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The Rugby World Cup kicks off in England on the 18th of September, and it promises to be a spectacular event. All of the top sides are assessing players and assembling squads over the next week or two, and all will be playing warm-up matches in preparation for the big tournament.
England were upset last Saturday when they went down 25-20 to France in Paris, and they will be expected to perform much better when the real thing comes around. This Saturday Scotland face another match against Italy – having beaten them in Rome last week – while Ireland take on Wales in Dublin. Both games are televised and both will serve as good pointers towards the forthcoming tournament. Scotland and Ireland are both worth backing to win their respective matches on home ground, against inferior sides.
Ireland v Wales
These two sides met as recently as the 8th of August in a previous warm-up game which Ireland won convincingly, scoring five tries on the way to a 35-21 victory at the Millennium Stadium. They meet again, this time at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin, and there seems to be little point in looking further than another Irish win.
We’re keen on the Irish chances of winning their World Cup pool, as highlighted in our ante-post betting guide, and they should make short work of the Welsh on Saturday afternoon. What makes that recent win in Wales all the more impressive is that Ireland were without several first team regulars, who will all return this weekend. Jonny Sexton, Rob Kearney, Conor Murray, Robbie Henshaw and Peter O’Mahony all come back into the fold on Saturday, while it will also be captain Paul O’Connell’s last test on home soil before he retires from international rugby.
The big news for Wales is that talented wing, George North, will make his comeback in this game after suffering concussion earlier in the year. North hasn’t played since March after receiving four blows to the head in the space of five months last season. He was concussed when playing for Wales against New Zealand in November 2014, before suffering two heavy blows during the opening six nations match against England this year. He was then knocked out while scoring a try when playing for Northampton Saints against Wasps at the end of March. He has been rested since then on the advice of medical staff, but has come through a training match unscathed and will take to the field in Dublin. Captain Sam Warburton will not make the match due to a slight knock, while tight-head prop Tomas Francis is set to win his first cap.
Ireland have won their last nine tests at home on the trot, and have demonstrated their superiority over Wales in the recent friendly. The Welsh beat Ireland in the six nations in March, which ultimately prevented the Irish from retaining their title, and that just adds a little bit of spice to a game that will be anything but a friendly. Ireland are a decent bet to win the match, and if you fancy them to dominate as they did three weeks ago, the handicap bet is also very tempting.
Ladbrokes offer +105 on Ireland overcoming a -6 point handicap, and we certainly wouldn’t put anyone off taking those odds.
Scotland v Italy
These two sides met even more recently than Ireland and Wales, with Scotland landing a 16-12 victory in Rome just last week. a late Henry Pyrgos try settled what had been a pretty poor game as far as both sides were concerned. It was, however, Scotland’s first win of 2015 and is bound to have lifted the spirits a bit, and they’ll be buoyed by the return of several big name players for Saturday’s match at Murrayfield. Stuart Hogg, Mark Bennett, Finn Russell, Jonny Gray and captain Grieg Laidlaw all come back in at the behest of head coach, Vern Cotter.
Bwin are offering a standout -271 on a Scottish win, while most other bookies are much shorter.
Scotland had won five on the trot at home against Italy prior to the 22-19 six nations defeat, and they will be looking to avenge that result back in front of their own fans. That win remains Italy’s only victory in 2015, and they were soundly beaten by every other side in the six nations. Both teams will be looking forward to the World Cup, but neither are really expected to be able to make an impact against the best sides in the world. As ever they are probably fighting for minor honours, and Scotland would certainly like to assert their authority over Italy.
Scotland centre, Mark Bennett, said that the win against the Italians had ‘been coming’ and that the Scots could use that as a stepping-stone to push on in the remaining warm-up games and head into the World Cup on a positive note. He’s been named in the matchday squad for this game, and is expected to take the field for the first time since March when he sustained a shoulder injury. In total there are 15 changes to Scotland’s 25-man match squad, and on paper at least, they should be stronger than they were in last week’s victory in Rome.
Thos who fancy Scotland to overcome a -10 point handicap can take the Betfred offer of -110 but that looks a slightly risky proposition, with Scotland’s ability to make thing hard for themselves. We expect a tight well-fought game, that should be a bit better on quality grounds than the turgid affair last week. Providing Scotland stick to their game plan and cut out the silly mistakes, they should be walking away with a second win in a week by Saturday tea-time.
Ireland to beat Wales
Saturday 29th August 14:30 GMT
Scotland to beat Italy
Saturday 29th August 15:15 GMT
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