With two rounds of the Guinness Six Nations behind us, already the calculators are coming out as to how the final table could shake up.
At this stage, France are the only remaining team in with a chance of a Grand Slam, and if Les Bleus can conquer Edinburgh and Cardiff before seeing off England in Paris, then there will be no catching them.
That is a big if though. Under Fabien Galthié, France have twice before won their first two games in the Championship, but lost in both 2020 and 2021 to Scotland.
Next up? Well that would be Gregor Townsend’s men, and there will be supporters from all over hoping the Scots can do them a favour and make it three in a row in the Guinness Six Nations (France won at BT Murrayfield in the Autumn Nations Cup in 2020).
If they do, then it could be very tight indeed heading into the final two weekends.
With that in mind, let us have a look at some of the possible permutations ahead of Round 3.
FRANCE TRY TO END EDINBURGH STRUGGLES
If France can achieve something that only Wales have previously done since Steve Tandy came on board as Scotland defence coach – score four tries in victory against the Scots, then they will be in pole position.
Maximum points would take them to 14 points from three matches, while their +33 points difference currently leads the way.
The closest that any team could get to them would be 11 points, England and Ireland both at home to Wales and Italy respectively. With those two set to meet in Round 4, it might be that they need the five points to keep the pressure on the French in this scenario.
Even four points would leave the French in control, but they have lost four of their last five in Edinburgh including the last three in the Championship.
With four match points, France would be assured of at least a two-point buffer heading into the penultimate weekend. Not enough to be feeling comfortable, but a handy advantage nonetheless.
Scotland, who currently trail France by four points in the table, and by 33 in points difference, know that only a win will realistically keep them in contention.
Should they match the result of two years ago, a 28-17 success, they would be right back in it however, level in the table and trailing by just 11 on points difference.
With trips to Italy and Ireland to follow, it would not be easy, but their destiny would be in their hands. A bonus-point success and that becomes even more the case.
DECISIVE ANGLO-WELSH CLASH
The Guinness Six Nations can be won with three wins and two defeats, but realistically, the loser at Twickenham in Round 3’s clash between England and Wales will be all but out of contention.
That is particularly true if Wales were to lose with the defending champions currently sat on four points. Even with a bonus-point win, they would need a hefty points difference swing to catch leaders France before hosting Les Bleus.
But a win in England would show that their Scotland success was no flash in the pan and the leading pack might start to get a little nervous about yet another Welsh revival.
England, meanwhile, showed in 2020 that it is possible to lose your opening game and win the Championship. They are already up to second, with two home games coming up, and could conceivably end Round 3 atop the table.
With Ireland and France to come in the final rounds, that would be no guarantee of a title, but they will be confident, having not lost at home to Wales since the 2015 World Cup.
PRESSURE ON IRELAND TO RACK UP POINTS
Under Joe Schmidt, Ireland twice won the title on points difference, albeit in the era before bonus points.
A losing bonus point might not have felt like much of a consolation in Paris, but it could prove crucial in the final shakeup. Two years ago it was England who were blown away early at the Stade de France and ended up with a point that won them the Championship. Could history repeat itself?
Ireland will certainly hope so, and they will be keen to boost their points difference against Italy. Currently on +16, they trail the top two as it stands by 14 and 17 points respectively, but have a good recent home record against the Azzurri when it comes to their attack.
Kieran Crowley’s side look better organised in defence this year, but as Wales found in Round 1, a trip to Dublin is a formidable challenge at the moment.
If Ireland can secure maximum points, then a French defeat in Scotland could easily see them leading the way after Round 3, albeit with a tough trip to Twickenham next up.
BEYOND ROUND 3?
Predicting what will happen after the second rest week would be foolish but it is likely that England’s home clash with Ireland at Twickenham will have huge ramifications.
If both teams win next time out, then that will potentially be a decider to see which team is still in contention on Super Saturday.
And were France to go down either in Edinburgh or Cardiff, we may find ourselves back in 2015 territory where four teams were still in contention on Super Saturday. That day it was Ireland who snuck home on points difference from England.
Bonus points could be just as crucial this time around and we could yet find ourselves in a situation where Ireland are hoping for a favour from England on the final weekend in Paris.
So there you have it, a whole host of different scenarios and potential leaders after Round 3. If this weekend was anything to go by, we should expect the unexpected.
PLAY GUINNESS SIX NATIONS FANTASY RUGBY