This is a make or break weekend for Ireland with arguably our toughest opponent yet, the Welsh, coming to town.
No longer is there a dark cloud of injury hanging over the men in red - they welcome back three Lions on Saturday - but their back line, with all but one Scarlet, has really belied their lack of experience to present a real challenge for the home team.
Ireland on the other hand are without three Lions this weekend. Furlong, Henshaw and Henderson all out with the former a long term doubt.
It’s the losing of Henshaw in particular that worries me. His partnership in the centre with Aki was very strong in the first two rounds, but the fear is that with a new pairing there will be gaps for Wales to exploit. Historically Gatland loves send big one off runners down this channel.
Of course we expected that last year but they employed a much more expansive game with off-loading and outside runners and completely blew us off the pitch. What should we expect this year? The unexpected, probably, but also much the same as last year.
Landsdown road (excuse me, the Aviva Stadium) is a different kettle of fish to the Principality Stadium, roof open or not. There'll be no watering of the pitch to ridiculous levels this year, the weather, while cold looks to be perfect for rugby. I have confidence in the strength of the Irish squad to see of this Celtic raid.
France v. Italy
I'll be attending the Leinster game this evening (although I won't have posted this until after the fact) so I will miss this less than appetising encounter between two teams vying to avoid the wooden spoon. The French will have much to regret about two close losses and we can expect them to be simply too strong for their visitors.
Unfortunately, due to his own folly, we are not going to see Teddy Thomas again this week. If he had played I think we could have expected him to add to his try tally; also the Italians may have been able to get a few themselves, given his defensive weaknesses.
It's unclear where Conor O'Shea can lead his adopted nation now. They appear to have lost their way somehow. Perhaps the influx of foreign players can help, but it is no long term solution. They simply are not producing enough new players to compete at Six Nations level.
Scotland v. England
The Scots welcome England to Murrayfield for the Calcutta cup and that is certainly an appetising encounter. I don't believe they have enough composure to overcome the southerners but I do expect to be entertained.
When Glasgow beat Exeter to end the Champions Cup hopes in January, they did so playing a brand of rugby I think we all want to see. Can they (Glasgow players being the core of the Scottish team) repeat the scalping tomorrow? Probably not. The bookies give them seven point in the spread - that's a lot for the home side at International level. But than again, after last year's forty point destruction, perhaps history is the best judge.
My prediction for tomorrow is that we spend time locked in a stalemate for much of the first half, Johnny and Leigh exchanging penalty kicks, and the referee annoying everyone with his interpretation of the breakdown. The first try may be enough to separate the sides especially if Wales score first. Ireland rarely manage to claw back leads against the Welsh.
As for where the scores are going to come from, I think and hope we'll see an expansive game with the Welsh throwing the ball around the back line, but that the Irish defense is equal to the task of defending the onslaught. I would have liked to have had Larmour on the bench of the end game, but Keith Earls has been on fire recently and if he and his back three colleagues, Kearney and Stockdale link up, then we may tear them apart. Here's hoping.
So I'm off to welcome the Kings into the Pro 14 in person... well almost. It will be interesting to see them in the flesh. I don't have much site of players from South Africa so no idea whether they will mount a challenge or not. The bookies are expecting Leinster to win heavily giving them a thirty three point lead in the spread, seeing as we beat them 10-31 in the reverse fixture back in September, they are probably right.
Just back from Leinster’s win - the Kings did not exactly pose a challenge. We kept ourselves entertained by hoping Leinster would beat the clock; that we would score more than eighty points. For a while it seemed possible but in the second half mistakes crept in to tired bodies.
The Kings were not bad with the ball in possession, but their defense was awful. Leinster did not get the biggest win ever, but we did win by 64-7. A result of 70-6 against Zebre still has the record.