RUGBY UNION – The following are previews for the Week 1 matches of the 2014 Six Nations Championship.
Wales – Italy (Millennium Stadium, Saturday, 1 February)
> Wales have won the last six Six Nations encounters between these two. The overall head-to-head record in 14 previous 6N meetings is 11 wins to Wales, two to Italy and one draw.
> That one stalemate is the only result Italy have ever achieved in a Six Nations match, or any Test match, in Wales. They drew 18-18 on 11 March 2006. Both of the Azzurri’s 6N victories over Wales came at the Stadio Flaminio (in 2003 and 2007).
> Wales have never failed to register less than two tries in any Six Nations match against Italy.
> Wales are the defending champions from 2012 and 2013. Last year, they joined England (2000-2001) and France (2006-2007) as teams to retain the Six Nations Championship.
> Wales can become the first team to win the Six Nations in three successive seasons and become the first team since France (1986-1989) to win this competition, or its predecessor Five Nations, at least three years in a row.
> France’s run of four successive championships in the late 1980s included two titles that were shared. No team has ever won three outright championships in a row in the history of the Home Nations/Five Nations/Six Nations.
> Last year, Wales won the Six Nations Championship despite registering only nine tries in five matches, their lowest output in any season since the competition expanded to six teams in 2000.
> Wales have won nine of their last 10 Six Nations matches, the one exception being their defeat against Ireland on the opening matchday last season.
> Wales have conceded nine or fewer points in five of their last seven 6N matches.
> Wales’ next penalty goal will be their 200th in Six Nations rugby (2000-present). Only France (207 penalty goals) have kicked in excess of 200 penalty goals in the competition.
> In the Wales v Italy 6N encounter on 20 March 2010, Tom Prydie became the youngest player in 6N history at 18 years and 25 days. He also became the youngest ever player to represent Wales.
> Wales have won only one of their last four season openers in the Six Nations and five of 14 total.
> Italy have collected one win and nine defeats from their last 10 Six Nations season openers.
> The one victory in that stretch came last season, when Italy defeated France in Rome.
> In 2013, Italy avoided the Wooden Spoon for the second straight 6N season.
> Marco Bortolami can become the fifth Italian and the 29th player overall to reach 100 Test caps.
> That would see him join countrymen Alessandro Troncon, Andrea Lo Cicero, Martín Castrogiovianni and Sergio Parisse.
> Italy can become the third country, and the first from Europe, behind Australia and New Zealand, to produce five Test centurions.
France – England (Stade de France, Saturday, 1 February)
> England have won each of their last three Six Nations encounters with France, dating back to a 12-10 France victory on 20 March 2010, a win that secured the Grand Slam for France.
> Their head-to-head in record in 14 previous 6N encounters: 9-5 (no draws) in England’s favour.
> Even so, France have a winning record over England in 6N matches at the Stade de France: 4-3.
> This will be the 98th Test match between these countries. Of the previous 97, England have won 53, France 35 and there have been seven draws.
> England’s last Test defeat against France came in the quarterfinals of the 2011 World Cup (19-12).
> France need only nine points to reach 1,500 at the Stade de France. They have lost three of their last four Test matches at this venue.
> France are coming off their worst ever season in the Six Nations era, finishing last in the competition in 2013. It was the first time since 1999 (the last Five Nations season) that they collected the Wooden Spoon in the Five Nations/Six Nations.
> Their dismal 2013 campaign came only three years after their Grand Slam winning effort in 2010.
> France still own the best track record in Six Nations rugby: 47 wins and two draws (21 defeats) from 70 matches. England are right behind them on 47 wins and one draw (22 defeats).
> France’s track record in Test matches in 2013: two wins, one draw and eight defeats. Both victories came at home, against Scotland and Tonga.
> Philippe Saint-André has faced England 10 times in Test matches, eight times as a player and twice as a head coach. He has ended up on the losing side in eight of those 10 Test matches.
> Wesley Fofana has scored a try in each of his last two Tests against England. Six France players, including Philippe Saint-André, have scored more than two career Test tries against England.
> Pascal Papé can pick up his 50th cap for France. He made his Test debut on 14 February 2004.
> England have scored only one try in their last four Six Nations matches combined. That one try was registered by Manu Tuilagi against France on 23 February 2013.
> England have averaged 9.3 tries over their last seven 6N campaigns (2007-2013), whilst averaging 19.4 tries over their first seven (2000-2006).
> England’s five 6N tries in 2013 were their fewest in a Six Nations season. They had six in 2010.
> England have finished second in four of their last six 6N campaigns, including the last two.
> England have won eight of their last 10 Six Nations matches, the two exceptions being defeats to Wales. England also won eight of their 10 Test matches in 2013, the exceptions being the 6N defeat against Wales and a 30-22 loss against the All Blacks to close out the season.
> England have won 12 of their 14 season openers in the Six Nations, including each of the last five.
> In 22 matches with Stuart Lancaster in charge, England have collected 14 wins, one draw and seven defeats. Five of their seven defeats came against southern hemisphere nations, the other two came against Wales.
Ireland – Scotland (Aviva Stadium, Sunday, 2 February)
> In 14 previous Six Nations meetings between these two, Ireland have collected 11 victories and three defeats.
> Scotland’s only Six Nations victory over Ireland in an away match was their 23-20 triumph at Croke Park on 20 March 2010.
> Scotland’s other two victories came at Murrayfield, including last season’s 12-8 win. Scotland have yet to record consecutive 6N victories over Ireland. Scotland’s last string of victories over Ireland in the Five Nations/Six Nations came in the late 1990s, when they won five in a row against Ireland.
> These sides have met in 128 Test matches total, with Scotland winning 66 and Ireland winning 57. There have been three draws.
> Ireland are coming off their most unsuccessful campaign in the Six Nations, finishing in fifth place in 2013. That supplanted a fourth place finish in 2008, one they responded to by winning the Grand Slam the next year.
> Ireland won their opening match to the Six Nations in eight of the previous nine seasons, the exception being a home defeat against Wales in 2012.
> Brian O’Driscoll has been included in Ireland’s squad. The veteran Centre has amassed 136 Test appearances and needs another three to equal the record of 139 by Australia’s George Gregan.
> O’Driscoll needs one more Test appearance to establish a record for Ireland at 129, by which he would overtake O’Gara’s 128. O’Driscoll has also represented the Lions in eight Tests.
> O’Driscoll will be taking part in the Six Nations for the 14th time, equalling the competition record by countryman Ronan O’Gara. The latter had been the only player to have featured in each of the first 14 seasons of the Six Nations, but he has not been called up to the squad this year.
> O’Driscoll has played in all but one of Ireland’s 14 Six Nations seasons. He missed the entire 2012 campaign due to injury.
> O’Driscoll has played in 60 Six Nations matches. The competition record for the Five/Six Nations is 63 by O’Gara.
> O’Driscoll already holds the record for most tries in the Five/Six Nations (26).
> O’Driscoll’s last multiple-try match in the Six Nations came almost 10 years ago. On 22 February 2004, he crossed over twice against Wales. Since that day, a player recorded at least two tries in a 6N match on 46 occasions, by 35 different players.
> Scotland came third in the Six Nations last year, equalling their best finish in the competition. In 2001 and 2006, they also collected a bronze medal.
> Last season’s campaign was also the first since 2006, in which they managed to rack up more than one victory.
> Scotland’s last championship came in the last year before the expansion to the Six Nations. In 1999, they emerged victorious in the Five Nations.
> Scotland have started only one of their previous 6N campaigns with a victory, their 2006 home win over France. All other 13 openers ended in defeat for Scotland.
> David Denton, Matt Scott and Ross Rennie all made their Test debuts against Ireland.