6 Nations Rugby Round 1 Match Previews

 

Match 1: Wales vs Ireland

Location: Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
Date: Saturday, February 2, 2013 (local time)
Kick off: 13:30 GMT | 00:30 AEST
Weather: Overcast (roof may be closed)
Referee: Romaine Poite (France)

Preview
The RBS 6 Nations kicks off on Saturday in Cardiff in what is undoubtedly the clash of the weekend. In my season preview, I mentioned that Ireland and Wales could very well spring a few surprises this year. In my opinion, four of the six teams can come away with the result in this championship, although the hopes of these teams are somewhat slimmer. With all the attention firmly on England and France, either team might just be able to sneak in the back door.
Ireland has received a favourable draw in which they get to play both of the predicted frontrunners in their own back yard. This squad has a blend of youth and experience, however, they lack depth in some key positions, namely at flyhalf and tighthead prop. One of the key factors in the success of a solid scrum is the man who wears the number three jersey.

Ireland head into this fixture with confidence given their good form in the autumn internationals, however, a dangerous team of Welsh dragons await. With their backs against the wall, Wales are currently riding a losing streak of seven matches and presently occupy the number nine ranking in world rugby. Trust me, they are a much better team than their ranking suggests. Last year, the bounce of the ball just didn’t go their way. If it wasn’t for a few missed kicks and some final minute defensive lapses, thing mightn’t look so bad. One of the few stats that they will draw upon is that they have been victorious against the Irish in their last three encounters, albeit by only small margins.
With Adam Jones and Gethin Jenkins anchoring the scrum, a potentially lethal back row combination including Warburton and Faletau, and some classy backs in Jamie Roberts and George North, there is no doubt that Wales have match winners. This week, their senior players really need to stand up and lead from the front.

I witnessed Wales and Ireland collide in Wellington at the Rugby World Cup 2011, so I saw first-hand the intensity of the rivalry.  Despite the swirling wind and the blanketing rain, the fans were exuberant, creating a memorable atmosphere.  This time around, the roof will most likely be closed, negating any chance of the elements intervening.  Barring any key injuries, the winner of this game will most likely cement their tag of being the ‘best of the rest’.

Could Ireland be bringing home the trophy for only the second time in 28 years or can Wales repeat their grand slam feat of 2012? With added motivation of a seat on the plane to Australia with the British and Irish Lions later this year, this is sure to be a cracker.

Prediction: Ireland to use their luck and just eclipse wales
Best Bet: Ireland +2 @ $1.90 (Sportsbet)
Second Best: Will there be a yellow card? YES @ $1.67 (Sportsbet)
Loose Bet: Hedge it with Wales/Ireland and Ireland/Wales in the double result market @ $8.50/$7.50

Teams (key players in bold):

Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 George North, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Toby Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton, 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 Ian Evans, 4 Andrew Coombs, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Matthew Rees, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Paul James, 18 Craig Mitchell, 19 Olly Kohn, 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Lloyd Williams, 22 James Hook, 23 Scott Williams.

Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Craig Gilroy, 13 Brian O’Driscoll, 12 Gordon D’Arcy, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sean O’Brien, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 Mike McCarthy, 4 Donnacha Ryan, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 Declan Fitzpatrick, 19 Donncha O’Callaghan, 20 Chris Henry, 21 Eoin Reddan, 22 Ronan O’Gara, 23 Keith Earls.

Match 2: England vs Scotland

Location: Twickenham, London
Date: Saturday, February 2, 2013 (local time)
Kick off: 16:00 GMT | 03:00 AEST
Weather: Sunny
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)

Preview
The second match of the weekend sees Scotland travel south to London to face a red-hot England side with the teams playing off for the Calcutta Cup.  As joint tournament favourites, England will be looking to get off to a rampant start in front of their home crowd. England knows that anything other than a win here will not be accepted. Scotland on the other hand is looking to kick-start their campaign having finished with the dreaded wooden spoon last year.

Scottish interim coach Scott Johnson, has resisted selecting many of the new faces be brought into the squad, however, Sean Maitland formerly of the Canterbury Crusaders will make his first start in the 14 jersey, while the other winger selected is the former Dutchmen, Tim Visser. This is an exciting wing-combination, as they both possess blistering pace and the strength to bust through tackles. The team does look solid on paper, however, expectations are low as they currently sit outside the top ten world rankings, but despite performing subpar on the international stage last year, a number of players have been performing exceptionally well for Glasgow in the various European competitions.

England will be looking to build on (in my opinion) the best performance of last year when they outplayed the World Champions at rugby headquarters. England has been hit with an early blow having lost Manu Tuilangi to an ankle injury during the week. One of his key strengths is his raw power and being able to break the gain line, so their midfield will certainly lose some impetus. Tuilangi is by far and away one of the most exciting prospects in the game and will feature heavily in England’s 2015 world cup campaign (given he doesn’t have any more disciplinary issues).

Nevertheless, one of England’s biggest strengths is the structure that they play with. They often grind the opposition into submission, utilising their bruising forward pack and direct running. What is most impressive of late is their ability to operate effectively in the trenches and turn it on in the loose if a more expansive game plan is adopted. The future looks bright for England with coach Stuart Lancaster just being given the extra power of heading up the International Performance department of English rugby. The added responsibility reiterates the promise the rugby board sees in the current coach.

Calcutta Cup games are played with passion and aggression and both sides really need the result. In the last eight games between these two nations, the winning team has prevailed by 1-12 on six occasions. Scotland continue to lay their foundations for the future, however I just don’t think the Scots will be able to handle this formidable English team and the ever-developing ‘white wall’ in defence. England has been victors over Scotland on all but three occasions in the last 14 years, but the pressure is certainly on them. It may be close in the beginning, but I expect England to dominate territorially and if they convert pressure into points, they could quite easily sound a warning to the other nations.

Prediction: An out of tune English crowd will sing their lungs out to a home victory. There is no value in backing England at 1.10, but I do see value in giving Scotland a 15-point head start at $1.90.
Best Bet: Scotland +15 @ $1.90 (Sportsbet)
Second Best: Will there be a yellow card? YES @ $1.62 (Sportsbet)
Loose Bet: Will there be a drop goal? YES @ $2.99 (Sportsbet)

Teams (key players in bold):

England: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Brad Barritt, 12 Billy Twelvetrees, 11 Mike Brown, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Ben Morgan, 7 Chris Robshaw (captain), 6 Tom Wood, 5 Geoff Parling, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Tom Youngs, 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 Dylan Hartley, 17 David Wilson, 18 Mako Vunipola, 19 Courtney Lawes 20 James Haskell, 21 Danny Care, 22 Toby Flood, 23 David Strettle.

Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Sean Lamont, 12 Matt Scott, 11 Tim Visser, 10 Ruaridh Jackson, 9 Greig Laidlaw, 8 Johnnie Beattie, 7 Kelly Brown (capt), 6 Alasdair Strokosch, 5 Jim Hamilton, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Euan Murray, 2 Dougie Hall, 1 Ryan Grant.
Replacements: 16 Ross Ford, 17 Moray Low, 18 Geoff Cross, 19 Alastair Kellock, 20 David Denton, 21 Henry Pyrgos, 22 Duncan Weir, 23 Max Evans.

Match 3: Italy vs France

Location: Stadio Olimpico, Rome
Date: Sunday, February 3, 2013
Kick off: 16:00 GMT | 03:00 AEST
Weather: Chance of rain
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)

Preview
Italy will welcome tournament joint-favourites France to a full house at Stadio Olimpico in Rome on Sunday.  The final match of the opening round will see two fiercely competitive sides fighting it out for higher honours in 2013.  Italy had their best result last year finishing fifth led by their shining light, Sergio Parisse. For many years the captain has been the backbone of Italian rugby and his leadership, both on and off the field, has seen him earn praise from the IRB. However, rugby is a 15-man game and although this would arguably be their strongest squad since their initiation into the competition in 2000, it is time for some of his teammates to stand up.

Italy is a team that is riddled with foreign players and now with a French coach in Jacques Brunel, they are beginning to play a more expansive game. Italy hasn’t had a consistent flyhalf since Diego Dominguez. You may remember that Diego is one of the few players in the ‘modern’ era that has represented two nations (the other being Argentina). Luciano Orquera fills those boots this week for the 29th time of his career and Italian fans will be hoping that he has fixed up some of his defensive frailties that have plagued him in the past.

With the strength and competitiveness of the provincial competition in France, the Top 14, France begins their campaign understrength and underdone having one less week to prepare than their counterparts. Under their new management team, one of the most unpredictable teams in world sport seems to be finding another gear more often than not in recent times.  There seems to be a sense of harmony and belief within the squad, something that has eluded them in the past.

France does have a lot of depth and the mercurial Frederic Michalak is playing as well as he did in 2003. His job will be to marshal his troops moving forward and spark a backline with copious amounts of flair. A rising star for the French is Wesley Fofana. Typical to French rugby, he has been picked out of position on the wing, but he has an eye for a gap and is a try-scoring machine.

It is often said that in a match of a high calibre, which the majority of internationals usually are, the difference between winning and losing could really depend on a team’s ability to win the battle of the breakdown. France has been struck with a number of injuries in this department and an injury cloud is hovering over Louis Picamoles, a barnstorming number 8. He has been named to start and France will need him at his best as he is arguably the form number eight in Europe.

The French have had a stranglehold on the Italians, both at home and away for the last 15 years, only losing on one occasion in Rome in 2011. Even then, France was dominating the match and Italy looked down and out heading into the final half hour before a late collapse sent the crowd into a frenzy. I can’t see that happening this week and if France with patience first and flair later on, they will deflate the confidence of the Azzurri moving forwards.

Prediction: The French will get off to a strong start this week and shouldn’t lose. Allez les bleus! France by 13+.
Best Bet: France -12 @ 1.90 (Sportsbet)
Second Best: Will there be a yellow card? YES @ $1.53 (Sportsbet)
Loose Bet: Wesley Fofana to score a try at anytime @ $2.25 (Sportsbet) or two in the match @ $6.00 (Sportsbet)

Teams (key players in bold):

Italy: 15 Andrea Masi, 14 Giovambattista Venditti, 13 Tommaso Benvenuti, 12 Alberto Sgarbi, 11 Luke McLean, 10 Luciano Orquera, 9 Tobias Botes, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Simone Favaro, 6 Alessandro Zanni, 5 Francesco Minto, 4 Quintin Geldenhuys, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Andrea Lo Cicero.
Replacements: 16 Davide Giazzon, 17 Alberto De Marchi , 18 Lorenzo Cittadini, 19 Antonio Pavanello, 20 Paul Derbyshire, 21 Edoardo Gori, 22 Kristopher Burton, 23 Gonzalo Canale.

France: 15 Yoann Huget, 14 Wesley Fofana, 13 Florian Fritz, 12 Maxime Mermoz, 11 Benjamin Fall, 10 Frederic Michalak, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Fulgence Ouedraogo, 6 Thierry Dusautoir, 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Pascal Papé (c), 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 Dimitri Szarzewski, 1 Yannick Forestier

Replacements: 16 Benjamin Kayser, 17 Vincent Debaty, 18 Luc Ducalcon, 19 Romain Taofifenua, 20 Damien Chouly, 21 Morgan Parra, 22 Francois Trinh-Duc, 23 Mathieu Bastareaud

Author

Glenn Paton has followed rugby union for 15 years and has expert knowledge on the game freely committing to over 500 viewing hours a year. Having played with and against some current Super Rugby players and International superstars, he understands the game, the players and the laws inside out. Having been born in South Africa, spent time in New Zealand and currently living in Australia, Glenn lives and breathes rugby. With so many different tournaments happening around the world simultaneously and the addition of Rugby Sevens to the Olympic program, there are always plenty of healthy betting options available. An obsession, a passion, call it what you will, Glenn enjoys sharing his insight, opinions and predictions with anyone who wants to listen.

Specialities: Super Rugby, 6 Nations, Rugby Championship, International Tests, Currie Cup, ITM Cup, Rugby Sevens

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Author

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Glenn

Glenn has followed rugby union for 19 years and has expert knowledge on the game freely committing to over 500 viewing hours a year. Having played with and against some current Super Rugby players and International superstars, he understands the game, the players and the laws inside out. Having been born in South Africa, spent time in New Zealand and currently living in Australia, Glenn lives and breathes rugby. With so many different tournaments happening around the world simultaneously and the addition of Rugby Sevens to the Olympic program, there are always plenty of healthy betting options available. An obsession, a passion, call it what you will, Glenn enjoys sharing his insight, opinions and predictions with anyone who wants to listen.

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