Six Nations 2018: Ireland face Scotland & can deny England third straight title

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Six Nations: Ireland v Scotland
Venue: Aviva Stadium, Dublin Date: Saturday, 10 March Kick-off: 14:15 GMT
Coverage: Live on BBC Radio 5 live sports extra, BBC Radio Ulster, BBC Radio Scotland & BBC Sport website and BBC Sport app, plus live text commentary.

Ireland could win the Six Nations this weekend but will “only be thinking about the Grand Slam”, says their former captain Brian O’Driscoll.

Ireland host Scotland in Dublin on Saturday (14:15 GMT) in the penultimate round of the tournament and could deny England a third straight title if results go their way.

But O’Driscoll, who led Ireland to only their second Grand Slam in 2009, says taking the title without winning every game would be “a poor second in their eyes”.

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O’Driscoll told BBC Radio 5 live: “[Ireland head coach] Joe Schmidt has been asked in the last couple of weeks by the media, ‘are you thinking about the Slam or are you allowed to think that far ahead?’

“He’s obviously doing the whole thing about ‘we’re just focusing on Scotland’ – but, undoubtedly, he’s got two championships in the bag and he wants a Slam as well.”

“It’s such a collector’s item in Ireland that he wants part of that prize.”

England play France in Paris at 16:45 on Saturday, a match you can watch live on BBC One and listen to on BBC Radio 5 live.

Wales, having made 10 changes, host Italy in Cardiff on Sunday (15:00) – a game which is also live on BBC One, BBC Radio 5 live sports extra, BBC Radio Wales and BBC Radio Cymru.

Rory Best and Paul O'Connell embrace after Ireland won the Grand Slam in 2009

Since Schmidt took over in 2013, Ireland have won two of four Six Nations titles.

However, of the current squad, only full-back Rob Kearney and hooker Rory Best – who played alongside O’Driscoll in 2009 – have experience of achieving a perfect record in the tournament.

“When you have a couple of championships in your back pocket, it’s a lovely footing to be working from because you’ve got them there. There’s security in that,” O’Driscoll told the Rugby Union Weekly podcast.

“But you want to elevate yourself into a really select group of players and coaches.

“I am telling you they are only thinking about a Slam.”

How can Ireland win the title?

Six Nations table: 1st Ireland, 2nd England, 3rd Scotland, 4th Wales, 5th France, 6th Italy

Ireland are five points above England in the table, undefeated and having picked up two try bonus points – against Italy and Wales.

So, if they beat the Scots with a bonus-point win, England must do the same at the Stade de France to take the title race to the final day, when the two sides face each other at Twickenham.

England have only managed one try bonus point – against Italy – and their failure to secure a losing bonus point in their defeat by Scotland has left Eddie Jones’ side in a precarious position.

But the head coach says he is “only worried about beating France”.

“I’m not a gambler and I’m not a speculator,” the Australian told BBC Sport. “The only thing I’ve got to worry about is coaching England to beat France. That’s the only thing we can control.

“If we play really well we’ll get a bonus point.”

Scotland to spoil the party?

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Scotland travel to Dublin knowing only a victory will keep them in the hunt for the Six Nations title.

Gregor Townsend’s men are third in the table, one point behind England, having also missed out on a bonus point in their 25-13 victory last month.

But Scotland have only won two Six Nations away games outside Rome – against Wales in Cardiff in 2002 and in Ireland eight years ago.

O’Driscoll says Scotland will not get the respect they crave until they can win away from Murrayfield.

“The big question mark for me is can they do it on the road? The only way you get respect in world rugby is winning on the road and that will go a long way to getting the credibility they’re looking for,” said the former Ireland captain.

“They’ve been very poor away from home the past few years and if you want to be eating at the top table with the other Celtic nations and England, then you’ve got to go away from home and do it the hard way.

“That’s why this championship is so difficult, those victories are hard-earned.”

England ‘lack leadership on the field’

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Six Nations: France v England
Venue: Stade de France, Paris Date: Saturday, 10 March Kick-off: 16:45 GMT
Coverage: Live on BBC One and BBC Radio 5 live, plus live text commentary on BBC Sport website and app.

Owen Farrell will captain England for the first time against France on Saturday in the absence of injured hooker Dylan Hartley.

Head coach Jones said the playmaker needs to be his usual “aggressive and passionate” self in the role and has the chance to prove his long-term captaincy credentials.

But former England scrum-half Matt Dawson has expressed concern over England’s lack of leaders after Jones’ side were destroyed at the breakdown against Scotland.

The reigning Six Nations champions conceded 10 turnovers and have the worst ruck success rate in this year’s tournament – but Jones has kept faith with his back row.

“I was bamboozled England didn’t even change the way they were playing after half-time or at any stage during the match,” Dawson said on BBC Radio 5 live.

“I didn’t see anyone step up and say: ‘We’ve got this horribly wrong, we have got our defence set wrong and we need to change it and compete at the breakdown.’

“That’s a concern for me that England haven’t got those players. I don’t see the leadership or decision-making on the field in adversity.

“This isn’t just in the Eddie Jones regime, this goes back a long way. We can go back the Stuart Lancaster phase, a long way back, to ask where are those players to get the team in and change the plan.”

Ruck success rates during the 2018 Six Nations - 1st Ireland - 98.30%, 2nd Scotland - 96.83%, 3rd France - 96.44%, 4th Wales - 95.96%, 5th Italy - 95.12%, 6th England - 95.11%

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