March 9, 2020 / 5:33 PM / 21 days ago

2020 Six Nations in flux on and off the field

LONDON (Reuters) - If coronavirus-postponements have left the 2020 Six Nations Championship schedule in a state of flux, Scotland’s surprise victory over France on Sunday has ensured that the destination of the title is similarly still very much “to be decided”.

March 14 was supposed to be “Super Saturday”, the now-standard finale of three successive matches.

However, the announcement on Monday that France’s game against Ireland has become the third fixture in this year’s campaign to be postponed, means that the day will feature only one match - Wales v Scotland.

Italy v England and Ireland v Italy had already been postponed. Six Nations officials said that no new dates have yet been found for the three games, though French media reported that Oct. 31 had been earmarked as the new “decider day.”

The open-ended postponements meant there was a somewhat odd feel to Saturday’s surviving match. After beating Wales 33-30, England’s players should have been starting the build-up to facing Italy, but instead have returned to their clubs.

At the time, few fans at Twickenham seemed over-concerned, thinking that the Rome game would be something of a dead rubber. But Scotland’s 28-17 win over France changed everything and unexpectedly catapulted England to be huge odds-on favourites to win the title for the first time since 2017.

England top the standings, level on 13 points with France, but ahead on points difference. Scotland have 10 points with Ireland on nine - but the Irish have two games remaining.

Ireland are the only team to have their destiny in their own hands, as a bonus-point victories against Italy and France would give them an unassailable 19 points.

They average over seven tries per game in their last six meetings with Italy, but France is another matter.

Ireland have won two of their last three visits and drew the game before that, but previously they had won in Paris twice in 31 matches. The only occasion in history they have managed four tries in the fixture was in 2006 - when they lost 43-31.

Six Nations organisers will, presumably, try to retain the order of fixtures as originally scheduled, so Ireland would at least have the advantage of knowing what they need to do - assuming they beat Italy beforehand.

That timing, however, best favours England. If Ireland were to get a bonus point win over Italy, England would then play Italy, who they have never lost to, needing to ensure they rack up enough points in Rome to put their points difference out of reach. Currently they are on plus-15, with Ireland on plus-5.

That is how British bookmakers see it panning out, with England rated around 4-1 ON to take the title.

France, who two days ago were hot favourites for the Grand Slam and their first title in a decade, now have little chance. They are currently on plus-13, so would need to thrash Ireland, almost certainly with a bonus point, and by a bigger margin than England achieve against Italy.

Even Scotland are still in with the slimmest of outside chances, should they win in Cardiff on Saturday and Italy, who have not won any of their last 25 Six Nations matches, somehow beat England and Ireland, and the Irish then win in France.

Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Pritha Sarkar

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