After some heavy defeats last week Italy, Scotland and Wales will be looking to get something out of weekend 3 of the 6 nations tournament. There are some great matches again this week for us to enjoy starting on Friday in Cardiff.
Wales v France
Wales were totally outplayed in Dublin 2 weeks ago behind a solid Irish game plan and an imperious Sexton. It won’t have gone unnoticed by France but whether they can play with the same control and whether Plisson can run the game as well remains to be seen. On the plus side for Wales it can’t get any worse for them, Warburton and Jenkins have now both had a couple of games and the side certainly looks better without the slow Phillips bringing the defence on to the exciting backs. Rhys Webb’s addition at 9 should get the backs moving and with North moving in off the wing I feel he may be able to get on the outside of the bulkier Basteraud on a few occasions.
France after escaping with a victory at home v England demolished Italy 2 weeks ago with a display of power and running lines. I think we all expected a decent win but this is going to be the real test for France away from Paris. They do have a good record in Wales but have lost the last 2 against Wales while winning just 1 of the last 3 in Cardiff. The Irish dominance in the rolling mauls v Wales will have excited the pack as this is a strong part of their game and I am sure they will look to put Wales under pressure here. There are a lot of questions here for both sides with Wales needing to perform after 2 very poor performances and France needing to show their improvement is not just at home and they can play rugby away from Paris. I think this is not a match to have a big bet on and its more of a sit back and enjoy however I do think Wales will win and the 1-12 pts win is at 2.4 which for me is the best bet.
Wales by 1-12 @2.4
England v Ireland
The game of the week for me and will go a long way to deciding the championship. England have shown a new string to their traditional power packed front 8 performances with youth and unpredictability in the backs. Care at 9 gives you a livewire who will look to run into space at every opportunity while Burrell has shown some great running lines in the centres. Nowell has improved after his shocking 40 mins on debut while May showed glimpses of his magic feet last week in the second half. The enforced absence of Cole will put England’s scrum under pressure against a solid pack and Wilson who has not played much will have to be right up to speed.
Ireland will have noticed the weakness of Youngs at the lineout and will surely put pressure on Hartley to try and force the change earlier than Lancaster wants. O Connell and Toner are 2 of the best exponents at stealing opposition ball and Launchbury. Wood and Lawes are going to have to get their timing right with Hartley to ensure stable ball. Sexton’s performance last week really made Ireland tick and despite his unhappiness in France he is still integral to moving Ireland forward. The pack looks as strong as ever even without O Brien and the backs have a real zing about them.
Ireland have lost the last 3 v England but have won 3 of the last 5 in Twickenham. I am really torn here as England are looking good but still inexperienced while Ireland look a complete package (Lancaster’s words). Cole’s absence could be the pivotal point and although i would like to pick an Ireland win here the +5 with Stan James@ evens gives us breathing space.
Best Bet Ireland +5 @evens
Italy v Scotland
This is the wooden spoon match with all honesty. Italy have improved from what was shown in the Autumn and are still capable of winning a game but rely heavily on Parisse and the pack to keep them involved in games. They have some young players in the backs who look to be at least some part of the future but they do lack that spark that is needed to win games.
Scotland have rotated again and I am sure they will have been roasted by Johnson after the England debacle. Denton loses his place this week and Kelly Brown is still missing but Richie Gray is reinstated alongside Jim Hamilton and the front row looks a lot more solid with Lawson adding some control to the lineout that Ford was not providing. They have scored just 6 points in the 2 games thus far and will have to improve to get anything out of this.
Scotland have not won in Rome in the last 3 visits but have only had 3. 4 and 7 pt defeats. Its not going to a big victory either way and I think the rocket Scotland have had should see them get within 4 pts
Best Bet – Scotland + 4 @ evens
Difficult matches to read this week and I shall be having a couple of quid on the ties here on all three as there is real potential for very tight games.