After another weekend off, the RBS 6 Nations returns with the penultimate round featuring three matches that will definitely play a role in deciding overall tournament positions and could also set up a grand finale between Wales and England in Cardiff next week. The business end of the tournament often sees one or two players stand up and make a name for themselves and there is no better year to do it with the British and Irish Lions touring down under in June. There will be two matches on Saturday night and the final match of the round in the early hours of Monday morning. Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter (@S15_TheProfits) for game coverage, expert insight or just for a chat.
Best Bet 1: Wales -7.5 @ $1.85 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 2: Ireland -2 @ $1.90 – Sportsbet
Scotland ($2.78) versus Wales ($1.45)
A resurging Scotland stand between Wales and another shot at the RBS 6 Nations title, although Scotland aren’t exactly out of the championship race either. After losing convincingly against England in round one, Scotland have managed to string two victories together in front of their home faithful and they look to continue this form at a bustling Murrayfield this weekend. Wales on the other hand are in an identical position having lost their opening fixture to Ireland and then managed to dispose of France and Italy.
Interim coach, Scott Johnson has brought a lot of fresh ideas to the Scotland game and the players look to all be on the same page. What is most exciting is that they have the ability to play a wide running game with the likes of Maitland, Visser and player of the tournament contender, Stuart Hogg. Kelly Brown is as tough as they come in the back row and the young second rower Richie Grey looks likely to venture south with the B&I Lions this year. For the most part, Scotland’s defence has been dogged but they will be up against a stern test this week. Both teams don’t like to throw the ball around in their own half, so the kick chase battle could be key. This is where Wales should have an advantage.
Wales have had a disappointing last twelve months given the highs they achieved at the Rugby World Cup in 2011. However, their dark days of 2012 will be forgotten a little bit easier if they can triumph over Scotland this week. Momentum plays an important role in rugby, and all sport for that matter, and in a game of inches, it doesn’t take much to be on the losing side. Wales have struggled with injuries and flanker Sam Warburton has had better days, but their squad is built around experience and full of players who have been in this position before. Their squad has been consistent for a few years now and their focus has to be on getting past Scotland first, before thinking about what could be next weekend.
This week, Wales can call upon the fact that they have won their past four away matches and if they manage to outscore Scotland, they will have achieved this feat for only the fourth time in a 100+ year history. Additionally, Wales have beaten Scotland on the past five occasions and the last nine out of ten and I see this trend continuing, setting up a mouth-watering clash with England next week.
Predicted result: Wales to end Scotland’s championship aspirations @ $1.45 – Sportsbet.
Best Bet 1: Wales -5 @ $1.92 – Sportsbet
Ireland ($2.02) versus France ($1.80)
Aviva Stadium in Dublin will feature the match of the round with the unpredictable and underperforming French travelling west to challenge Ireland. What is quite hard to fathom is that France are winless when some pundits predicted they would reign supreme in this year’s competition. Ireland don’t sit much prettier, having only beaten Wales in round one. Although I don’t think the French will go without picking up some points in this year’s competition, they face a massive task in trying to uncoil the fighting Irish at home. Both coaches are under an extreme amount of pressure which makes this match even more interesting.
Ireland have made three changes from their last outing by adding Cian Healy (prop) who was lucky to have his suspension reduced, Mike McCarthy (lock) and Fergus McFadden who has been drafted in as injury cover for Craig Gilroy. Controversially, coach Declan Kidney has not named a starting or bench fly half as he is giving Paddy Jackson as long as possible to recover. In form fly half, Jonathan Sexton has already been ruled out but should be back next week. Ireland have still managed to name a strong side that could pose the French some problems, and this could be one of Brian O’Driscoll’s last games at home.
Looking at the French, I have harped on about this before but their coaching staff need to be held partially responsible for their performances so far, after selecting players out of position and making unnecessary substitutions at crucial stages which in turn, have staggered both team rhythm and momentum. Two weeks ago, rising star Wesley Fofana highlighted his world class billing, scoring a sensational solo try from well inside his own half. Coincidentally, he was selected in his preferred position in the centres. He retains his position this week and Michalak (fly half), Fritz (centre) and Medard (wing) return to the starting fifteen. This is arguably the best team Philippe Saint-Andre has selected this tournament and they match up very well against Ireland.
With Ireland and France both out of contention to take out this year’s title, one could expect this to be a dour affair. Contrary to this, I see this match as potentially being one of the best matches of the tournament, which isn’t always a huge feat when you look at the history of northern hemisphere rugby. Historically the French have a 75% success rate against Ireland and have scored almost three times as many tries over the course of their rivalry. Both teams will try and win at all costs this weekend and I have to tip the French on the back of them winning eleven of the previous thirteen meetings and three out of the last four in Ireland.
Predicted result: France to win at $1.80 – Sportsbet
Best Bet: France to win at $1.80 – Sportsbet
England ($1.01) versus Italy ($17.00)
The form team of the competition and my tournament winning selection, England welcome a teetering Italian side to Rugby HQ in London on Sunday. The Azzurri has never been victorious against the English in eighteen attempts, with the average score across all encounters being 40-13 in favour of the home team this weekend. In recent years, this scoring gap has been bridged slightly and the Italians will look to blemish the unbeaten record of the English this weekend.
Italy started the competition in fine form, upsetting the French in front of a huge and passionate crowd in Rome. After this impressive victory, they were completely outplayed by the Scottish at Murrayfield and saw an equally similar result occur at home against a reenergised Welsh unit. At the time of this submission, the Italians hadn’t selected their match day 22. However, inspirational captain, Sergio Parisse has been included in the squad given that he has had his 30-day ban reduced for insulting a referee. Other than that, the squad that succumbed to the Welsh is unchanged.
England started the competition strongly by outplaying Scotland, grinding out a tough victory in Dublin and then brushing France aside a fortnight ago. Stuart Lancaster has made five changes from the last team that ran out against France. Mako Vunipola (prop), Danny Care (halfback), and Toby Flood (fly half) join the starting line-up, while Freddie Burns (fly half) and Tom Croft (flanker) will make an appearance off the bench. Tom Croft has been out of the English fray for over twelve months following a neck injury and the English faithful will be ecstatic about his return to international rugby.
Unfortunately for the Italians, they will come up short against a budding English rose this weekend. England are the form team of the tournament and despite missing a couple of starters, their class and depth will be on display setting up a grand finale in Wales next week (given Wales beat Scotland). Stuart Lancaster has created a winning culture in England and it is evident that their defeat of the All Blacks last year has been a clear catalyst propelling them forward in 2013. Italy will have a much better chance next weekend and the odds reflect how dominant England should be.
In the last five years, England has only covered this handicap (-25.5) once, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they did. Therefore, I am going to select the highest scoring half to be the second half on the basis of the Italians usually starting strong and then fading late. Sometimes England takes its time to get into a game and their bench will be clearly stronger and I can see a few late tries being scored.
Predicted result: England to thump Italy @ 1.01 – Sportsbet
Best Bet: Highest scoring half – Second half @ $1.67 – Sportsbet