SCOTLAND vs ITALY
Vern Cotter’s men were bitterly disappointing at Twickenham last weekend but the Scots have the perfect chance for redemption when Italy visit Murrayfield in the first of three matches on ‘Super Saturday’.
Although they can have no complaints about losing to a very good England side, Scotland will be dissatisfied at the way they collapsed after going down early on and I fancy the hosts to bounce back in a positive manner this weekend.
If nothing else, Scotland should do it for Cotter in his last match in charge before Gregor Townsend’s appointment in the summer. And with the likes of Stuart Hogg, Richie Gray and John Barclay in fine form, the Scots could put Italy to the sword on home soil.
The visitors took an early lead against France in Rome last weekend but Les Bleus showed plenty of mental strength to fight back and take control of the game. If Conor O’Shea’s men are to avoid picking up a fourth Wooden Spoon in five years, they will need to be much improved – both at the breakdown and in possession.
Getting into good field position hasn’t been a major problem for Italy throughout this year’s Six Nations but profligate finishing has hurt their chances of glory. For me, Scotland will be too strong on Saturday afternoon and Cotter will sign out with a colossal success...
TIP: Scotland to win by 22 points or more @ 7/10
FRANCE vs WALES
France have been a bit of a mixed bag this year, losing to England and Ireland whilst playing really well whilst beating Scotland and Italy when not at their best. Home advantage plays a big part in the Six Nations and Wales will need to quieten the fiery Stade de France crowd down if they are to stand any chance of victory in this contest.
Rob Howley’s men were outstanding against Ireland in what was arguably the match of the tournament so far. Had Jonathan Davies found touch against England with 76 minutes on the clock, Wales would have gone into this clash knowing that a win would secure the Six Nations title.
As it is, they are playing for seeding ahead of the World Cup draw. If Wales can emulate last weekend’s victory against Ireland, they should be too strong for France. Leigh Halfpenny has struggled with his kicking in recent weeks but the Toulon man could be the difference maker on Saturday afternoon.
It is hard to put too much faith in Wales though; they failed to secure a bonus point in the win over Italy in Rome and collapsed at Murrayfield. On home soil, you’d back Wales all the way but France are a funny side – you never quite know what you’re getting to get.
For me, Wales will just about shade this one. Les Bleus could run away with it if they find their best form and Howley’s men aren’t at the races but I like the 49/20 on offer for the Welsh to win a tight-knit affair...
TIP: Wales to win by 12 points or fewer @ 49/20
IRELAND vs ENGLAND
The big one. Only Ireland can stop Eddie Jones’ men from writing yet another chapter in the history books now. It is England who are now level with New Zealand on 18 tier one wins in a row, it is England who can become the first team in Six Nations history to win back-to-back Grand Slam titles and it is England who can win a third Triple Crown in four years.
But the visitors know just how daunting Saturday’s task is. Beating Ireland in Dublin is no easy feat; they’ve won just once in their last six trips across the Irish Sea. It certainly won’t be straightforward by any stretch of the imagination; this is going to be a physical, gruelling contest from start to finish.
Last weekend, England oozed class against Scotland at Twickenham. The visitors were poor but Jones’ side were ruthless in their approach – constantly piling on the pressure for the entire 80 minutes. If England emulate that performance, surely not even Ireland can prevent the visitors from securing a second Grand Slam in a row?
Ireland were disappointing in Wales but what better way to bounce back than by denying England a chance to re-write the history books? Joe Schmidt was furious after last week’s loss and they are now fighting for their top seed status ahead of the World Cup draw.
A difficult one to predict. Prior to England’s clash with Scotland, Ireland would have been favourites – some people still believe that they should be favourites. You can be sure that Eddie Jones will have a plan and it would take a brave man to back against record-chasing England; even in Dublin...
TIP: England to win @ 5/9
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