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England and Ireland both gained important victories in the Six Nations last week, although they were in entirely different circumstances. Both can be backed to retain the winning thread this week, as they play their first home matches of the tournament.
We’ve already tipped Ireland to win the Six Nations, and recommended a side bet on them to take the Grand Slam by winning all five of their matches, and nothing we’ve seen so far has dampened our enthusiasm. England will be the biggest danger to the Irish, and the match between the two on Irish soil on the 1st of March could go a long way to deciding the eventual winner.
England v Italy
England played the archetypal game of two halves last Friday night against Wales, coming from 10 points behind to win 21-16 and secure their first victory in Cardiff for two years. Wales had won five of their previous six games at home and surged into an early lead buoyed by the ferocious roar of the Welsh fans. England fought back though and 13 unanswered points gave them a famous victory and saw them get over one of the biggest hurdles in the way of a successful tournament. Maiden tries for Anthony Watson and Jonathan Joseph were supplemented by 11 points from the kicking of George Ford, and the English team will go into this weekend’s match at Twickenham against Italy full of confidence.
England coach Stuart Lancaster has said that he will name an unchanged side for the match, with Jonathan Joseph and George Kruis set to make their Twickeham debuts. Italy are without doubt the poorest side in the competition, and Ireland brushed them aside 26-3 in Rome last week, without really getting out of second gear. It took a long time for Ireland to wear down the Italian defence in front of their own fans, but the result rarely looked in doubt, and the Italians won’t relish a trip to Twickenham against a resurgent England.
Italy have taken the wooden spoon nine times in fifteen attempts in the Six Nations, and quotes of +50000 on them winning the tournament are not far wide of the mark. They’ve made four changes to their starting line-up for the game, with Mauro Bergamasco and former captain, Marco Bortolami returning to the pack along with prop Alberto De Marchi, and Giovanbattista Vendetti coming in to play left wing. It’s unlikely to make any difference to the result though, and England are as short as -10000 to complete yet another victory against the Italians.
Another option is to back England on the points handicap, and with the circumstances surrounding the match building up to a big England win, there looks to be a bit of value in backing them to overcome a -28.5 points handicap.
England have achieved such a points differential in two of the last four matches against the Italians, winning 52-11 and 59-13 in recent years, and while it’s true that there have also been a couple of tight matches as well, this one looks like it could be a landslide England victory, and is worth backing at just shy of evens.
Ireland v France
France beat Scotland 15-8 in Paris last week in their Six Nations opener, but will find it much, much harder to travel to Dublin and take on reigning champions Ireland this Saturday. Scotland scored the only try of that match, but five penalties from Camille Lopez consigned the Scots to defeat in their opening Six Nations match for the ninth year running. France were probably the better side, but they were far from imperious, and the Scottish can take plenty of positives from the performance. However, the French will still represent Ireland’s first big test of the tournament as they look to defend their trophy.
The Irish did everything required of them to gain the points over Italy, and they now face home matches against France and England, along with away games in Scotland and Wales. The English and the Welsh will provide the sternest tests, and if Ireland have any pretensions of retaining the Six Nations title, they ought to be beating both France and Scotland. Irish coach, Joe Schmidt, has recalled Jonathan Sexton, Sean O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip for the game, and has said that Sexton is fighting fit and ready, having not played since November after suffering three concussions in the last 12 months. Neither Heaslip or O’Brien were risked in Rome due to injury, and the trio of players will bolster the Irish ranks for this match.
There’s no doubt that this will be a tough game, and a real test of Ireland’s mettle. The 22-20 win over France in Paris last year was the first time Ireland had beaten the French for five years – the previous time they won the Six Nations in 2009 – and it will be a good omen if they can repeat the trick here. In their favour is the fact that France aren’t the best of travelers, and Ireland rarely lose at home to Northern Hemisphere teams. If the England game is the cakewalk of the weekend, then this is the one to watch for it’s competitive nature. We think Ireland will come out on top with the crucial advantage of being at home in front of their own fans. It’s an intimidating atmosphere in Dublin, and if the Irish come out all guns blazing, the French may struggle to live with them.
Six Nations, Saturday 14th February
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