Written by Darry Worthington for @Hollywoodbets. Follow them both on Twitter and Facebook now!
So much for the Six Nations being a traditionalists paradise. This weekend sees the first ever Friday night game in the history of the tournament, and while I’m all for improving the game of union, I can’t help but feel a slight bit aggrieved with this week’s Friday night fixture. Friday nights are for Super Rugby, and that’s how it should be kept in my opinion.
Anyway let’s not dwell on the influence of advertising companies, television broadcasters, and businessmen in their ivory towers, but rather look ahead to what looks to be the most exciting round of the tournament thus far.
Friday 26 February
Wales v France | Friday 26 February | Principality Stadium | 21:55
To Win (80 Mins)
Wales 3/10 | Draw 20/1 | France 11/4
Wales (-8.5) 9/10| France (+8.5) 9/10
Round three of the Six Nations kicks off at the Principality Stadium – known to the purist as the Millenium Stadium. The Welsh come into this game off the back of a hard fought 27-23 victory over a dogged Scottish outfit. That narrow win saw the dragons move up to third spot on the log; two points behind this weekend’s opponents.
If I’m being brutally honest here, Wales’ performance against Scotland a fortnight ago wasn’t at all impressive. Handling errors and poor game management almost saw Warren Gatland’s side end up suffering an ignominious defeat. They will need to rectify these aspects of their game if they are to beat a French side that looks, and whisper this part, a lot more consistent this term.
While Wales struggled to overcome the Scots, France managed to defeat the Irish in their round two encounters. Le Bleu had trailed for the majority of the game but a late try from fullback Maxine Medard saw them steal into a one point lead with only 10 minutes left on the clock. And despite the Irish throwing everything at their opponents during the dying minutes of the game, they were unable to overturn the one point lead, and the French went on to record their second successive victory.
That was a huge win for Guy Noves and his men. Not only did it move them into second spot on the overall standings, but it also demonstrated that they are able to grind out a win under the most difficult of circumstances – something not commonly associated with French rugby. That victory will have also given them a heap of confidence heading into this weekend’s clash.
In terms of team news, Wales are sweating on a few of their big names. Luke Charteris is struggling to recover from a knee injury while talismanic centre, Jonathon Davies, has a slight groin tweak. While Davies should be good to go for Friday’s clash, fellow centre, Corey Allan looks unlikely to get anywhere near a rugby field this weekend as he injured his ankle while playing for the Cardiff Blues last Saturday.
Guy Noves is yet to give his weekly press conference at the time of writing, so there’s not much in way of team news coming out of the French Cup. I expect he will continue with Camara on the flank and Chouly at eight. I can’t see the French mentor making any changes to his backline unless there are some injuries in training this week.
Verdict: France (+ 8.5) 9/10
My heart says back the French to win it but my brain says take them on the plus. I find it’s best to go with the brain in these situations. Back the French to keep it within the +8.5 margin at 9/10.
Saturday 27 February
Italy v Scotland | Saturday 27 February | Stadio Olimpico |16:10
To Win (80 Mins)
Italy 2/1| Draw 22/1 |Scotland 4/10
Italy (+6.5) 9/10 | Scotland (-6.5) 9/10
Both sides have been much improved this term but despite their improvements, this game is still likely to determine who ends the competition with the wooden spoon mantle affixed to their name.
The hosts come into this one off the back of 31 point drubbing at the hands of Eddie Jones’ England. While the scoreline indicates a poor Italian performance, those who watched the game will know that wasn’t the full story. The Azzuri put in an almighty shift in the first stanza that saw them enter the half time break only two points down. A Jonathon Joseph’s inspired second half blitz added a lot of gloss to the scoreline for the English, who really didn’t have it all their own way in Rome.
The Scots also impressed in round two, where they narrowly went down to the Dragons in the Welsh capital. The Scots managed to cross the whitewash on two occasions last time out, which will have been pleasing for Vern Cotter, who’s come under fire in recent weeks due to his sides inability to grab five pointers.
Both sides have received some less than positive news on the injury front this week. The Scots’ will be without flanker Blair Cowan and winger Sean Maitland for the clash in Rome. Cowan is still recovering from concussion, while Maitland is unavailable due to a thigh injury that he sustained against Wales. Their absences will be offset somewhat by the return of flying winger Tim Visser and centre Peter Horne.
The hosts for Saturday’s encounter are sweating on the availability of young fly half Carlo Canna. The 23-year-old picked up a thigh injury in his sides defeat to England and is said to be touch and go for this one. Another Italian who may miss out is centre Giulio Bisengi. The Zebre man has been struggling with a calf injury and may well miss out.
Verdict: Scotland 4/10
This one is going to be a tight affair and as such it’s proving rather difficult to call. Once again I’m opting for the safe option and instead of looking at the handicaps, I’d suggest taking Scotland at 4/10
England v Ireland | Saturday 27 February | Twickenham | 18:35
To Win (80 Mins)
England 1/3 | Draw 22/1 | Ireland 23/10
England (-7.5) 9/10 | Ireland (+7.5) 9/10
The game of the round sees table toppers, England host defending champions Ireland at the home of Rugby Union. Eddie Jones’ men put in a brilliant second half performance against the Italians last time out, but the former Japan mentor may still be a bit worried about some facets of their game; one of which is their scrum.
While the Italians pride themselves on their notorious eight man shunt, you’d have still expected the English pack to have given a bit account of themselves, particurally in the first stanza. Another facet that may be giving Jones’ the odd sleepless night, will be his side’s inability to capitalise on scoring opportunities. Yes they scored forty points, and yes, they did manage to breach the Italian line on five occasions, but they still left a ton of points out on the pitch.
Ireland were also guilty of not converting point scoring situations last time out. They had a firm command of the game for the majority of the 80 minutes and absolutely bossed the territory and possession stakes but they failed to turn their advantage into points. They were made to rue this when Maxine Madard crossed the line for the French late in the second half. Ireland will need to be a lot more clinical this weekend if they are to upset the hosts in front of what’s sure to be a vociferous Twickenham crowd.
Both teams are facing some injury concerns as they build up for this titanic encounter. Sean O’ Brien, Mike McCarthy, and influential fullback Dave Kearney have all been ruled out of the clash, while England will be without Ollie Devoto, who would have been in line to make his international debut off the bench.
The last three games between the sides have only seen three tries being scored, so this one is likely to be a rather low scoring affair. Ireland won last year’s game 19-9 while England won the previous two by three and six points respectively.
Verdict: England (-7.5) 9/10
I’m going to buck the trend with my predictions for round three here and back England to clear the -7.5 handicap. They’re in front of their home fans and their first XV are all fit and available, while their opponents are missing two of their stalwarts.
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