What to expect this weekend as the World Cup looms large

Four familiar foes go head to head this weekend as the countdown to Rugby World Cup 2019 gathers pace.

Four familiar foes go head to head this weekend as the countdown to Rugby World Cup 2019 gathers pace.

England and Ireland locked horns in the opening round of the 2019 Guinness Six Nations in Dublin but attentions turn to Twickenham this weekend for the rematch.

Meanwhile Scotland and France, who went head to head just last week in Nice, are in Edinburgh as Scotland look to avenge their Championship defeat in round three earlier this year to Les Bleus.

Ahead of these two crunch clashes, with stats powered by AWS, we dig into the numbers to find out where the games might be won and lost.

England produced arguably their best performance of the Eddie Jones era earlier this year in Dublin, securing a 32-20 victory and handing Joe Schmidt his first ever home defeat in the Championship.

The Red Rose was in full bloom that day and after experimental sides for their first two warm-ups against Wales this month, they are locked and loaded at Twickenham this weekend.

11 of the starting XV that won in Dublin in February are named for Saturday’s clash.

Victory in Dublin that day was founded on a brutal English defensive display – they produced a Championship high 46 dominant tackles that day.

Mako Vunipola was the star with 31 tackles of his own and he is back from a lengthy injury lay-off to earn a bench spot this weekend.

Tom Curry made the most tackles of any player in the 2019 Championship with 97 and, with Sam Underhill alongside him in the back row this weekend, Ireland can expect more of the same.

The battle at blindside where Curry, who shifts there from No.7 to accommodate Underhill, faces off with Peter O’Mahony will be fascinating.

Those two men made more breakdown steals than any other player in the 2019 Championship.

But it will not just be about defence for England, their attack is also impressive.

They scored four tries against Ireland and 24 in the Championship overall so keep an eye out for Billy Vunipola.

The Saracens No.8 starts for the third time in a row in these warm-ups, George Ford and Elliot Daly are the only other two England players to do the same, and made a Championship high 71 carries.

The backline makes for interesting reading, with Ford and Owen Farrell paired at 10-12 for the first time in over a year.

Their kicking game caused Ireland problems in Dublin, Ben Youngs putting boot to ball a whopping 19 times, and the No.9 is also in the starting line-up this weekend for the first time.

Jones’ side kicked from open play more than any other nation (11.0%) in the Championship, Ireland meanwhile kicked the least.

But Manu Tuilagi – one further out at No.13 as Ireland’s tormentor Henry Slade continues his injury recovery – will be chomping at the bit.

Tuilagi made the second most linebreaks in the 2019 Championship and has made a mockery of his injury-blighted past to become the only England player to feature in every game so far this calendar year.

Ireland have also named a strong looking XV for the trip to London, where they won the Grand Slam back in 2018.

Jonathan Sexton misses out, Ross Bryne will made his full Test debut at No.10, but there are ten of the starting XV from the Dublin defeat named here.

That day at the Aviva Stadium, the battle at the set-piece and in terms of discipline was won by Ireland.

And as a result, Schmidt names the same front and back rows from that game.

Ireland pride themselves on their quick ball, they were the most efficient nation at the breakdown, with an average ruck speed of 3.22 seconds earlier this year.

So Curry and Underhill will have a job to do there while they also scored 64.3% of their tries from lineouts – the highest percentage from a single source among all team’s try origins in the 2019 Guinness Six Nations.

Therefore many eyes will be on Jean Kleyn in the second row who starts alongside Iain Henderson for his second Test cap.

In the back line Jacob Stockdale starts for the first time this summer.

The Ulster man made 137 metres with ball in hand against England that day, more than any other player, and despite his defensive slip-up that allowed Daly to score, remains a key figure.

He broke more tackles than any other player in this year’s Championship and his match-up with Jonny May, a try scorer in Dublin who grabbed six in all in this year’s Championship, should make for fascinating viewing.

Scotland were taught a tough lesson last weekend in Nice by France and as a result, Gregor Townsend has rung the changes.

Stuart Hogg is the only man retained in their starting XV as Townsend looks to continue to build his depth with the World Cup in mind.

Only four players who started in Paris in February are named here and one of those is Peter Horne who switches from fly-half to inside centre.

The other three are Tommy Seymour, Sean Maitland and Greig Laidlaw but the pack is an entirely new concoction from Townsend.

France meanwhile have opted for continuity, perhaps a little surprising considering this is the second of only three warm-up games pre-Japan.

But confidence is growing and there are only four changes this weekend, meaning eight men in Jacques Brunel’s starting XV also downed Scotland in Paris earlier this year with a further four on the bench.

One of those men is Gregory Alldritt and Scotland must beware the No.8.

He scored a double from the bench in the Championship clash late on and added his third international try against them last week in Nice.

Alldritt – who has a Scottish father – starts at the base of the scrum again this weekend alongside Arthur Iturria in the back row who also got through a mountain of work in Paris that weekend.

The 27-10 defeat in Paris owed much to Scottish wastefulness, they carried for nearly twice as many metres as France in that game and made the most carries of any country in a single Championship game with 172.

But they lost the set-piece battle heavily and missed too many tackles so Townsend has responded accordingly.

Blade Thomson makes a long-awaited Test debut at No.8 alongside Hamish Watson and Ryan Wilson who are both back from injury.

France struggled to get quick ball in the 2019 Championship, 4.11 seconds per breakdown was the slowest of all six nations, and Watson and Wilson will hope to cause more carnage this weekend.

After all, Scotland scored six tries originating from turnovers, more than any other nation in the 2019 Championship.

But in attack France are showing signs of returning to their former glories.

The 12 tries scored in the 2019 Championship were the most in a single campaign since they last won it all back in 2010.

Antoine Dupont was a key tormentor in both Paris and Nice and Scotland will need to stop the No.9 who made more offloads than any other player in the Guinness Six Nations this year.

Gael Fickou carved up Scotland in Paris in February to the tune of 80m from 13 carries and a game high two tackle breaks.

His centre pairing with Wesley Fofana looks to be gathering strength in time for Japan and Horne and Chris Harris could have their work cut out to stop them.

France’s scrum gave Scotland some trouble that weekend at the Stade de France, but at home Scotland remain a threat to all teams in world rugby and it should make for fascinating viewing on Saturday.