Week Three saw Ireland extend their lead at the top of the Six Nations table – Joe Schmidt’s side could be crowned champions on Saturday evening if results go their way.
Ireland were brilliant in attack against Wales, notching a bonus point victory despite late pressure from Warren Gatland’s men.
Meanwhile, England were second best in every department against Scotland at Murrayfield.
The hosts were excellent value for their win and Eddie Jones’ men fell short in their pursuit of a losing bonus point, making their Six Nations title defence that little bit tougher. England are now out at 3/1 to win the competition.
But that was then and this is now. Six Nations glory is in Ireland’s hands and a win at home against Scotland will leave Schmidt’s men in a great position ahead of the final weekend.
We could be set for a blockbuster encounter between England and Ireland at Twickenham on St Patrick’s Day. Here are our top tips ahead of this weekend’s action…
IRELAND vs Scotland
Ireland are very difficult to beat on home soil and it would take a brave man to opt against the hosts here. Schmidt’s men are oozing confidence; Ireland’s main aim now is to regain the Six Nations crown.
Losing Robbie Henshaw to injury wasn’t ideal but Schmidt is blessed with a strong squad and Ireland have shown that they can cope in his absence.
Scotland were outstanding against England but this is another level. Winning at home is one thing but standing strong away from Murrayfield is much tougher.
Gregor Townsend is an excellent manager and Scotland have the tools required to end their barren road run – punters will be keen to back the visitors at 27/10.
For me, Ireland should be strong enough to win this one. Schmidt’s men to win both halves carries plenty of appeal at 21/20 and that is my top tip for Saturday’s early kick-off.
TIP: Ireland to win both halves @ 21/20
France vs ENGLAND
The Stade De France is an imposing venue and Les Bleus fans will smell blood after England’s setback in Scotland. France are in transition but head coach Jacques Brunel will be quietly confident of leading his troops to glory.
This won’t be a walk in the park for England – 23/10 for a home win offers value for underdog backers.
Jones will be demanding a response after England’s Murrayfield disappointment and the Australian may wring the changes for the trip to Paris.
Bouncing back at the first time of asking is not only imperative in the Six Nations title race but also for England’s preparations ahead of the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
Like Scotland, France will raise their game for this contest but England will be confident of notching a positive result. 7/5 for a narrow win may be the pick in the betting.
TIP: England to win by 1-12 points @ 7/5
WALES vs Italy
It was a case of close but no cigar for Wales in Dublin – Gatland’s men should be proud of their efforts though.
But now it is time to rebuild and focus on preparing for the future; and that is why Wales have wrung the changes for this clash. If nothing else, Wales should put on an entertaining show for their home fans.
Italy gave a decent account of themselves against France in Marseille but ultimately fell short after several crucial handling errors.
When the going gets tough, Italy are prone to capitulating and Wales could prosper if they go for the jugular early on. Conor O’Shea will have a game plan but Italy will be under the cosh from start to finish here.
With the Six Nations title now out of reach barring a minor miracle, Gatland may use this one as a learning exercise. Expect Wales to run riot; backing the hosts to lead by 13 points or more at half-time (41/50) may be wise.
TIP: Wales -12.5 first half handicap @ 41/50
*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*