It was a fantastic start to the Six Nations last weekend, and there’s more action to come on Saturday and Sunday as the tournament progresses. Scotland undoubtedly snatched the headlines with that incredible shock win over Ireland, causing many a pundit to question whether this Scottish side has what it takes to overcome years of disappointment. The English juggernaut keeps on rolling under head coach Eddie Jones, and whether or not you enjoy his style of Rugby, it’s hard not to appreciate the record of 15 consecutive test wins.
England travel to Cardiff to play Wales on Saturday evening, in a match that always stokes the fires. Something will have to give at the Principality Stadium though, as both sides have impressive records to maintain. England national record of 15 test victories is just three short of New Zealand’s, and they’ve won the last six away tests. Another victory here would be their ninth consecutive Six Nations win too – equalling their best ever sequence. Wales need no motivation for this game however, and they have their own records to protect. The Welsh have lost just one of the last ten Six Nations games, and have won the last four at home. They’ve also beaten England on five of their last seven visits to Wales, so this is set up to be a thrilling encounter.
Scotland produced an astonishing 242 tackles in that 27-22 win over Ireland at Murrayfield, a quite incredible number in defeat, let alone victory. That tells a story of Irish dominance and stoical Scottish defending, but the victory was built on more than just steel. Scotland ironed out the errors that have blighted their performances in recent past, and added some swift, creative attacking play to boot. The win has the Rugby world pondering. Is this Scotland team the best since the 1999 side that won the Five Nations? Can they really take something from the match up with France in Paris on Sunday?
For Ireland, the defeat to Scotland was both unexpected and disappointing. A second half onslaught saw them go ahead after 62 minutes, but late Laidlaw penalties saw out a Scottish win. The Irish will look to regroup and will point to their dominance in the match that probably would have led to victory on another day. A game against Italy could be the perfect opportunity to bounce back, and with bonus points now up for grabs, the Italians might find themselves on the wrong end of a backlash.
Wales v England
George North and Dan Biggar will be given every chance to prove their fitness ahead of Saturday’s game, after picking up knocks in the 33-7 win over Italy. Rob Evans and Tomas Francis come into the front row, and Taulupe Faletau is fit enough to be among the replacements. The new bonus points system may be controversial, but Wales may come to rue that late chance to add an extra try against the Italians. It was a struggle to break down a dogged Italy for much of the game, but Wales pulled away after Italy were reduced to 14 men for ten minutes around the hour mark. Whether that was down to Welsh quality or Italian indiscipline is open to question.
England have announced two changes to the line up with Jack Clifford earning his first Six Nations start by replacing Tom Wood, and Jack Nowell preferred on the wing to Jonny May who drops to the bench. England have developed a winning mentality over the last 15 tests, and Jones’ team is built on defensive discipline. Wales will be highly motivated in front of their own passionate crowd, but may just be overpowered on the day.
France v Scotland
Scotland would cause another shock if they win in Paris, but it’s a leap of faith for us punters. There may be a bit of value however, in backing the Scots to win the second half +160 with Betfair and Paddy Power.
Scottish captain Greig Laidlaw has already earmarked fitness as one of the keys if Scotland are to get a result, on the basis that the French may fade late in the game. His conclusion that the Top 14 is a slower game and fitness levels may be lower, appears to be backed up by French test results. In the last 11 tests, the French have been outscored in the second half eight times.
Narrow defeats to New Zealand, Australia and England read well in the context of this game though, and France have the look of a side on the cusp of a resurgence. They wouldn’t entertain the possibility of losing at home to Scotland for the first time since 1999, and if ‘normal service’ is resumed they could go on to win comfortably. A punt on the Scots scoring most in the second half makes more appeal from a value perspective – especially if they maintain the discipline they showed against Ireland.
Italy v Ireland
The Irish can be backed to cover a -23 handicap at +105 with Betfair, and that seems fair given the circumstances.
Italy will be on the backfoot again for the majority of this match, but even after defending stoutly for so long against Wales they still lost 33-7. Ireland are a powerful side and one suspects that Italy will not be able to hold out in such a heroic manner as the Scots. Equally, Ireland are even more focused on getting points – and chasing that bonus point – after last week’s result, so they will be gunning to rack up a decent score.
England to beat Wales
Saturday 11th February, 16:50 GMT
Scotland to Win the Second Half
Sunday 12th February, 15:00 GMT
Ireland -23 to beat Italy
Saturday 11th February, 14:25 GMT