The last round saw 2 close matches and a runaway victory with the England Ireland game one of the best 6 nations matches in recent history for me. This weekend we may see the same with 2 tight matches and a runaway victory again.
Ireland v Italy
Ireland are coming back to play Rugby like we all know they can and Shmidt seems to have turned them into a real force now despite the loss last week. They are still without 2 of their best players in O Brien and Bowe however Bowe did return last week to club Rugby. Sexton has been passed fit despite concerns over his thumb injury, however revelation O Mahoney misses out on the flank. This will be O Driscoll’s last match in front of the Irish crowd and I am sure that will be a big factor in the result today.
Italy have opted to rest their best player in Parisse ahead of next week’s clash v England and the side is much changed from the one that lost at home to Scotland with a new half back pairing and a completely different back row. Some experience is back but the fluidity from the set piece and ruck and maul may be affected here.
It is difficult to see anything other than an Ireland win and convincing at that. Not the easiest place to find a bet with the handicap set at +24. This would only be small stakes but I would expect Ireland to beat that 24 and after accumulating points in the first half should cut loose in the second so 2nd half to have the most points.
Scotland v France
Varying fortunes for the 2 in the last round, Scotland finally managed to get a win albeit late on but they showed a greater determination despite having their pack bullied and put through the mincer for the whole match. Kelly Brown returns to the side this week after being made a scapegoat after week 1 and I am sure he will want to put in an inspired performance against the French.
The French after so much promise at home turned in a completely abject performance against the Welsh last week and were devoid of any idea how to right it. We saw the same mentatlity emerge that has dogged them for years of when decisions don’t go their way they just seem unable to concentrate on the job. This was especially evident in the Picamoles disrespect of the referee that has earned him a ban from St Andre. With Nyanga and Dusatoir injured this means a whole new back row with bench 2nd row giant Vahaamahina moving on to the blind side. I still am unable to fathom out why Basteraud is starting ahead of Fickou but with the added weight and size in the pack France could be going back to basics here and look to win with a one dimensional game.
This has to be a great chance for Scotland to beat the French but I do worry about the solidity of the pack. That said I do think this will be close and possibly ending up in a Scotland win but the +8 on them I beleive is a little too high and that for me is where the value lies.
England v Wales
This is undoubtedly the match of the weekend and for me the hardest to call. England are improving all the time and still have players to come back into the side with Tuilagi now back playing and Parling, Corbisiero, Yarde, Cole, Croft, Foden and possibly Wade to come back in. For now though they have a good squad and the determination to win last week v Ireland was very evident. Wales do hold the mental advantage over them after 3 succesive victories including last year’s late capitulation in the slam decider but key players have been replaced who don’t have the mental scars and the form of the two sides is significantly different. A good move for me is the addition of George Ford on the bench as Farrell is a confidence player and felt it last year a repeat of this sees an option on the bench.
Wales welcome back Jon Davies, who is arguably one of the best centres currently in world Rugby, however he only has around 100 mins of Rugby back from his return and we saw how far Warburton and Jenkins were off the pace after being rushed back. Wales often get better in the 6 nations as it progresses but a lot of Rugby has been played by their players in the last 12 months and they are not at the heights they were last year. The addition of Rhys Webb last week was definitely what was needed to speed up their attacking options but he will not receive the armchair ride he did in the last round and it will be interesting to see how he fairs on the back foot.
Can the Welsh win again ? They certainly have the side to do it against a relatively inexpereinced England side but the belief is back in the England side and I do think they can win this. I couldn’t recommend a bet but if forced into a corner then England -4 would be the bet