SIX NATIONS PREVIEW What a week we had to open proceedings in the Six Nations last week. Two hard fought games on Saturday with Scotland recording a real upset against the Irish, followed by a close encounter between England and their rivals France. Looking forward to this weekend there is surely more top rugby in store as the Irish open things up again against the Italians in Rome. The English follow up again as they travel to Cardiff to take on Wales and on Sunday the Scottish will be looking for another upset as they travel to France.

Italy v Ireland

2.25pm Saturday
A disappointing start to the campaign for both of these sides last week with an uncharacteristically sloppy Ireland going down to Scotland in Murrayfield and a poor second half display from Italy condemning them against Wales. The Scotland result makes a bonus point win a must for Ireland if they are to keep their championship hopes alive but they should be able to bounce back against quite a poor Italian side.

Ireland recall Donnacha Ryan, whose doggedness was badly missed last week at Murrayfield, and he should add some much needed fire to the Irish eight. Slow ruck ball was a huge issue for Ireland in the first half against Scotland and there is no doubt that Joe Schmidt will have hammered home both ball presentation and aggression at ruck time this week. Ireland’s defence coach Andy Farrell will also have been busy after a passive first week display and you can expect to see a far more robust display in Italy.

Italy were exactly where they wanted to be at half-time against Wales last week, just ahead in a sloppy dog-fight but it has to be worrying for Conor O’Shea how easily his side capitulated in the final quarter of the game. They are playing like a team with very little belief and if Ireland can start well this could be a very long day for them.

Ireland should be laser focused for this game and in particular their pack will have a point to prove. They haven’t become a bad team overnight and they should be able to top the spread of -21.5 points available on BETDAQ.

Back Ireland (-21.5) Handicap Betting at 1.75.

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Wales v England

4.50pm Saturday
Two teams that won while underperforming in week one take each other on and England are warm favourites to continue their winning run. As flagged, England struggled without the Vunipola brothers carrying ability in week one which looks likely to be an issue again this week. I expected to see Ben Te’o brought in this week to add a big ball carrier that they need but Eddie Jones is persisting with the Ford/Farrell axis which suggests England may adopt more of a tactical kicking game. This would also make sense with the lineout options England have available to them in Launchbury, Lawes and Itoje.

Wales’ score line last week really flattered their performance which was actually quite poor against Italy. The aging members of their squad are starting to show their age and crucially they have picked up two injuries in North and Biggar. Both will be game time decisions on Saturday (though it appears as if North will miss the game) but if either doesn’t start it will significantly lessen their chances of victory. What is in Wales’ favour is that they are a big game team and it is possible that they will leave last week’s performance well behind.

This is a game that really could go either way and it is unlikely to be more than a one score game. Wales will need to win the collisions and hope that their injured players can make it through 80 minutes. Home advantage is usually big in this fixture but in the end England’s bench should just get them over the line. The England (-5.5) handicap looks about right and at the current prices on BETDAQ I would lean towards England at 1.99.

Back England (-5.5) Handicap Betting at 2.0.

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France v Scotland

3.00pm Sunday
This has all the makings of a great game of rugby and Scotland should be riding the crest of a wave after a great win in week one against Ireland. They bullied Ireland off the park in the first half and were clinical out wide to take their three tries. It will be a big boost to their confidence that they actually closed out the game having let similar opportunities slip in recent times. They face a huge challenge now in Paris against a French team that played some good rugby in defeat to England.

France have made just one change for this clash with Loann Goujon replacing Damien Chouly in the back row and will look to the pace and power of their back three to create some scores. Scrum-half Baptise Serin had a mixed first Six Nations start, showing some lovely touches but proving ponderous on the ball on occasion. This team looks a throwback to the French teams of the early 00’s but they do still have an issue with conditioning in the second half.

Scotland will have to survive an early onslaught from the French but if they can get to half time still in touch they have a real opportunity for a famous win. Their backline matches up well with any other in the competition and if their pack can survive at scrum-time they will cause France major problems. I am tempted to go with Scotland in match betting at 3.5 on BETDAQ but the safer bet is Scotland (+6.5) on the handicap which is available to back at 1.87.

Back Scotland (+6.5) Handicap Betting at 1.88.

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