The Six Nations tournament draws to a close this weekend and England face a huge match in Ireland as they attempt to break records. The English are on the verge of completing successive Grand Slams for the first time in 25 years, since the side captained by Will Carling took back-to-back honours. They are also one victory away from beating New Zealand’s 18-game winning test run, with a win in Ireland set to take England to 19 victories in a row.
The stakes couldn’t be higher then, even though England have already secured the Six Nations title after demolishing Scotland at Twickenham last time out. Ireland would like nothing more than to stop their old enemy from landing those achievements and it promises to be an electric atmosphere in Dublin. A combination of injuries and poor form make Ireland’s task harder, and if England show the same level of form as they did against Scotland it’s hard to back against them.
Wales – a week after beating the Irish 22-9 – travel to France, with second place in the table still up for grabs. Any one of four teams can take the runner-up spot, with only Italy cut adrift after a predictable four defeats from four matches. The French have won two games so far in the Six Nations – against Scotland and Italy – but suffered narrow defeats away in England and Ireland. Wales were beaten on home soil by the English and away at Scotland, but have gained victories at home to Ireland and away in Italy. This will be a much tougher test than the latter game though, against an improving French side.
Finally Scotland can round off a promising tournament with a win over Italy at Murrayfield. The Scots have recorded excellent wins over both Ireland and Wales during this Six Nations, and only suffered a narrow defeat in France. They were blown away by England last week – a combination of the host being on top form and the visitors not playing at their best – but a reaction can be expected in a game which they should dominate.
Ireland v England
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There is huge motivation for Eddie Jones’ England side, who can write their names into Six Nations history with back-to-back Grand Slams and by breaking New Zealand’s record of 18 winning tests. Wales’ victory over Ireland on the Friday night gave England the chance to secure the Six Nations with victory over Scotland at Twickenham. The English players never looked in doubt of recording the result, smashing the Scots 61-21 in a seven-try demolition. True, Scotland didn’t perform as well as they might, but England were imperious – showing the free-flowing rugby not always associated with this side.
Ireland’s hopes have been dealt a huge blow with the loss of scrum-half Conor Murray, Kieran Marmion set to take his place. The Irish can look back to 2011 when they stopped England completing a Grand Slam with a 24-8 victory in Dublin, but these are very different circumstances. England may have only won two of eight Six Nations ties in Ireland, but they have won four of the last five overall – including inflicting Ireland’s last home defeat in the competition back in 2013.
France v Wales
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Wales produced their best display of the tournament to beat Ireland in Cardiff last week, and they have a decent record against the French to boot. The Welsh have won the last five in a row against this week’s hosts, but they may struggle to replicate that incredible defence that brought victory in Cardiff.
The French are steadily improving under Guy Noves, and there is nothing too embarrassing about narrow defeats in England and Ireland. They beat Scotland 22-16 in Paris, and handed Italy a 40-18 away beating. Back in Paris for Saturday’s game against Wales, they are fancied to win by a small margin in what will be a tight match.
Scotland v Italy
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The handicap line is set at -26 points for the Scots, and they are expected to make it three wins from three this year at Murrayfield. Whether they can beat that points handicap is another matter, so the smarter bet might be on the 21-30 points winning margin. The Scots beat Ireland by five points, and Wales by 16 points in those two dramatic victories, and really should win this game to cap off an impressive tournament.
Italy lost 33-7 to Wales in the opening match (a margin of 26 points), before succumbing to a 63-10 pounding by Ireland (53 points the margin). However, the Italians fought bravely to stay within 21 points of England in a 36-15 loss at Twickenham, before going down 18-40 to France last week (22 point margin).
Scotland should win, but are not exactly known for racking up huge scores, and Italy can stay within 21-30 points in defeat.
England to beat Ireland
Saturday 18th March, 17:00 GMT
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France to beat Wales by 1-12 points
Saturday 18th March, 14:45 GMT
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Scotland to beat Italy by 21-30 points
Saturday 18th March, 12:30 GMT
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