Europe’s top six rugby nations will meet one more time this year on Saturday to decide which team will be crowned 6 Nations champions, and determine the destination of the dreaded wooden spoon.

Decider | England captain Chris Robshaw and Welsh skipper Sam Warburton face off against each other this weekend for the 6 Nations crown. (Image | London24)

Decider | England captain Chris Robshaw and Welsh skipper Sam Warburton face off against each other this weekend for the Six Nations crown. (Image | London24)

The fourth round of fixtures ensured that it will be a finale to remember, setting up a showdown for the title between England and Wales, and must-win matches for the other sides.

Scotland 18 Wales 28

Following their victory over Italy two weeks ago, the Welsh are now very much in the ascendency, having found their feet after a shaky start to the tournament.

Indeed, Wales have recovered from a humiliating defeat against Ireland to be potential champions if they can beat England by a sufficient points total in Cardiff.

Scotland, meanwhile, failed to find the fighting spirit that saw them cause an upset against the Irish. Murrayfield was lashed by rain throughout the encounter, meaning it was never going to be the most exciting match.

Wales made far fewer running yards than usual, instead opting for a blue-collar approach. Scotland responded in kind, and the game inevitably became a kicking battle as the two sides fought for territory.

However the extent to which this was the case became almost farcical. Between them, the teams attempted 18 penalty kicks at goal, a record for an international match, with Leigh Halfpenny landing seven and Scotland scrum half Greig Laidlaw slotting six.

It was Halfpenny who opened the scoring on four minutes as the Scottish scrum crumbled under pressure, but he would go on to miss three further kicks in the first half, which was uncharacteristic for the young fullback.

Taking a punt | Leigh Halfpenny kicks a penalty for Wales in one of 23 points he scored at Murrayfield. (Image | The Telegraph)

Taking a punt | Leigh Halfpenny kicks a penalty for Wales in one of 23 points he scored at Murrayfield. (Image | The Telegraph)

Twenty minutes later, Wales hooker Richard Hibbard scored the only try of the match following George North’s strong run down the right wing. With North held up short, the chance appeared to have gone, but the Welsh forwards remained composed and made their pressure count.

Laidlaw responded with four penalties, and Scotland would have led at half time were it not for an offside tackle by Jim Hamilton on 40 minutes that saw Halfpenny regain the lead for his side, who went into the break 13-12 ahead.

The second half degenerated into a succession of ruck and scrum infringements, with neither team seeing any real try-scoring opportunities.

In this, Halfpenny came out on top, making up for his poor form in the opening period to stretch the Welsh lead to 10 points and seal the win with eight minutes remaining.

It was a disappointing result for the hosts, who had hoped to capitalise on the momentum gained from their success against Ireland.

Laidlaw was as reliable as ever when going for goal, but did not combine as well with fly half Duncan Weir as he had done with Ruaridh Jackson in previous matches.

Indiscipline ultimately cost the Scots dearly, with repeated scrimmaging errors by the front row especially allowing Halfpenny to keep the scoreboard ticking over.

Wales have clawed their way back into this campaign, and will now fancy their chances at home against England. Sam Warburton returned at openside flanker after being dropped, and came away with the man of the match award for his fearless defending and rucking.

Meanwhile, Hibbard and Paul James were equally instrumental in preventing Scotland scoring, and deserve credit for their work in the scrums.

Ireland 13 France 13

Tipped by some as a potential championship decider, this was instead a fight for honour, with France yet to win and the title well out of sight for the Irish.

Dublin’s Aviva Stadium faced similar conditions to those at Murrayfield, and thus yielded a relatively comparable match to the day’s earlier kick-off.

Ireland opening the scoring after 10 minutes with a try from captain Jamie Heaslip. After Brian O’Driscoll forced an attacking lineout five metres out from the French try line, the Leinster number eight took control at a maul and barged over from close range. Paddy Jackson then added the conversion.

Frédéric Michalak and Jackson missed a penalty each before Michalak got France off the mark with a penalty after 27 minutes. Jackson responded shortly afterwards to see Ireland lead 13-3 at the break.

Rain continued to affect play in the second period, with an early Irish attack breaking down before Rob Kearney sliced a drop goal attempt well short of the posts.

Relief | French fly half Frédéric Michalak smiles as France end their losing streak, despite his kicking difficulties. (Image | The Telegraph)

Relief | French fly half Frédéric Michalak smiles as France end their losing streak, despite his kicking difficulties. (Image | The Telegraph)

Morgan Parra took over kicking duties for Les Bleus and trimmed the lead to a converted try by landing a long-range penalty.

This was the motivation France needed to push on, and they found attacking momentum. At one point, their relentless force saw both Irish centres down injured.

It was only a matter of time before the French closed the gap, Louis Picamoles crashing over after taking a quick penalty near the goal line. With no regard for his previous poor form, Michalak stepped up to nail the conversion from out wide and level the scores.

With the match tied, France now looked more likely to go on and win at the death, piling their runners into the Irish defence.

However, a kick through from Michalak for Maxime Mèdard was pushed out of bounds by the retreating defence, and, as last year, the sides had to settle for a draw.

Ireland had been by far the weaker team towards the end, but mustered in a fantastic defensive effort to keep the scores level.

Both O’Driscoll and Luke Marshall put their bodies on the line in the most literal sense of the word, both heading off with knocks, and the side as a whole did well to keep up the defence with two scrum halves and two fly halves on the field.

The front row of Cian Healy, Rory Best and Mike Ross also deserve credit for lasting the full 80 minutes, a rarity in modern international rugby, while Conor Murray’s control of the back line earned him the man of the match award.

At this stage, France will be happy to have stopped the rot and avoided five defeats, which seemed a very real possibility early on.

Picamoles gained well over 50 metres with the ball in hand, while Mathieu Bastareaud proved his best role in the side is as an impact substitute.

Scrum half Parra deserves to take over from Michalak as the starting goal kicker, because he is a far more reliable option and could have won the tie for Les Bleus if he had attempted the early kicks that went wide from the Toulouse fly half.

England 18 Italy 11

England added a fourth win to their tally and took the penultimate step towards a Grand Slam triumph against a spirited Italian side at Twickenham. However, the hosts were far from convincing and had to fend off a late surge to ensure victory.

Leicester fly half Toby Flood, in for the injured Owen Farrell, opened the scoring early on with a penalty before Mike Brown saw a charged-down kick bounce away from him in the in-goal area.

The home side continued to attack with breathtaking speed, but failed to convert their chances thanks to solid defence from the Azzurri and a lack of focus in the back line.

Italy would probably have considered themselves lucky to only be trailing 12-3 at half time, Flood and Luciano Orquera providing all of the points, especially after scrum half Edoardo Gori spent 10 minutes in the bin for obstruction.

Proceedings continued in a similar vein after the interval, with England attacking well but failing to find the finish to pull clear. Flood added another penalty but his side as a whole was becoming frustrated with their play, and Italy began to capitalise on this.

Danny Care sliced the ball on a clearance kick into the hands of Orquera, who chipped for the corner and saw Luke McLean gather for the first and only try of the game. Orquera then added the conversion to cut the lead to four.

England responded well with another Flood penalty, but the final 15 minutes belonged to Italy, with McLean and Giovanbattista Venditti both threatening at the end. However, the hosts held firm and the Italians were denied the chance to level the scores.

On target | England's Toby Flood kicks home the points against Italy in a flawless performance at Twickenham. (Image | The Telegraph)

On target | England’s Toby Flood kicks home the points against Italy in a flawless performance at Twickenham. (Image | The Telegraph)

Considering how poor the hosts were in attack, they were lucky to hold out for the victory. However, as England demonstrated against France, the ability to come out on top despite playing badly can be key to a winning run.

Flood did not miss a single kick at goal throughout, while the back line, in particular Manu Tuilagi and Brad Barritt, made up for their lack of flair with a strong defensive effort.

Ultimately this match could well serve as the wake-up call the side needed to motivate them for an improved showing against the Welsh this weekend.

Despite taking full advantage of a frustrated England, Italy once again came away second best, let down by a lack of precision when it mattered most.

Sergio Parisse returning galvanised the Azzurri, and Orquera’s kicking was back on form, leading the attacking side of the game. That fullback Andrea Masi was named man of the match despite being on the losing side is testament to how the Italians kept England at bay in the first half.

With final positions by no means certain, the closing round should provide plenty of excitement. England ought to have the title wrapped up, and their points difference should keep them safe.

France will have to wait to find out how Italy fare against Ireland, to see if a victory over Scotland can prevent them finishing bottom.

6 Nations table

  1. England | Won: 4 For: 91 Against: 48 Points: 8
  2. Wales | Won: 3 Lost: 1 For: 92 Against: 63 Points: 6
  3. Scotland | Won: 2 Lost: 2 For: 82 Against: 84 Points: 4
  4. Ireland | Won: 1 Drawn: 1 Lost: 2 For: 57 Against: 59 Points: 3
  5. Italy | Won: 1 Lost: 3 For: 53 Against: 96 Points: 2
  6. France | Drawn: 1 Lost: 3 For: 50 Against: 75 Points: 1

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