Rome - A hat-trick of tries by George North sparked Wales to a
61-20 thrashing of Italy in their final Six Nations match on Saturday and left
it all to do for fellow title hopefuls England and Ireland later.
Wales coach Warren Gatland had been looking for a win of
over 40 points and he got it as the Welsh sprang into action after leading only
14-13 at half-time in Rome.
Their victory - helped by Italy being reduced to 14 men on
two occasions - ended France's slim hopes of the title as the Welsh went to
eight points, the French can at best get to six if they beat England later on
More pertinently the Welsh improved their points difference
to plus 53 leaving the English requiring a victory of 16 points over the French
and the defending champions Ireland a demanding 20 point win over the Scots in
Both Ireland and England are on six points.
However, Wales will have to wait to receive the trophy as
the authentic one is at Twickenham and a replica at Murrayfield leaving no
possibility of a third one in Rome.
If they win it they will be handed it on their return to
Wales on Sunday.
Ireland are bidding to win successive titles for only the
second time (1948/49), while Wales could be looking at their third crown in
four years and gain a boost heading into the World Cup later in the year.
England are seeking their first Six Nations title since 2011
as they host an under-performing France - who have not won at Twickenham since
2005 - in the final match.
With England playing France last, coach Stuart Lancaster has
decided to wait until half an hour before the kick-off to give his team talk so
his players are clear as to what they need to do - apart from obviously beating
"We firstly have to understand what will be the
challenge. The Ireland match in Scotland will finish at about 4.25pm (also GMT)
and we kick off at five," said Lancaster, who since taking over after the
2011 World Cup debacle has guided his side to second on the past three
occasions in the championship.
"We will have to make sure the players understand the
objectives. It might be just to win the game, or it could be to win it by 10 or
"It is certainly a unique situation where the end of
the championship is decided with staggered times, with the teams playing last
knowing there is a certain points differential to score."
For the Irish, who saw their dream of only a third Grand
Slam ended by Wales in a humdinger of a clash last weekend, it is a case of
sticking with the solid no-frills strategy of coach Joe Schmidt which has
served them well over the past two years but seen them score just four tries in
"For us there's big trust in what we're doing,"
said O'Connell, who will win his 101st Irish cap."That's probably the
biggest thing I see from a player point of view that's different from other
teams I've been involved in - there's massive trust in what we're doing."