Written by Darry Worthington for @Hollywoodbets. Follow them both on Twitter and Facebook now!
The RBS Six Nations is back this weekend and there are some crucial encounters set to take place, including a top of the log battle royale between the English and the Welsh. That game is the highlight of Saturday’s double bill and will be preceded by what looks a cut and dry fixture between the Irish and Italians.
The Round closes out on Sunday with a mid-table clash between Vern Cotter’s Scotland and Guy Noves’ France.
Saturday 12 March
Ireland v Italy | Saturday 12 March | Aviva Stadium | 15:15
To Win (80 Mins)
Ireland 1/25 | Draw 50/1 | Italy 10/1
Ireland (-22.5) 9/10 | Italy (+22.5) 9/10
Joe Schmidt’s side currently languish in fifth spot on the log. While they haven’t been as poor as many pundits have been making them out to be, they have still been nowhere near the force they were a year ago. Their opening round draw with Wales seemed to knock their confidence levels somewhat. They traveled to France for their second fixture of the tournament and put in a terrific first half display that saw them enter the half-time break firmly in control of the game. They struggled to score points in the second stanza and were ultimately punished for not converting their chances as the French clinched a narrow win through a late Maxime Medard try. Round three saw Joe Schmidt and his charges return to Britain to take on the English at the home of rugby. Once again, the Irish impressed in the first stanza and were only three points down when the teams went in for the break. The wheels were to come off the Irish bus for a third successive game however, as tries from Anthony Watson and Mike Brown condemned the Irish to a 21-10 defeat.
The men from the Emerald Isle are really struggling to get points on the board during the second half of their games. I think the reason for this may be their lack of leadership. While there are some seasoned campaigners among the Irish ranks, it seems that most of them struggle with making the correct decision at the correct time. Six Nations games are often won by narrow margins, which means decision making is crucial. There have been a few occasions this season where Ireland have been guilty of taking the wrong option. While Johnny Sexton is a fantastic goal-kicker, I think there have been moments in Ireland’s games where a kick to the corner and setting a maul would serve them better than having a speculative long-range shot at goal.
Much like the Irish, the Italians have been a lot better in the first stanza than they have been in the second. While their opponents lack of second half vigour is due to their poor decision making, the Italians second-half woes can be put down to their fitness levels. The Azzuri tend to run out of steam in the last 30 minutes of their games. You would expect this however, as their pack compromises of a bunch of heavyweights.
The Azzuri are yet to win a game this term and it’s highly unlikely that they’ll get anything out of this weekend’s fixture. The last time the Italians beat Ireland was in the 2013 Six Nations at the Stadio Olimpico. That game is actually their sole over the Irish since Italy joined the tournament in 2000.
Ireland got some fantastic news this week with Jared Payne having recovered from his hamstring injury. It will be interesting to see if Schmidt opts to throw Payne back in the deep end by starting him or eases him back in off the bench. If the Irish mentor opts for the latter, then Stuart McCloskey will partner Robbie Henshaw in midfield. On the Italian’s side of the coin, hooker Leonardo Ghilraldhini is a doubt with a shoulder injury. Scrum-half Edoardo Gori is in the same boat as Ghilraldhini, with the Italian management yet to declare if the duo will be part of their match day squad.
Verdict: Ireland (-22.5)
The Irish haven’t sparkled this year but they should still have enough to see off an improved but still sub-standard Italian outfit by a large margin.
England v Wales | Saturday 12 March | Twickenham | 17:45
To Win (80 Mins)
England 9/20 | Draw 22/1 | Wales 18/10
England (-5.5) 9/10 | Wales (+5.5) 9/10
There may be two more rounds to play but this game is going to decide who ends up with the Six Nations title. Yes, France can still win it but I highly doubt that they’ll be able to secure victories in all their three remaining games.
The hosts come into this one off the back of a great home performance against the Irish. Fullback Mike Brown was in inspirational form in that game and he’s likely to play a crucial role in this one. His ability to launch counter-attacks from deep inside his own half will help negate Dan Biggar's excellent kicking game. Another back who really impressed for the English last time out was Anthony Watson. The flying winger caused the Irish all sorts of problems. He’s likely to line up opposite George North, so his defensive game - which is generally sublime by the way – is going to have be top notch.
The Welsh also put on a solid display last time out. Their 19-10 victory over the French has kept them in the race for the Six Nations crown but a defeat this weekend would curtail those hopes. They have a quality squad that is capable of spring a surprise at Twickenham.
If they are to upset the odds they are going to need their experienced centre pairing of Jamie Roberts and Jonathon Davies to be firing on all cylinders. If Eddie Jones does field Manu Tuilangi at outside centre then Davies and Roberts may be in for a field day. Tuliangi is a fantastic player but he does have a tendency to shoot out of the defensive line which opens up space for his opposing centres. The two Welsh centres have enough craft about their game to exploit Tuilangi’s weakness.
England will still be smarting from their World Cup defeat to the Welsh at Twickenham last year. That three-point loss ended the host’s participation in the tournament and I can assure you that Eddie Jones will be using that game as a motivating factor for this weekend’s clash.
Verdict: England (-5.5) 9/10
The English have been fantastic this year, especially at fortress Twickenham. Back the hosts to continue their unbeaten streak and clear the -5.5 margin at 9/10.
Sunday 13 March
Scotland v France | Saturday 13 March | Murrayfield | 16:45
To Win (80 Mins)
Scotland 17/20 | Draw 20/1 | France 1/1
Scotland (-1.5) 9/10 | France (+1.5) 9/10
While Saturday’s game at Twickenham is the obvious highlight this week, Sunday’s fixture is probably the most intriguing. The Scot’s have continued to improve with each passing week and look a side renewed from the one that finished at the foot of the Six Nations log in 2015. France have also come on in leaps and bounds this year. While they may have lost that enigmatic flair due to the more structured approach Guy Noves has implemented, they do look a lot less likely to be hammered by an opposition side if they’re having a bit of an off day. This ability to remain competitive despite enduring a sub-par performance can only bode well for the future of French rugby.
Both sides impressed last time out with the Scot’s managing to come through their potential banana peel at the Stadio Olimpico. Their 36-20 victory over the Italians has moved them up to third place on the Six Nations standings with three rounds remaining. This is a great achievement in itself for Vern Cotter’s men.
While the Scot’s managed to beat the Italians, the French went down to the Welsh at the Principality Stadium. Guy Noves men were nowhere near disgraced however, as they gave the Welsh a real run for their money. The French will have taken a lot away from that fixture but unfortunately for them, log points weren't one of the things they left Wales with.
In terms of team news, Vern Cotter has a bit of an injury crisis on his hands. Sean Maitland, Blair Cowan and Matt Scott will all miss this fixture due to injury. Conversely, Cotter’s opposite number has a pretty much fully fit squad to choose from.
Verdict: Scotland 17/20
The Scot’s have really impressed me this year and my money is on skipper Greig Laidlaw’s educated boot seeing them to victory this weekend.
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