Six Nations Round 2 Preview: Leinster stalwarts return as Ireland aim to bounce back

Patrick Boyland
08 February 2019

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After a thrilling opening round of rugby, the 2019 Guinness Six Nations continues apace this weekend with three mouthwatering clashes.

In Saturday’s curtain raiser, Gregor Townsend’s Scotland will be looking to build on a promising victory over Italy when they host Grand Slam winners Ireland at BT Murrayfield, before Wales then travel to Rome to slug it out with Italy in the day’s late kick-off.

Meanwhile, on Sunday, age-old foes England and France renew their rivalry at Twickenham as Eddie Jones’ resurgent side seek to make it two wins from two in this season’s competition.

With a whole plethora of Guinness PRO14 stars in action, here are the big talking points ahead of the weekend.

Wounded Ireland boosted by return of Leinster stalwarts

Looking for an immediate response to last weekend’s defeat to England in Dublin, Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt has plumped for the experience of Leinster duo Rob Kearney and Sean O’Brien as the Six Nations champions bid to get back to winning ways.

Kearney, who made his return from injury in the narrow PRO14 victory over Scarlets at the end of the month, returns at full-back, while the combative O’Brien bolsters the visitors’ back row for the trip to BT Murrayfield.

Elsewhere, Connacht lock Quinn Roux has been handed the unenviable task of replacing the injured Devin Toner. Making his first Six Nations appearance, Roux now has a chance to stake a claim for more regular conclusion after shining for the Irish province in seven league starts this season.

Opportunity also beckons for Glasgow Warriors centre Sam Johnson, who has been afforded another opportunity to cement his own place in Townsend’s Scotland side.

Forming an exciting midfield partnership with Huw Jones, Johnson will hope to negate the physical threat of powerful Ireland pair Bundee Aki and Chris Farrell and then punch holes in the Ireland defence when opportunities present themselves.

That midfield battle between the two contrasting pairs could well prove to be one of the decisive factors in the outcome of Saturday’s match.

Ospreys star handed chance to impress in much-changed Wales side

Wales coach Warren Gatland may have made ten changes to the team that beat France in Paris last time around, but few are as intriguing as the decision to hand Ospreys scrum-half Aled Davies the No. 9 shirt in Rome.

Davies, a pillar of Ospreys’ PRO14 campaign so far, forms a totally new half-back partnership with Dan Biggar, while Scarlets’ Jonathan Davies captains the side.

Meanwhile, one of five survivors from last Friday’s clash in Paris, Cardiff Blues flanker Josh Navidi will be key in stopping the hosts building early momentum at the breakdown.

By contrast, hosts Italy have made just two changes as they bid to bounce back from defeat against Scotland in front of their home fans.

Zebre’s Edoardo Padovani, who has two tries under his name this season, comes in on the wing, with Benetton prop Nicola Quaglio replacing Andrea Lovotti in the pack.

Once again, the onus from an Italian point of view will be on half-back pairing Tomasso Allan (Benetton) and Guglielmo Palazzani (Zebre) to provide direction and inspiration.

The scorer of 67 points in the PRO14 up to now, Allan, in particular will be confident of making waves in attack should the likes of Sergio Parisse and Dean Budd manage to win collisions and supply him with quick ball.

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