The Six Nations’ opening weekend lived up to its billing, with France cruising home in Rome, Scotland ending their 38-year Twickenham hoodoo and Wales edging past 14-man Ireland.
Round Two kicks off with England’s chance to set the record straight before the injury-hit Welsh head to Murrayfield. Then on Sunday, Ireland’s woes could be extrapolated when they host France.
England Unlikely to Have it Easy Against Italy
Few would argue that England came away from that 11-6 defeat to Scotland with any sort of credit. The Red Rose were flat, indecisive and out of ideas as they were beaten at home by the Scots for the first time since 1983.
Saturday’s clash with Italy provides a chance for them to hit back and Franco Smith’s side are unlikely to carry any sort of confidence into the game having gone down 50-10 to France first time out.
The Azzurri have not won a Six Nations match since downing the Scots 22-19 in the third round of 2015. Following last week’s showing, there are again inevitable questions about whether they still deserve to be involved in the tournament.
England won 34-5 in Rome to seal the Six Nations in October but were also far from impressive that day. However, Italy have never beaten them and that’s unlikely to be changed considering the Italians have lost the last eight meetings by an average of 34 points.
George Ford’s reintroduction at 10 should add some spark for the hosts, while the pack is bolstered by Kyle Sinckler and Mako Vunipola, but on last week’s evidence, the -36.5 handicap at
50/57 might prove too strong.
Scots to Quell Wales Revival
Wales may have won first up, beating Ireland 21-16, but they played 66 minutes of that match against 14-men following Peter O’Mahony’s early dismissal.
Wayne Pivac will have breathed a sigh of relief following that victory but his side will need to step up against a Scotland side riding the wave after ending their TW2 drought last weekend.
Captain Stuart Hogg was named man-of-the-match but the Scots were sensational from one to 15 and even their replacements stepped up.
Gregor Townsend’s men also won 14-10 when these two met in October and despite the absence of dazzling centre Cameron Redpath, will be keen to show their opening win was not a flash in the pan, with Scotland
2/5 in the match betting.
Wales have also lost six players through injury and concussion on the back of that win over Ireland and Pivac’s recent reprieve may not last long.
Scotland’s -5.5 handicap hardly looks insurmountable at
10/11 and don’t be surprised to see the likes of Hogg and Finn Russell run riot.
No Dublin Doubts for Fabulous France
Finally to Sunday, where Dublin’s fair city welcomes a France side eyeing their first win at the Aviva since 2011.
Les Bleus were excellent in dismantling Italy last Saturday and face a brooding Ireland side who will be licking their wounds following their defeat in Cardiff.
A victory at the Principality would have eased the pressure on Andy Farrell but while Ireland played hard for 80 minutes, their lack of depth in key areas was again exposed.
Jacob Stockdale’s late try in the pair’s last meeting gave the scoreline some respectability at 35-27 but Ireland were outplayed that night and France will again be eyeing a bonus-point win, with the victory itself
That’s even without last season’s tournament top-scorer Romain Ntamack, with his replacement Matthieu Jalibert adding an extra degree of control. However, his half-back partner Antoine Dupont runs the show and the Toulouse man’s speed around the ruck could haunt the Irish.
Despite Les Bleus’ poor record in Dublin, they look a class above the rest of the competition and a win by 13+ points at
14/5 doesn’t look out of the question.
*All odds correct at time of writing