So what have we learnt from Round 1 that could inform our predictions? Ireland and France both won comfortably without really firing, England and Wales can both play a lot better, and Scotland and Italy are frustrating to play against.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t really provide many clues as to what will happen this weekend, because most teams could play so differently, but here are my views on which way the games will go.
Wales v Scotland
We’ve had a fairly average week here at The Rugby Blog HQ, but surely it’s nothing compared to what the Welsh team have been through. Shaun Edwards probably had steam coming out of his ears, and he’s not one to keep his frustrations inside – the squad will have been working hard and they’ll be out for redemption this week.
What better place for redemption than in front of their own fans at the Millennium Stadium, against a Scotland team that never really troubled France last week? It appears that the Scots will play a fairly narrow game, using Dan Parks to pin the home side in their own half and then hope for mistakes and penalties for Chris Paterson to step up.
This could frustrate Wales and it might just work, but I’m sure they’ll have a few tricks up their sleeve to counter this plan. There is too much class in the back row and the backs, and as long as they can get their lineout functioning properly, they should have too much for Andy Robinson’s side, and I expect them to win relatively comfortably.
My SportGuru prediction is Wales by 17
France v Ireland
What a prospect this is, and in a way, it’s a shame that it comes so early in the Championship – judged purely on last weekend’s performances, France and Ireland are the two best teams in the competition. However, I don’t think we learned much about either side in their respective games.
Ireland looked fairly sharp in short bursts against Italy, but were drawn into Italy’s close-quarters gameplan which didn’t do much for them. Stephen Ferris returns to the back row and will provide a huge boost, as this will be a key battle against the French. If Ferris can help Ireland get the upper hand against Thierry Dusautoir, Fulgence Ouedraogo and Imanol Harinordoquy, they can put width on the ball and cause problems for the French.
Unfortunately for Ireland, that’s a huge IF. The French back row is one of the finest in the world, and I think their superior pack is likely to be the difference between the sides. If France dominate the scrum and the breakdown, they’ll beat Ireland into submission by sending their enormous runners into Ireland’s midfield.
My impression from last weekend was that they just did enough to see off Scotland – if Scotland had scored to bring the scores closer, I think France would have tried a bit harder and scored themselves. After a nice warm-up, they’ll show a lot more intent this week.
Home advantage is also a factor, and Ireland have not won in Paris since 2000. It should be close, and it could be a brilliant game to watch, but I’m backing France.
My SportGuru prediction is France by 8
Italy v England
After a win on the opening weekend, optimism has returned to the faithful English supporters. Italy without Sergio Parisse? Shouldn’t be a problem for the mighty England!
But England’s matches against Italy in Rome have been getting closer and closer, and the winning margin two years ago was just 4 points. I’d love to see a big 5-try performance from Martin Johnson’s side, and the return of Riki Flutey should help our chances, but whilst I think it will be another victory, I don’t think it will be a huge margin.
Dan Cole makes his first full start and will have a tough afternoon against Italy’s front row, but if England’s set piece holds up and the back row can recycle the ball quickly at every breakdown, Danny Care might be able to provide some good quality ball and we may just see some running at pace.
My concern is that it descends into another farce like the Argentina match in the Autumn. England’s kicking out of hand has been abysmal recently, and I really hope that the game strategy doesn’t revolve around it. If Italy prevent England from executing plan A, I’m not too confident that there will be a plan B, but perhaps the coaches deserve more credit – fingers crossed for a bit of intent and a few tries.
My SportGuru prediction is England by 13
How do you see the games unfolding this weekend?
Don’t forget we’ll be doing live updates from the Italy v England game on Sunday – tune in to share your views on the game as it happens.