The Breakdown – Ireland chase Grand Slam and Sexton want record but France lurk on purpose

Ireland can make it a glorious farewell to Six Nations record-hunting captain Johnny Sexton as they chase a Grand Slam with England on Saturday.

It will be Ireland’s title and a resounding victory if they defeat Steve Borthwick’s side at the Aviva Stadium, while Sexton’s next few points will see him top scorer in Championship history. With 557 points, he is currently level with his former teammate Ronan O’Gara.

The celebrations in Dublin could be in full swing before kick-off should Wales anger France in Paris earlier in the day.

France are the only team who can deny Ireland Six Nations glory now as they head into the finals four points adrift.

Bonus points could still be a factor in the final tally but Ireland will be optimistic they can take that out of the equation by beating an English side who were beaten by Les Bleus last week.

Scotland meet Italy in the opening game of the day before attention turns to the race for the trophy.

Here, using some standout Opta data, Stats Perform lists key aspects to look at across the three games.



Fabien Galthie’s France side were so impressive at Twickenham last week that it brought tears to the manager’s eyes. That 53-10 victory in London showed France at their best and they have won each of their last three Six Nations games against Wales.

The tide has turned in the rivalry as France have lost seven of the previous eight bouts between the sides in the competition. After last year’s Grand Slam, France will believe they can up the pressure on Ireland by winning at the Stade de France, having won nine of their last ten Six Nations home games, including each of the last four.

Wales halted a run of six defeats in the Six Nations by beating Italy 29-17 last time out to the relief of coach Warren Gatland. It was their longest streak without a Six Nations win since seven games in 2006 and 2007, when they lost six and drew one.

There are areas where Wales still does well. For example, they conceded the fewest turnovers of any team in this year’s Six Nations (44, tied with Ireland) and only Ireland (30) have won more turnovers than Wales (23). However, it would be a surprise if France didn’t up the pressure on Ireland with a comfortable win and maybe a bonus point.


France will bet on wings Damian Penaud and Ethan Dumortier to put Wales in trouble. Five players in this year’s Six Nations have a tackle avoidance rate of 50 percent or more among those who faced 20 or more attempted tackles, and Penaud (79 percent) and Dumortier (51 percent) are among them.

Taulupe Faletau will win his 100th cap for Wales and become the eighth man to reach that milestone for the team. Veterans George North and Alun Wyn Jones are among those coming into the starting XV, with Gatland giving the veterans a chance to potentially end their Six Nations careers in style.



Ireland have won their last two Six Nations clashes against England, scoring exactly 32 points in each of those games and the men in green have recorded 13 wins from their last 23 encounters with this weekend’s opponents.

After a strong finish last year, Ireland have seven wins in the Six Nations and an eighth straight win would be a record for the team.

That would be cause for celebration alongside the Grand Slam, which would be a third for Ireland in the Six Nations era after clean wins in 2009 and 2018. They are chasing a fifth Six Nations title and a seventh Triple Crown combined in this six-team era.

England’s loss to France last time out was their heaviest defeat ever in the Championship so they recalled Owen Farrell after dropping the captaincy while manager Borthwick looks for a big answer.

This game could still be tight. Ireland (37) and England (34) have the fewest penalties conceded and the highest percentage of territory per game in this year’s Six Nations (England – 60 percent, Ireland – 59 percent). Something must give.


Sexton scored seven points against Scotland last weekend to draw level with O’Gara so his first shot on Saturday will be a big moment. He has had his sights set on the record since the start of his last Six Nations and the 37-year-old should get it on home soil.

Dan Cole is ready to win his 100th test match for England. Starting as a substitute and poised to become just the fourth player to reach a century for the England men’s side, after Jason Leonard, Ben Youngs and captain Farrell.



Gone are the days when this game was a wooden spoon decider and Scotland have improved a lot in recent years. Italy are also a stronger side than they have been for a while so they will be frustrated to have lost four out of four so far.

Scotland have won each of their last seven Six Nations games against Italy, the longest winning streak against a nation in the Championship. Their last Six Nations defeat against the Azzurri was a 22-19 setback at Murrayfield in 2015, which was Italy’s seventh win over the Scots in the Championship. Italy have combined just six victories against all other teams in the championship.

Italy’s recent record in the Six Nations is truly disastrous, losing 40 of their last 41 games, except for defeats at the final weekend of last year’s league, when they won 22-21 in Wales.


Scot Matt Fagerson has made the most tackles of any player in the 2023 Championship (70) while teammates Jonny Gray (37), Jack Dempsey (32) and Luke Crosbie (32) are the only players to have made more than 30 grabs without missing a beat. Fagerson, Gray and Dempsey are featured this weekend. Her skill could be crucial if Scotland are without back injuries Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg.

Italy’s Juan Ignacio Brex and Paolo Garbisi are two of three players to have delivered six league-high break assist passes at this year’s championship, along with Ireland’s Mack Hansen.

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