By Mitch Phillips
LONDON (Reuters) - Ireland have the destiny of the 2020 Six Nations championship in their own hands as a bonus point win in Paris on Saturday will secure the title, but it is England, seeking another big win in Italy, who are the odds-on favourites to lift the trophy.
That is because history has shown that Ireland almost never score four tries away to France whereas England routinely pummel Italy by more than the 23 point margin they currently trail Ireland by and are unlikely to open the door to France either.
Neilsen's Gracenote has crunched the Six Nations numbers since Italy joined in 2000 and the data company found that the previous results of the relevant head-to-heads played with the scenario of this year's current standings would have left England champions seven times, France three and Ireland none.
To make sure of the title Ireland would need a four-try victory in the final game of Saturday's triple-header (2005GMT). However, in their 45 championship matches in France over the last 110 years Ireland have never won with four tries.
The only time they have scored four was in 2006, when they lost 43-31. They did run in four when beating France in Dublin two years ago but even that was the first time on home soil for more than 60 years.
So, a more realistic scenario for Irish fans is that they manage a non-bonus point win, extending their current 23-point advantage at the top and, and hoping that England won't have wiped that out and moved out of reach earlier in the day.
It's not an entirely unreasonable hope, given that Ireland have won two of their last three visits to Paris, both by two points, having managed only one win there before that in the previous 40 years.
So, England will play in their 1645 kick off knowing that a bonus-point win with something like a 30-40 point margin is likely to be enough to secure a third title in five years - though of course they will have to wait to find out. Again, the form lines suggest this is a likely outcome.
Since Italy joined the Six Nations in 2000 they have lost all 20 games against England, conceding an average of more than 40 points per game at an average margin of 28. Even in Rome England still average 38 points and five tries per game (25 point margin) and on their last three visits ran in eight, six and seven tries.
England also pumped them 37-0 in their last meeting, a World Cup warm up in September 2019.
In the Six Nations overall, Italy they have lost 33 of their last 34 games spanning the last seven tournaments - the sole win coming against Scotland five years ago. They lost 50-17 in Dublin last week, though Paolo Garbisi's 82nd-minute try might yet come back to haunt the Irish.
SLIM FRENCH HOPES
France would appear to have only the slimmest hope of taking the title for the first time since 2010.
They are level on 13 points with England and would win it if they beat Ireland with a bonus point and England fail to get a bonus point in Rome.
England are two points better off in the points difference stakes, so should they and France both win with a bonus point, or both win without one, France would have to better England's result by three points. Two would be enough should they maintain their advantage in the final tie-breaker of tries scored, where they have 13 to England's nine.
France have quite often run wild against Ireland in Paris, scoring four or more tries eight times in the last 32 years, though the last time they managed it was in 2008.
Fifth-placed Wales play fourth-placed Scotland in the first game of the day in Llanelli at 1315.
(Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Christian Radnedge)