Following the results from round two of the RBS Six Nations, only England and France are capable of winning the Grand Slam this season. France secured a narrow 10-9 win over Ireland whilst England romped to victory in Rome with a 9-40 win.
The game of the weekend saw Wales edge to 27-23 victory over Scotland, as Vern Cotton's men have yet to pick up a point in the tournament yet, just like their Italy, who they face on Saturday in Rome.
This weekend opens up with France travelling to Cardiff to face Wales on Friday night, in a crunch game for both sides. Italy host Scotland on Saturday afternoon which is followed by arguably one of the games of the tournament as Ireland travel to London to face unbeaten England.
Wales - France
Wales and France kick off round three of the six nations on Friday night in a crucial game for both sides for different reasons. Although Wales have failed to win both of their opening games, they can still win the championship, but not the grand slam.
France are 100% in this year’s tournament after wins against narrow wins against Italy and Ireland and are still on course for their first grand slam in six years. The bad news for the French is that Wales are looking to make history by beating their opponents for a fifth time in a row for the first time since 1927.
Justin Tipuric has been dropped from the line-up meaning that Lydiate returns to blindside flanker and Sam Warburton moving to No.7. Gatland's only forced change is Davies coming in for the injured Luke Charteris as the Racing second row is struggling with a knee injury. Bath fly-half Rhys Priestland has been passed fit and is on the bench.
Djibril Camara replaces the injured Teddy Thomas on the wing, as he is preferred to Stade Français team-mate Hugo Bonneval, in one of two changes to the backline. Maxime Machenaud is set to start at scum-half ahead of Sebastien Bezy who will drop to the replacements bench.
Ahead of Uini Atonio, Rabah Slimani will reclaim his starting position whilst Paul Jedrasiak also returns to the starting squad. François Trinh-Duc, who is back from injury, comes into the squad on the bench, replacing Jean-Marc Doussain, while Gaël Fickou, who missed the Ireland game for personal reasons, is back on the bench.
Both sides are unbeaten in this year’s champions, and a win for the hosts will see them jump to the top of the championship before England come up against Ireland on Saturday evening. France have not won the title since 2010 and a win in Cardiff would be one step closer to championship success.
Italy - Scotland
Scotland travel to the Stadio Olimpico on Saturday night with both sides looking to open their accounts on the board, as neither side are yet to gain a point in this year’s championships.
Scotland have the edge over their opponents at the weekend as they have won four out of the last five meetings between the two, but did suffer a 19-22 defeat in last season’s fixture at Murrayfield.
Italy will be without Carlo Canna for the tie with Scotland and will be replaced by Kelly Haimona at fly-half. Ornel Gega will remain on the sidelines after picking up a broken cheekbone in the defeat by England with Leonardo Ghiraldini replacing him.
Josh Furno will come in to the line-up to play in the second row as a replacement for George Biagi, and full back David Odiete will return at full back after missing the England defeat.
The big addition to the Scotland squad ahead of Saturday’s significant game is that Tim Visser will return to the match day squad, as the Harlequins winger has recovered from a hamstring problem.
Moray Low, prop Rory Sutherland will cover the front row as Sean Lamont drops to the bench. Duncan Taylor and Mark Bennett will remain in the centre and Peter Horne and Ryan Wilson will start from the bench.
England - Ireland
The weekends final set of fixtures is an old classic fixture with Ireland travelling to London to play England. Ireland are defending champions, but the title defence has yet to hit top form after drawing with Wales on the opening day, before narrowly losing 10-9 to France last time out. England are two wins from two, and a win this weekend will set them on their way to a triple crown, and possibly a grand slam championship.
The big news for England is that Saracens forward Maro Itoje will make his first start for his country with Joe Launchbury injured and Courtney Laws on the bench. Joe Marler will replace Mako Vunipola for the only other change for England.
Ireland have handed debuts to Stuart McCloskey and Josh van der Flier with the pair playing centre and open-side flanker respectively. Sean O’Brien, Jared Payne and Dave Kearney are ruled out, but Keith Earls will start on the wing for Joe Schmidt’s men.