Rugby’s Six Nations championship returns this weekend

By Stuart Stone

- Last updated on GMT

Showpiece tournament returns: the Six Nations rugby union championship begins this weekend
Showpiece tournament returns: the Six Nations rugby union championship begins this weekend

Related tags Wales national rugby union team

Egg-shaped ball sports dominate this weekend’s sporting coverage with the return of the Six Nations as well as the 52nd instalment of the ‘Greatest show on Earth’.

Wales v Scotland - Six Nations rugby union – Saturday 3 February – BBC One 1.15pm (kick-off 2.15pm) 

In something of a rarity in the tournament's history, Scotland finished above three-time Six Nations grand slam winners Wales in last year's tournament after an impressive showing which included impressive wins over Ireland, Wales and Italy – as well as a narrow defeat to France in Paris.

Since then, Scotland recorded their biggest ever victory over Australia with a 53-24 win at Murrayfield in the Autumn Internationals, and go into this year's tournament as a dark horse.

Coach Warren Gatland has been forced into several changes after a string of injuries – including Dan Biggar, Sam Warburton, Jonathan Davies, Rhys Webb and Taulupe Faletau – but the irresistible form of Worcester wing Josh Adams, the Aviva Premiership's top scorer this season, has been rewarded for his superb recent showings with a debut.

Taking home advantage into account – Wales haven't lost to Scotland at home in 16 years – as well as an influx of players who play club rugby together week in, week out for Scarlets, Wales are in a strong position to get this year's campaign off to a winning start after a disappointing showing last year. 

France v Ireland – Six Nations rugby union – Saturday 3 February – BBC One 4.15pm (kick-off 4.45pm)

Last year, France bounced back from a sub-par Six Nations spell to finish in the competition’s top half for the first time since 2011.

However, having won only seven of their previous 21 Tests under former head coach Guy Noves and current boss Jacques Brunel, the odds look stacked against the five-time Six Nations champions getting off to a positive start against a much fancied though relatively inexperienced – of the 36 players in the Ireland squad, 15 players have fewer than 10 Test caps – Irish side.

Brunel has rung the changes in his French side, installing teenager Matthieu Jalibert at fly half in his most high-profile alteration.

Italy v England – Six Nations rugby union – Sunday 4 February – ITV 2.15pm (kick-off 3pm) 

England kick off the defence of their Six Nations crown in the eternal city against eternal wooden spoon contenders Italy.

While Italy have improved drastically since joining the competition in the year 2000, defending champions England go into the game at Rome Stadio Olympico as heavy favourites and having never lost to their hosts in 23 encounters since they first met in 1991 – with their largest win coming in 2001 when they romped to an 80-23 win at Twickenham.

Eddie Jones will welcome back centre Ben Teo’o from injury for his first England Test for over a year while Sam Simmonds will win his fourth cap at number eight – in the absence of injured pair Billy Vunipola and Nathan Hughes – as part of a back row that, while not being first choice, is still one that can cause damage and contribute to an expected England victory on Sunday.

Read The Morning Advertiser​’s guide to cashing in on the Six Nations here.

Liverpool v Tottenham – Premier League football – Sunday 4 February – Sky Sports Main Event 4.15pm (kick-off 4.30pm)

With the top two contenders for the golden boot in Liverpool’s Mo Salah and Tottenham’s Harry Kane, the outcome of this weekend’s fixture could have big ramifications in the race for Champions League football next season.

Before a 4-1 win over the Reds last season, Tottenham’s recent Premier League record against Liverpool has been abysmal – they hadn’t beaten the Merseysiders in nine attempts since a 2-1 win at White Hart Lane, which featured a goal at both ends for Gareth Bale.

Spurs come into this weekend’s fixture in superb form after a midweek 2-0 win over Manchester United – which featured the fastest goal scored against United in the Premier League era courtesy of Christian Eriksen. Mauricio Pochettino’s side haven’t lost since a 4-1 reverse against table-topping Manchester City on 16 December, and have since strengthened their squad with the addition of Brazilian Lucas Moura on transfer deadline day.

Since ending Manchester City’s unbeaten run after losing talisman Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona in January, the Reds slumped to a disappointing defeat to Swansea before beating Huddersfield 3-0 in midweek. 

Philadelphia Eagles v New England Patriots – NFL, Super Bowl 52 – Sky Sports Main Event 11pm 

All four hours of the Super Bowl will be beamed live from Minneapolis' impressive US Bank Stadium on Sunday night as the defending champions the New England Patriots take on the Philadelphia Eagles.

A tale of two quarterbacks may well unfold in the 52nd installation of American football's flagship event, as 40-year-old, five-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady of the Patriots lines up against the Eagles that will be led by second string quarterback Nick Foles after an injury to the Eagles' impressive starter Carson Wentz earlier in the season.

The Patriots have a chance to become the joint record holders for Super Bowl wins on Sunday Night by winning their sixth title to draw level with the Pittsburgh Steelers with all five of their titles coming since the turn of the century.

Read The Morning Advertiser​ ’s guide to making the most of the Super Bowl here.

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