3 consecutive wins against England, including last year’s 30-3 drubbing. England came to the Millennium Stadium searching for their fist Grand Slam title in 10 years are were soundly beaten by a terrific Welsh performance.
 
Both sides are still in contention for the 6 Nations’ title, having won 2 and lost 1, though England have a much higher points difference (21 to Wales’ 6). England were narrowly beaten by France before coming back to thrash Scotland and overcome Ireland. Wales struggled to beat Italy before been thrashed by Ireland and thumping France. There isn’t that much between the teams.
 
Wales have a far better team in terms of player personnel (13 of the starting 15 all starred for the Lions) and they welcome back centre Jonathan Davies, but England showed against Ireland that they have the ability to shut down the opposition with a staggering defence. There are some great battles to look forward to, especially the 2 captains, Chris Robshaw of England and Sam Warburton of Wales, who are 2 of the best open-sides in the world.
 
I believe England may just have the stronger momentum to overcome Wales. I don’t believe that it will be quite the drubbing of last year when England welcome Wales to Twickenham on Sunday, March 9th at 3! It looks set to be another great weekend of rugby action and should make the race for the 6 Nation’s title a little clearer.
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