Wales welcome England to Cardiff in the Six Nations on Saturday with visiting coach Eddie Jones warning his team to expect all manner of “shenanigans” from the hosts.
In Saturday’s earlier game Ireland travel to Italy determined to bounce back after their opening defeat by Scotland, while on Sunday Vern Cotter’s buoyant Scots travel to Paris, where they have not won since 1999.
But the undoubted highlight of the weekend is the 130th edition of Wales and England, a fixture that was first played in 1881.
“You go to the hotel and unless you take steps, players get rung incessantly through the night. Those things happen,” Jones said.
“You go to the ground and the traffic controller drives slower than the traffic’s going to make sure you’re late.
“You get to the ground and there’s something wrong with your dressing room – there’s lights off or the heater’s switched off.
“You can’t check because they traditionally tell you one thing and something else happens. It happens regularly in South Africa and it happens regularly in Wales.”
Even before Jones aired his concerns the occasion was always likely to be a high-octane affair as, given their long-standing history and neighbourly rivalry, Wales playing England in Cardiff is among the most emotive occasions in world sport.
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Wales’ assistant coach Robin McBryde believes that the fierce rivalry is an inevitable consequence of the shared history and proximity of the two nations.
“We are neighbours, aren’t we? I have got two English brothers-in-law,” he said
“It is that English-Welsh rivalry, and wanting to get the better of your neighbour. It’s as simple as that.”
England have 60 victories to Wales’ 57 in the teams’ 129 matches with nine draws. However, Wales have a 60% winning record against England in Cardiff.
Jones, whose side have won a national record 15 Tests in a row, has been merrily making mischief since the narrow opening win over France last weekend, suggesting earlier this week that the Welsh are “a cunning lot”.
Saturday’s match is the sort of occasion which prompts week-long debates about whether the roof on the Principality Stadium will be open or closed.
Wales wanted it closed, to ramp up the noise inside the 72,000-capacity stadium which is renowned for its vertiginous stands and electric atmosphere.
England, as the away side, had the final say under Six Nations rules and – having said he was not bothered one way or the other earlier in the week – Jones has opted for it to be left open.
While the Australian has been stoking the flames, the hosts have been more circumspect – although Wales defence coach Shaun Edwards was moved to compare Jones to legendary former Nottingham Forest manager Brian Clough.
And despite his barbs the England head coach has not been short of compliments, praising the Principality Stadium’s “amazing atmosphere”.
He added: “How could you not want to play rugby there?
“It is one of the greatest rugby countries in the world, so to play Wales in Cardiff with that sort of atmosphere is one of the great delights of rugby.”
Wales have injury worries about winger George North – who is chasing a new record of scoring a try in six championship games in a row – and fly-half Dan Biggar and both will have fitness tests on matchday.
But there is some good news for them, with world class number eight Taulupe Faletau back in action, although he only makes it as far as the bench after injury.
England have made two changes from the team that edged past France, with winger Jack Nowell recalled and back rower Jack Clifford handed just his second England start as Jones searches for more ball carrying options.
Scotland looking for first Paris win of the millennium
Scotland have lost nine successive games on French soil since they won 36-22 at the Stade de France in 1999 on the final weekend of their triumph in the last Five Nations championship.
How their forwards match up against a formidably physical French pack could be key to halting that losing run.
Scotland flanker Hamish Watson, who weighs in at a relatively lightweight 15st 12lb, says he is confident that he and his team-mates can meet the challenge.
“They are a big pack and will pose us a different threat to Ireland, We know they are going to scrum well and have been concentrating on that,” he said.
“But it’s nothing we can’t deal with, so I think it will go well.”
France coach Guy Noves believes that counterpart Vern Cotter’s work is bearing fruit as he approaches the end of his stint with Scotland. Gregor Townsend will take over in June.
“We will mainly adapt to the Scottish rugby that you have seen evolve for four years – a game based on commitment, speed, aggression, with players who have gained confidence in a highly organised collective,” he said.
Scotland have made one change with the starting line-up that beat Ireland with John Barclay coming in at blind-side flanker to replace Ryan Wilson, who is out with an elbow infection.
Ireland aim for timely first win
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt will make sure his side are at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico in plenty of time for the weekend’s opening fixture as he feels that their late arrival at Murrayfield last week contributed to their lacklustre start to the match.
Ireland, whose team bus turned up about 15 minutes late after its police escort reportedly guided it away from an agreed route, conceded three tries in the first half hour to trail by 16 points.
“I don’t think it was apathy, there was a bit of anxiety at not having had the full period to warm up,” said Schmidt.
“Players get anxious, they get very routine-based and I do think it’s a challenge for a professional player that they can be adaptable in different circumstances, so they can still start well and cope.”
Schmidt has kept faith with fly-half Paddy Jackson at 10 with Johnny Sexton still returning to fitness after a calf injury picked up playing for Leinster in January.
Italy, led by former Ireland international Conor O’Shea, have beaten Ireland four times in 26 meetings, with their latest success coming in 2013.
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