The Six Nations tournament has already been through two rounds and results have conspired to make this weekend’s matches all the more important. Ireland travel to Twickenham to face England for coach Eddie Jones’ first home international since taking charge, and it’s the Irish who are on the verge of losing any chance of Six Nations success if they lose the match. Having already drawn with Wales and lost to France it’s do-or-die time for last year’s champions. For England it’s a chance to effectively put Ireland out of the running and cement their own place at the top of the table.
In Cardiff Wales will host France in another huge tussle, with the home side looking to leapfrog the visitors with a win. France have won both opening games in this year’s competition against Italy and Ireland in Paris, but they have perhaps been a little fortunate in both and will be fully tested in Cardiff. The Welsh gained the expected victory over Scotland last time out but it wasn’t without incident and they’ll be geared up for a better performance here against a considerably better side.
The third game of the weekend sees Scotland travel to Rome to try and halt their worst Six Nations run for 60 years. The Scots have lost 9 consecutive Six Nations international and they are coming perilously close to matching the record 15 straight defeats suffered by the side of the 1950’s. They’ll be desperate to avoid that fate and a win against Italy is well within their compass to break the barren run. However, the Italians have performed with credit against France and for periods of the game against England (before being swept aside), and they will present Vern Cotter’s men with plenty of challenges.
England v Ireland
The Australian coach has had an inauspicious start to his England career, recording two wins in the Six Nations so far despite his team not really playing all that well. However, they’ve done what they needed to do and the latter part of the Italy game saw plenty of improvement. Two away victories over Scotland (9-15) and Italy (9-40) have put them in pole position and home games against Ireland and Wales follow before another away trip to France. The Six Nations, the Triple Crown and the Grand Slam are all still on at the moment, and England are expected to come out firing on Saturday afternoon.
Ireland suffered a bruising encounter last time out in Paris, and another Six Nations title is slowly slipping from their grasp. They had led 9-3 against France through Johnny Sexton’s kicking, but were pegged back in the second half and overcome by French power to lose 10-9. It was also a costly match in terms of injuries with Sean O’Brien, Dave Kearney and Mike McCarthy all ruled out for the rest of the competition after suffering knocks against the French.
Jonathan Joseph grabbed a hat-trick of tries against Italy, and he can prove to be the danger man against Ireland. If England get points on the board early they could run away with the match, and we’re backing them to cover the -7 handicap.
Wales v France
Wales will need to up their game, but we also think they can cover a -8 points handicap at +100 with Bet365 when France visit Cardiff.
Wales have won their last four games against France and haven’t been beaten here by the French since 2010. Having fought back from 13-0 down against Ireland in their first match, Wales went on to beat Scotland 27-23 in Cardiff last time out but they didn’t have it all their own way. Scotland had led 13-10 at one point and it was only in the last 20 minutes that Wales opened up and scored two decisive tries to pull away. Welsh scrum-half Gareth Davies has said that Wales will need to play a higher tempo game and be prepared for French physicality, but if they win that battle they can go on to score the necessary points.
France have had two home games so far and they had to overcome a scare in the opener against Italy where late points spared potential blushes in a 23-21 victory. They were also behind against Ireland on home soil and again came from behind to snatch victory by a slender 10-9 margin. This game will be a tough Friday night encounter but Wales have the required quality especially in Cardiff.
Italy v Scotland
The Scots are desperate to win here to avoid a tenth straight defeat and write their names into all the wrong record books, but that desire is by no means a guarantee of success. Captain Greig Laidlaw has appealed to fans to stick with the national side and claimed that they are ‘going to win‘ in Rome, but it’s hard to share his optimism. Yes, man for man Scotland are a far better side than the current Italian crop, but it’s hard to justify backing a team which has lost nine in a row. They may well win, but Italy can get close enough to make it a nervous game.
The Italians were a whisker away from a famous victory in France and held their own against England for the best part of the match before falling apart in the latter stages. They are always up for this game, particularly in Rome, and will believe they can repeat last year’s Six Nations 22-19 win over the Scots. Of the last three Six Nations matches played here, Italy have won two and lost the other by a single point. They are worth backing to get within six points this time too.
England -7 Handicap to beat Ireland
Saturday 27th February, 16:50 GMT
Wales -8 Handicap to beat France
Friday 26th February, 20:05 GMT
Italy +6 Handicap to beat Scotland
Saturday 27th February, 14:25 GMT
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