RUGBY UNION – The 2013 Six Nations Championship kicks off this weekend as defending champions and 2012 Grand Slam winners Wales host Ireland in Cardiff. Later on Saturday, Scotland travel to England. On Sunday, Italy host France. We have assembled some key facts and figures on these three matches.
> Brian O’Driscoll returns after missing Ireland’s entire 2012 Six Nations campaign due to a shoulder injury.
> O’Driscoll is the all-time leading try scorer in the Five/Six Nations (on 25) and in the Six Nations era (2000-present) only one player other than him has scored more than 16 tries – Wales’ Shane Williams on 22.
> O’Driscoll has played in 55 Five/Six Nations matches and can join Mike Gibson in joint second place all-time on 56. The record holder is current Ireland player Ronan O’Gara, who can extend the mark to 62 should he come off the bench.
> O’Driscoll has started in all 55 of his Six Nations appearances. In that respect, he can equal the record of 56 by Mike Gibson. From O’Gara’s 61 appearances, only 41 have been in the starting XV.
> O’Gara can pick up his 129th career Test cap here, which would leave him only 10 shy of the world record – the 139 by Australia’s George Gregan. O’Driscoll is certain to feature in his 128th career Test.
> Tommy Bowe, who has registered 14 career Six Nations try, is set to miss the 2013 season as he is nursing a knee injury.
> Ireland will be captained by No. 8 Jamie Heaslip, marking the first time a loose forward will perform that duty for this team in a Six Nations match.
> Ireland have amassed 10 wins and three defeats in opening matches to a Six Nations campaign. Last season, they lost their opener to Wales.
> Ireland have won the Six Nations championship once, in 2009, when they completed the Grand Slam.
> Wales are coming off their third Grand Slam in the Six Nations era. Apart from 2012, they also performed the whitewash in 2005 and 2008.
> Wales are on a five match winning streak in the Six Nations. In the 6N era, they once recorded a victory streak of eight (March 2007-February 2009).
> Wales have won their last four Six Nations matches at the Millennium Stadium and 10 of their last 13 since the start of the 2008 season.
> Leigh Halfpenny was the leading points scorer in the 2012 Six Nations season – on 66 points.
> Welsh Lock Andrew Coombs will be making his Test debut.
> In their last 24 Six Nations matches at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium, Wales have been denied a try twice, both in defeats against Ireland (2007 and 2009).
England – Scotland (Saturday, 2 February 2013, 17:00 CET)
> England are starting their youngest ever XV in a Six Nations match. Their starting lineup against Scotland on Saturday averages 25 years and 18 days. This is the second youngest lineup by any team in the Six Nations era. The Scotland starting XV that lost 37-16 at Ireland on 27 March 2004 averaged 24 years and 357 days.
> In the Six Nations era, England have collected nine wins, one draw and three defeats against Scotland. All of their encounters at Twickenham have resulted in England wins.
> When also looking back to Five Nations, Scotland’s last win at England dates back nearly 30 years. Scotland emerged victorious 22-12 on 5 March 1983.
> England’s last Test match was a 38-21 triumph over world champions New Zealand at Twickenham last December. It was the second heaviest Test defeat ever inflicted upon the All Blacks.
> England’s track record in 6N matches at Twickenham is 26 wins and six defeats. They have lost at this venue against Ireland (three times), Wales (twice) and France (once), but never against Scotland or Italy.
> Billy Twelvetrees will make his Test debut for England, starting at Inside Centre. The last player to make his Test debut in a Six Nations match at Twickenham was Alex Corbisiero (12 Feb 2011), who on Saturday will be replaced by Joe Marler at loosehead prop.
> Sean Maitland will make his Test debut for Scotland. The New Zealand born Maitland gets the nod at 14, whilst Dutch born Tim Visser starts at 11. It is the first time in the Six Nations that neither of the starting Scotland Wings are Scottish born.
> Scott Johnson is the caretaker manager for Scotland, following the resignation of Andy Robinson. This is a duty that the Australian also performed in three Six Nations matches for Wales in 2006.
> Scotland were condemned to the Wooden Spoon in 2012, having also finished in last place in 2004 and 2007. Their 2004 campaign was the only one other than the 2012 one in which they lost all five matches.
> Scotland have lost their last five 6N matches. Their longest losing streak in the competition is seven (2004-2005).
> England have scored 195 tries in the Six Nations era, more than any other team. Their 1,829 points in 65 matches also lead the scoring among these nations.
Italy – France (Sunday, 3 February 2013, 16:00 CET)
> Italy have won only nine of their 65 Six Nations matches, drawing one and losing the remaining 55.
> Their nine victories have come at the Stadio Flaminio (seven), Stadio Olimpico (one) and Edinburgh’s Murrayfield (one).
> Their last match and victory to date at the Stadio Flaminio was their 22-21 triumph over France on 12 March 2011. It is the only victory by Italy over France in a 6N match and one only three Test victories against them in 63 attempts.
> Andrea Lo Cicero is the most experienced player in Italy’s squad with 98 career Test matches under his belt. In this tournament, he will be hoping to break the record for the Italian national team – the 101 by Alessandro Troncon.
> Last season, Italy avoided a fifth successive Wooden Spoon and their 10th overall, when they defeated Scotland at the Stadio Olimpico on the final matchday of the 2012 Six Nations season.
> Italy head coach Jacques Brunel was an assistant to Bernard Laporte at the French national team from 2001 to 2007.
> France’s track record in the Six Nations (46 wins, 1 draw, 18 defeats) is superior to that of all other five teams. France have won this competition in 2002, 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2010.
> France’s Frédéric Michalak will play in his first Six Nations match since 2010. His 6N career track record is 19 wins and 2 defeats and he is 11-1 as a starter.
> France’s next penalty goal will be their 200th in Six Nations history.
> Pascal Papé has taken over the Bleus captaincy from Thierry Dusautoir who captained France in their previous three Six Nations campaigns. Including Sunday, France will have been captained by a Lock in 35 of their 66 Six Nations matches (Fabien Pelous, Lionel Nallet and Pascal Papé).
> France have lost three of their last four away matches in the Six Nations.