The first week ended with Ireland dominating Scotland but the Saturday gave us 2 good matches which showed the English and French in good light and also the battling Italians that everyone had written off. Week 2 start with the match of the weekend and finishes on what should be a French home win.
Ireland v Wales
This is one of the matches of the 6 nations that people will be looking forward to. Ireland looked a little rusty last week early on but came through to totally outplay the Scots in the second half and the form that Ulster, Munster and Leinster have shown this season showed through with a dominant pack performance. The backs found gaps but there is a lot more to come from them with Sexton now looking to be getting back to his best.
Wales were guilty last week of trying to play too much rugby and not giving the Italians the respect they deserved. After the gifting of the early try to Cuthbert, they tried to play Champagne rugby without doing the hard work up front. Maybe it was the game plan to move the big Italian pack around but basic skills were poor and that gifted the Italians 2 tries in the second half.
Ireland will have Paul o Connell back this week after a chest infection kept him out last week and that will only enhance and strengthen the pack , while D’Arcy comes back in after probably being rested last week to be reunited with o Driscol for the 52nd time in the centres. These two changes will shore up any leaks that the Welsh may have looked to expose. Ireland are looking a strong side and with O Brien, Bowe, Earls and Fitzgerald all to come back into contention post injury its an ominous sight.
Wales on paper look to have a very good side out also with just Jon Davies and Luke Charteris missing from what would be their strongest side, however that said there are too many players out of form and back from injury. The side will get better but this looks too soon. Warburton played just 15 minutes last week while Jenkins comes back into the side. Halfpenny, Phillips, Adam Jones, Lydiate and Roberts look a shade of the players they were in the summer and that Lions tour is obviously taking its toll with this dip in form.
The Welsh have a good record in Dublin winning twice on their last 3 visits but the fortunes are turned around this time with the better form definitely being shown by the Irish. I didn’t want to mention this but there is also the O Driscoll, Gatland spill over from the Lions and I would expect the Dublin crowd to be a little more hostile than it normally is after what is perceived to be an insult to their hero. Incidentally O Driscoll will go onto 129 caps on Saturday beating O Gara’s 128.
I have this at around 6-10 for Ireland so the -1.5 handicap is taken. I am going to have a little dutch on the pts between 6-10 and 11-15 though as well at 9/2 and 13/2.
Tryscorers markets are almost impossible to predict but its going to be no surprise to see O Driscoll on the sheet at some time.
Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Brian O’Driscoll, 12 Gordon D’Arcy, 11 Dave Kearney, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Chris Henry, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 Paul O’Connell (c), 4 Devin Toner, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Martin Moore, 19 Dan Tuohy, 20 Tommy O’Donnell, 21 Isaac Boss, 22 Paddy Jackson, 23 Fergus McFadden.
Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Scott Williams, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 George North, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton, 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun-Wyn Jones (c), 4 Andrew Coombs, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Paul James, 18 Rhodri Jones, 19 Jake Ball, 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Rhys Webb, 22 James Hook, 23 Liam Williams.
Scotland v England
Last week it showed that Scotland have no real cuttng edge to their play and they struggled to make any real chances against a hesitant Ireland in the first half before the pack showed they need to toughen up if they are to get anything out of this tournament. The side is made up of decent professionals but at this level they simply don’t have the class players to make the difference.
England had a pretty woeful start with Nowell looking out of his depth and the new look back line failing to get their defensive patterns sorted but after the break the strong pack showed just what they can do and only a few errors in the substitutions probably saw them lose the match. We don’t have access to the data but Care coming off as well as Nowell, who improved throughout the game looked to be bad moves. Lawes had run himself into the ground as had Vunipola.
Scotland at Murrayfield are a different proposition and they should have had a hard week correcting faults but they need conditions to be in their favour to level the playing field against the better sides but with no adverse weather expected the England pack should once again dominate. Richie Gray continueshis decline and is left out of the 22 while skipper Kelly Brown is also dropped.
England will be unchanged this week and that looks like a good decision from Lancaster with May getting another chance after just 5 mins last week and Nowell should be more settled. The bench does have impact and with Mako Vunipola, Tom Youngs and Ben Morgan there is going to be no let up in the power in the pack with these strong runners coming on to run at tired defenders.
I thought Scotland would possibly win a home game v England or France but based on last weeks showings and team selections, i just can’t see England losing this one.
I think the handicap of around 10 is about right and therefore will not be playing this. Care had a great game last week and with the pack probably dominant it may just open up for him to scoot in round the fringes for a try and at 10/3 may be worth an anytime tryscorer.
Scotland: Stuart Hogg; Tommy Seymour, Alex Dunbar, Matt Scott, Sean Lamont, Duncan Weir, Greig Laidlaw (Capt); Ryan Grant, Ross Ford, Moray Low; Tim Swinson, Jim Hamilton; Ryan Wilson, Chris Fusaro, David Denton.
Replacements: Scott Lawson, Alasdair Dickinson, Geoff Cross, Jonny Gray, Johnnie Beattie, Chris Cusiter, Duncan Taylo, Max Evans.
England: Mike Brown; Jack Nowell, Luther Burrell, Billy Twelvetrees, Jonny May; Owen Farrell, Danny Care; Joe Marler, Dylan Hartley, Dan Cole, Joe Launchbury, Courtney Lawes; Tom Wood, Chris Robshaw (Capt), Billy Vunipola.
Replacements: Tom Youngs, Mako Vunipola, Henry Thomas, David Attwood, Ben Morgan, Lee Dickson, Brad Barritt, Alex Goode.
France v Italy
No real angle to play on this. Italy played well last week but on the back of a poor Welsh performance and France look as though they may have turned a corner after last year’s horror shows. There maybe a little angle closer to the off but this match is probably best watched and enjoyed.
France to win. The handicap of around 19 may be a little high but I wouldn’t bet against them covering that.