Five storylines to follow in round two, including a potential title decider in Dublin

Six Nations: Andy Farrell and Fabien GalthieCredit: Alamy

Six Nations: Andy Farrell and Fabien GalthieCredit: Alamy

The Six Nations returned last weekend with a superb round of matches packed with the highest quality rugby.

The championship heats up in the second round as a pair of title contenders go head to head, while other teams try to hold on in a desperate attempt to keep their campaigns on track.

Planet Rugby has selected five storylines to follow as the Six Nations enter its second weekend.

Title decider in Dublin

It’s the game everyone’s been waiting for; the world number one meets the number two as Ireland welcomes France to Dublin for the most important game of the tournament.

Both sides are coming into the encounter with a lot of momentum, having not been on the losing end of a test in a while. The two mighty nations enter the year as the favorites for the Six Nations and the World Cup, and are currently the shining lights for rugby in the northern hemisphere.

The intense discipline and intensity of the Irish structures always make for an intriguing confrontation with the flair-filled French side. The teams are well above the rest of the Championship meaning the clash is likely to define this year’s edition.

It’s like having a final in the second round. So brace yourself for a fantastic test, complete with some of the most skilled and intelligent players the game has to offer.

Will Ireland break the trend of World Cup year dip or will Andy Farrell’s men leave the door open to back-to-back titles for Fabien Galthie’s Les Bleus?

Test of depth for the top two

The mass clash is made even more fascinating by major injuries on both sides going into the game.

The French are missing several standouts, including the base’s tireless Cameron Woki, rugged Jonathan Danty and lightning-fast Gabin Villiere, while regulars in the 23, Maxime Lucu, Peato Mauvaka and Jean-Baptiste Gros, are also missing.

Fortunately, France has a lot of depth with the return of Paul Willemse and Yoram Moefana to those key positions. Galthie’s men barely crossed the line against Italy last weekend but continue to prove they know how to win no matter the circumstances. On Saturday it will be further tested how much the French team can handle under the pressure of an injury.

Ireland’s losses are smaller, but perhaps even bigger with veteran Tadhg Furlong on the front row and electric Jamison Gibson-Park offside.

To his credit, tight Finlay Bealham had a great display against Wales and is likely to continue in the starting line-up, with scrum half Test centurion Conor Murray on hand to fill the space left by Gibson-Park.

Both sides have stars to fill in, but it’s all about who makes the right combinations to win the small battles in what will undoubtedly be a huge match in Dublin.

Can Scotland deliver back-to-back performances?

Another Six Nations begins and another win for Scotland in the Calcutta Cup as Gregor Townsend’s men surged to a stunning 29-23 victory over England.

Scotland were outstanding on the day and defended superbly, with 12 of their players reaching double figures in their tackle counts and two of those over 20. Matt Fagerson topped the list with a whopping 26 tackles.

England had more of the ball and most of the territory, but Scotland wouldn’t back down and it’s a testament to the passion and ethos within the group at the moment. Townsend’s men scored smart tries and maximized their chances, typified by Duhan van der Merwe’s contender of the season.

As good as Scotland were, their biggest hurdle is ahead of them, and it’s not a specific game. It is their disappointing trend to decrease as the championship progresses. In the last two Six Nations, the side beat England in the opening round, eventually winning just two more games in 2021 and just one more in 2022.

The side are sensible about this and often speak of a drive for consistency, starting again this weekend against a Welsh side whose second stint under Warren Gatland got off to an atrocious start in the first round against Ireland.

If Scotland want to find a way to perform in the tournament, they need to .

Warren Gatland’s task is bigger than ever

There was much optimism surrounding Gatland’s return to Wales and the belief that he could stabilize the ship almost immediately, but those hopes were shattered by the freight train that called into Ireland last weekend.

In defense of Gatland, he inherited a disjointed and self-confident team representing a union in disarray after several off-field troubles.

The bottom line is that Gatland has some serious work to do to get Wales in a position for the World Cup, let alone the Six Nations, which could become a teething problem for the coach’s return.

The New Zealander would have liked to travel to Murrayfield with more positives from the game against Ireland. Instead, he faces a Scottish team still enjoying their sensational win at Twickenham.

It’s an uphill battle for Gatland, and while he may still be the only man for the job, the road ahead has only gotten longer.

Steve Borthwick can’t afford a fight against Italy

The pace of change at the highest level of rugby is brutally fast, and just a week into his first Six Nations campaign with England, Borthwick has already undergone a strong reality check.

While some might see a game against Italy as an easy depressurization, it is far from it. This Azzurri side under Kieran Crowley is a banana peel waiting for the giants of the Six Nations.

Borthwick is a great coach, but losing to Italy could spell early trouble. It’s just a game he has to win.

England lacked profit-line success against Scotland and as a result they need to improve the ball-carrying staff. The side also had a boatload of territory, but was unable to capitalize.

In the end, it is a team that is still developing under their new coach. Winning settles teams fastest and most effectively, and Borthwick knows that. He will be desperate to get a first Test win as head coach under his belt.

READ MORE: Six Nations: Ireland center Garry Ringrose rejects Six Nations Grand Slam decider meeting against France

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