Well, not the whole world, obviously, but the rugby playing world, as England go for a record and big changes take place in both hemispheres.
There’s an awful lot going on around the world of rugby, but the only place to start is with the world record/Grand Slam/Triple Crown/Irish Pride decider at the Aviva Stadium. Ireland will be disappointed to lose Conor Murray to the shoulder injury that he suffered against Wales. Kieran Marmion will give another display of Fotherington-Thomas-esque skipping and butterfly chasing in his stead. Rob Kearney is also out with a knee injury, so Mike Brown will be humping the ball in the general direction of Jared Payne instead. And Devin Toner swaps places with Iain Henderson in a curious move, as having someone the size of two postboxes was pretty much the only thing that made Ireland’s lineout work.
England make a couple of changes. Eliot Daly is, remarkably, fit after being bounced off the Twickenham turf by Fraser Brown , so Anthony Watson comes in for Jack Nowell instead of him. Unsurprisingly, Billy Vunipola returns to show Nathan Hughes how a real ball-carrier goes about his job.
The battle of the also-rans in Paris has some interest, as both France and Wales showed some form at last over the previous weekend. Despite this, Guy Noves has to have another little tinker, with Sebastien Vahaamahina coming back into the second row. It was a bit of a surprise to see the 19-stone lock miss out against Italy as he has looked like a proper international player this season, even if he still isn’t worth quite as much at Scrabble as you think he should be (29 points in the traditional English version, 28 in the French).
Wales are unchanged, which means that George North has another chance to prove that he’s back to top form and Talupe Faletau will again come off the bench to lumber around ineffectively for 30 minutes.
Scotland say goodbye to Big Vern against an Italian side showing four changes from the one which played well for the first and last ten minutes against the French but seemed to forget how to play rugby for the hour inbetween. Ross Ford replaces Brown at hooker in the only named change, although Stuart Hogg, Tommy Seymour and Ryan Wilson could drop out late in the day if they haven’t cleared the head injury protocol. Matt Scott joins the bench in place of the luckless Mark Bennett. Scotland’s injury problems are so long that even we can’t bring ourselves to joke about it. [UPDATE] Scotland’s woes deepened on Friday with lock Richie Gray ruled out by a hamstring strain. Grant Gilchrist comes straight into the starting XV, with Tim Swinson remaining on the bench.
Italy, meanwhile, go almost full circle and end up with pretty much the same XV that started the tournament, with Ornel Gega back at hooker, Thomasso Benvenuti at centre, the extraneously-apostrophed Maxime Mata Mbanda’ on the openside and George Biagi in the second row. They’ll be hoping to spoil Scotland’s party, although the chances of them doing so as comprehensively as England did last weekend are roughly nil.
The shock news of the week came from Paris, where it was announced that Stade Francais and Racing 92 are to merge. The Stade players responded by going on strike and refusing to train. Because the French need an excuse to go on strike. [UPDATE] Both sides’ matches this weekend were postponed on Friday lunchtime.
We’ve not written too much about this year’s tournament, mostly because it is hard to get excited about a tournament where the teams show the same commitment to defence as my old schoolfriend Vicky did (she was no pushover, but she sure tripped easily). However, even the powers that be seem to have realised that the tournament has become too bloated and the rumour is that three franchises will be shed for 2018. No formal announcement yet, but it looks bad for the Cheetahs, Kings and Melbourne Rebels.
Whilst Rob Howley has been arsing about with the Welsh team, Warren Gatland has his eye on the Lions picture and this week announced that Neil Jenkins and Graham Rowntree would join his team as coaches, although exactly how they would work with existing forwards coach Steve Borthwick and backs coach Andy Farrell appeared to escape Gatland in interviews. That’s still less of a worry than the fact that Howley is still on board as the assistant coach, but the word ‘omnishambles’ is still marching in the general direction of the team even before the touring party has been announced.