Six Nations 2021: The Breakdown – Wales on for clean sweep as England's Farrell nears milestone

By Sports Desk March 19, 2021

Wales need a victory against France in Paris to reclaim the Six Nations crown, and complete a Grand Slam in the process.

Wayne Pivac's team have enjoyed a sensational turnaround in fortunes this year and last week's 48-7 thrashing of lowly Italy made it four wins from four.

With France subsequently losing to England at Twickenham, Wales will wrap up the title with a win on Saturday, while even a losing bonus point could be enough, though that may still leave the door open for Les Bleus to snatch glory should they win their postponed fixture against Scotland.

England are well out of the race, but their captain Owen Farrell is eyeing up a points landmark when the 2020 champions take on Ireland in Dublin.

Scotland, meanwhile, round off what will ultimately go down as a frustrating campaign against Italy.

We use Opta data to preview the round-five, Super Saturday encounters.

 

SCOTLAND V ITALY

FORM

Scotland have won their last five Six Nations games against Italy – the previous 10 clashes between the sides had seen them share five wins each.

Italy have lost 52 of 54 away games in the Six Nations, with their only two victories on the road coming in Scotland in 2007 and 2015.

That victory at Murrayfield in 2015 was Italy's last in the competition. Their losing streak now stands at 31 games, and they will pick up the wooden spoon for the 16th time in Six Nations history.

ONES TO WATCH

Scotland have the best tackle success rate (92 per cent) of any side in this year's competition. Hamish Watson leads the way in that regard, completing all 44 of his attempted tackles – he has made 133 consecutive tackles in the tournament without missing one, the second-longest such run in Six Nations history, behind Lionel Nallet's 154 for France.

Italy's Sebastian Negri has made 127 post-contact metres in the 2021 Six Nations, the most of any forward in the championship.

IRELAND V ENGLAND

FORM

England have won their last two meetings with Ireland in the Six Nations and could win three in a row against them for only the second time, after doing so between 2012 and 2014.

Ireland lost to France in their last home game, only once before have they suffered defeat in back-to-back home games in the Six Nations – in 2010 versus Scotland at Croke Park and 2011 versus France at the Aviva Stadium.

Jones' England have won their last four Tests against Ireland, preventing them from scoring any first-half points in their last two meetings and scoring an average of 4.3 tries per game in that run.

ONES TO WATCH

CJ Stander announced his retirement this week, with the 31-year-old set to hang up his boots at the end of the season. This will be his final appearance for Ireland, having won his 50th cap in the 27-24 win over Scotland in round four.

Owen Farrell, son of Ireland coach Andy, is the top scorer in the Six Nations this year (44) and is just six points away from 500 in the championship. Only Ronan O'Gara (557) has reached that milestone exclusively in the Six Nations (since 2000).

FRANCE V WALES

FORM

Wales are bidding to win a sixth Six Nations title (since 2000), only England (seven) have won the championship more often. If they win this match it would be their fifth
Grand Slam – no other side has more than three.

Recent history is on Wales' side heading to the Stade de France. They have won three of their last four away games against Les Bleus in the Six Nations (L1), triumphing in their last trip to Paris (24-19 in 2019) despite trailing by 16 points at half-time – the biggest comeback for a team in the competition. 

Indeed, pre-tournament favourites France have won only two of their last nine Six Nations games against Wales (L7) after winning nine of the previous 12 (L3).

ONES TO WATCH

Antoine Dupont already has four try assists in this Six Nations, only five players have ever recorded more in an edition of the championship, with Frederic Michalak
(seven in 2006) the only Frenchman to do so.

Louis Rees-Zammit is the joint top try scorer in the 2021 Six Nations (four, level with England's Anthony Watson). Shane Williams (six in 2008) is the only Welsh player to score more than four in an edition of the tournament.

Related items

  • Doncic 'sore' but optimistic that neck injury is not serious Doncic 'sore' but optimistic that neck injury is not serious

    Luka Doncic is hopeful of playing against the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday despite suffering a neck injury in Thursday's defeat to the Phoenix Suns.

    Doncic, star man for the Dallas Mavericks, sustained the injury when he fell to the court after contact with Suns center Bismack Biyombo in the third quarter of the 109-101 loss.

    The two-time NBA All-Star was seen clutching the back of his neck after the fall and had to apply a heat pack to the area.

    The 22-year-old Slovenian made his way back onto the court to play out the final seven minutes, though he could not inspire the Mavs to victory as a four-game winning streak was snapped.

    Doncic is confident he will be fine to return against the Grizzlies, however. 

    "It's my neck. It's the spine," Doncic explained to reporters after the game. "When I fell down, I hit my back. It's pretty sore right now.

    "I think it's a little worse because it's the spine. But it'll be OK in a couple of days."

    Doncic, who registered 28 points against the Suns, played with a neck injury in last season's playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers.

    He has averaged 25.2 points per game this season, 5.1 more than any other Mavs player, while he also leads the team for rebounds (8.8) and assists (8.7).

    Across 31 games so far in 2021-22, Doncic's points average is down on last season (27.7 across 61 appearances).

    The Mavs sit fifth in the Western Conference with 26-20 record and .565 win percentage. 

    Thursday's defeat was only their second in 12 games, but the Suns simply had too much. Phoenix hold the NBA's best record so far this season, sitting on 35-9 with a .795 win rate.

    Devin Booker led the Suns with 28 points, five rebounds and six assists, and claimed trust within the Phoenix roster has been crucial to their success so far.

    "We all trust each other," Booker told reporters.

    "We had a lot of learning curves last year, but having that time and that experience together, I know put us in a situation where we never hit the panic button.

    "We never get flustered or out of whack. We just stick with what we do."

  • Premier League Fantasy Picks: Man City pair look bankers, Bowen could stun Old Trafford Premier League Fantasy Picks: Man City pair look bankers, Bowen could stun Old Trafford

    The Premier League is a week away from its winter break, but a feast of football awaits us before then, along with fantasy point-scoring opportunities.

    Leaders Manchester City head to Southampton and will look to extend their 12-game winning run in the competition, at the expense of opponents who are unbeaten in their last seven league games at St Mary's.

    Manchester United have a tricky assignment against David Moyes' West Ham, and you might consider a Hammers forward to break down Ralf Rangnick's defence at Old Trafford.

    If the time is right to back your strong start to the season, there are proven fantasy league performers to choose from here among this week's picks, and a strong case to be made for others you may not have considered.

    EDERSON (Southampton v Manchester City)

    Pep Guardiola's trusted City goalkeeper has kept more Premier League clean sheets (12) and faced fewer shots on target per 90 minutes (2.2) than any other goalkeeper this season.

    City have faced 50 shots on target across 22 games and have conceded only 13 goals, so another shut-out must be a realistic proposition on the south coast.

    Ederson has played in all but one of those Premier League assignments for City this term, and although Southampton have won three and drawn four of their last seven 2021-22 home league games – their best record since going nine unbeaten from March to October 2016 – it is the visitors who start this clash as strong favourites.

    JOAO CANCELO (Southampton v Manchester City)

    City's defence has been close to watertight this season, but Cancelo's role at full-back is more than just about stopping the opposition.

    Only the Liverpool duo of Trent Alexander-Arnold (10) and Andrew Robertson (6) have provided more Premier League assists among defenders this season than Cancelo (5).

    He has also had 44 goal attempts, with 15 of them finding the target, and his tally of one goal scored will surely grow soon enough.

    DAVINSON SANCHEZ (Chelsea v Tottenham)

    Can Tottenham be trusted to keep a clean sheet against Chelsea, in Sunday's headline game? This choice would represent a gamble, albeit one that can to an extent be rationalised by data.

    Since December 1, Sanchez has been involved in a Tottenham defence that has kept four clean sheets in seven Premier League appearances. Indeed, only Manchester City's Aymeric Laporte (5) has kept more clean sheets during that time among top-flight defenders. New boss Antonio Conte is making a difference at Spurs, no doubt about it.

    The counter-argument here comes with the fact Chelsea have won five of their last six league games against Spurs (D1), and beat them in both legs of the EFL Cup semi-finals.

    RAPHINHA (Leeds United v Newcastle United)

    Leeds United have woken from their slumber in the Premier League, winning twice in a row to climb to 15th place, just three points behind Leicester City in 10th spot.

    Last time out it was Jack Harrison who was the hero, with a hat-trick at West Ham, but Raphinha is their Mr Consistency.

    The Brazilian set up Harrison's match-winning third goal at the London Stadium, and since the beginning of the 2020-21 Premier League season, Raphinha is one of just five players to have registered 10 or more goals, 10 or more assists and created over 100 chances in the English top division.

    JARROD BOWEN (Manchester United v West Ham)

    Former Hull City forward Bowen has been involved in 13 goals in the Premier League this season (6 goals, 7 assists) and opponents Manchester United will be wary of his quality.

    Indeed, only Mohamed Salah (25) and Bowen's West Ham team-mate Michail Antonio (14) have been involved in more Premier League goals this term.

    To strike a slight note of caution, Bowen only has an expected assists (xA) total of 2.94, meaning West Ham have made more of his chances created than they would ordinarily be expected to, while Bowen is slightly lagging behind his expected goals (xG) total of 8.29. That said, the Red Devils will surely not underestimate his threat.

    ROBERTO FIRMINO (Crystal Palace v Liverpool)

    With Salah and Sadio Mane still away at the Africa Cup of Nations, Brazilian forward Firmino again looks set for a starting role as the Reds travel to Selhurst Park on Sunday.

    Firmino has been involved in six Premier League goals against Palace in his last five appearances (4 goals, 2 assists), having been involved in just two across his first seven games against the Eagles in the competition (2 goals).

    Starting with a double in a 7-0 win in this exact fixture last season, each of Firmino's last 10 Premier League goals have all come away from home. Liverpool have won their last six Premier League away games against Palace.

    ALLAN SAINT-MAXIMIN (Leeds United v Newcastle United)

    Can Newcastle beat the drop? Their best hope before the transfer window opened up a new world of possibilities appeared to lie with the fast feet of Saint-Maximin, and he remains their star attacker for now.

    The French winger has scored in each of his last two Premier League appearances, with those goals earning 1-1 draws with Manchester United and Watford.

    Now here lies the problem with trusting such form: he has never scored in three successive appearances in the competition. However, Saint-Maximin did score in the reverse fixture against Leeds in September, another 1-1 result for the Magpies.

  • Theo Hernandez has found perfect fit as left-back leader for modern Milan Theo Hernandez has found perfect fit as left-back leader for modern Milan

    January has so far been a quiet month for Milan – not that the Rossoneri will necessarily complain.

    While technical director Paolo Maldini has failed to this point in his pursuit of a new centre-back – Lille's Sven Botman was a target – he has crucially kept together a Milan team who are again contending for the Serie A title.

    The side's progress under Stefano Pioli has prompted links between a number of their players and super-rich suitors, with each possible departure having the potential to derail Milan's season.

    Indeed, Theo Hernandez's future could so easily have been the subject of a mid-season soap opera, such is the demand for superstar full-backs in the modern game. 

    Hernandez certainly falls into that bracket. Just three defenders in Europe's top five leagues – Trent Alexander-Arnold (38), Achraf Hakimi (36) and Robin Gosens (35) – have registered more goal involvements than Hernandez's 30 (tied with Raphael Guerreiro) since he joined Milan in 2019. In 2021-22, the France international's nine (matched by Reece James) are topped only by Alexander-Arnold (12) and Jonathan Clauss (11).

    Murmurs of a Chelsea bid were inevitable this month with Ben Chilwell out for the season, while Manchester City – playing right-back Joao Cancelo at left-back – and Paris Saint-Germain – never afraid to splash out at any position – have been credited with an interest in the past.

    Instead, Hernandez looks to be staying at San Siro.

    Hernandez happy at San Siro

    Hernandez, whose existing contract expires in 2024, is widely expected to agree an extension, snubbing the prospect of a big move. Of course, the player, who came through Atletico Madrid's academy, has already had one such transfer.

    Having impressed on loan at Alaves, Hernandez headed to Real Madrid in 2017 for an unsuccessful stay at the Santiago Bernabeu. In a single season in the Madrid first team, the defender was restricted to 13 league appearances (10 starts) and failed to contribute either a goal or an assist, creating a meagre eight chances.

    A return to some sort of form with Real Sociedad was followed by a permanent switch to Milan and at last certainty and a clearly specified role, leading the attack from left-back.

    Only Zlatan Ibrahimovic (42), Ante Rebic (32) and Hakan Calhanoglu (31) have since registered more Milan goal involvements in Serie A; Calhanoglu (168), now at Inter, alone has created more chances (107).

    "At Real Madrid, I lacked the confidence to play more loose and drive forward," Hernandez told The Athletic this week. "But at Milan, I've got it.

    "I can link up better with the strikers and forwards. What is it that I like? Attacking and going up the pitch. I play with more freedom to score goals and assist more."

    Perfect fit for Pioli's side

    While these attacking contributions are no doubt what has caught the attention of Chelsea and Co., Hernandez is unlikely to enjoy that same freedom in another side.

    At Milan, the 24-year-old's initial task is often simply to get the team up the pitch and into the final third – something he does exceptionally well; no team-mate since 2019 has carried the ball further (231.7 metres) or progressed further up the field (161.7m) per 90. With the license then to orchestrate the play as he sees fit, Hernandez does not always hug the touchline like other players in his position, preferring instead to come inside and use his close control to beat defenders, taking on opponents with 9.7 per cent of his carries.

    In the final third, as Alexander-Arnold – perhaps far more akin to what was traditionally expected of an attacking full-back – delivers 5.9 open-play crosses per 90, Hernandez opts for this route just 2.3 times over the same period. In fact, the Milan man takes shots himself (1.5 per 90) more often than he creates chances for others (1.3).

    Hernandez has similarities with Gosens (1.9 shots, 1.2 chances created per 90) in this sense, with both posting higher figures for expected goals (Hernandez – 0.17, Gosens – 0.25) than for expected assists (Hernandez – 0.15, Gosens – 0.12). However, unlike Gosens, very much a wing-back at Atalanta, Hernandez is typically playing in a back four.

    The signing of a strong left-sided centre-back like Botman – or Diego Carlos of Sevilla, another mooted option – would therefore appear to represent a commitment to Hernandez and his carefree approach.

    Hernandez's nine errors leading to shots in the past three seasons have resulted in three goals, as many as from errors by Alexander-Arnold (two), Guerreiro (one), Gosens, Hakimi and Clauss (all zero) combined. Such mistakes would surely be less costly with a reliable colleague providing back-up, allowing the full-back to continue attacking effectively.

    The leader from left-back

    Although "a complete defender" in the middle – as Pioli describes the blueprint for Milan's ideal signing – would help, Hernandez is determined to play his part in defensive improvement.

    "A full-back firstly has to defend and then has to attack," he told The Athletic. "That is what I'm improving on, little by little. I'm young still, I have many years of football left, and I'm improving on that defensive phase that I was missing."

    The need for improvement was evident in September's reverse fixture against Juventus, Sunday's visitors, when Hernandez's slack early header in the attacking half allowed the Bianconeri to break and, with the defender unable to recover, score through Alvaro Morata.

    Hernandez could still have teed up a winner at the end of that 1-1 draw when a drive through the middle of the pitch found him in position to slide in Pierre Kalulu for a chance the 21-year-old would like to have back.

    Indeed, Hernandez is far from the youngest, rawest talent in the Milan squad and has increasingly established himself as a leader since the game in Turin, wearing the captain's armband in the team's most recent league win at Venezia and marking the occasion with two goals.

    How he and Milan, stunned by Spezia in midweek, when Hernandez missed a penalty, would love to be celebrating again this weekend. With a contract extension on the horizon, Rossoneri fans soon will be regardless.

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.