The waiting is nearly over! The anticipation ahead of the opening round of the 2010 RBS Six Nations is nearly killing me, but it’s now time to make my SportGuru predictions for this weekend’s matches.
Ireland v Italy
Last year’s Grand Slam heroes take on the Wooden Spooners in the first match of the tournament, and it’s difficult to see Italy troubling the reigning champions at Croke Park.
Without Sergio Parisse, Italy’s one genuinely effective player, the Italians might struggle to compete this year, and a trip to Dublin is not the ideal start. They can do a good job of stifling a team though, battling hard in the front five and slowing the whole game down, which does mean that predicting large winning margins against Italy might not be sensible.
But Ireland should be able to cope with anything Italy can throw at them – there is class all over the pitch, even without the injured Stephen Ferris and Donncha O’Callaghan, and I’m expecting a comfortable home victory. I have gone for Ireland by 21.
England v Wales
As it stands, England sit at the top of the Six Nations, whilst Wales are at the bottom. Unfortunately, no games have been played, and it’s only alphabetical superiority that determines the current position, but there doesn’t seem to be much between these teams at all.
Warren Gatland had said he would target the English front row as a weakness, and there were no doubt concerns in the England camp that an all-Lion trio could give them a tough time – unfortunately for Wales, Matthew Rees and Gethin Jenkins are absent, and so this is less of a worry.
It’s so difficult to know how England will perform. Selection appears to be positive, with Mathew Tait and Riki Flutey bringing some level of creativity to what was previously a very one-dimensional backline.
A lot will depend on the back row, in my opinion. For me, Tom Croft is not a huge loss with Nick Easter returning, and James Haskell and Lewis Moody were two of the better players at the end of last year. That said, the Welsh threesome of Andy Powell, Martyn Williams and Ryan Jones is fairly handy, and the competition at the breakdown could well decide the outcome.
There won’t be much in it, and for all the tension, pressure and inevitable kicking, it might not be the greatest spectacle, but there is bound to be drama. I can’t bring myself to back Wales at Twickenham, so I’ve gone for England by 3.
Scotland v France
This is another difficult match to call. Making predictions based on form in the autumn doesn’t seem sensible where these two teams are concerned, and there are also other difficulties. Scotland beat Australia but then lost to Argentina, whilst France beat South Africa and then capitulated against New Zealand.
On paper, France are the better side, but Scotland are always much harder to beat at Murrayfield than anywhere else, whilst France can struggle to perform away from home. Nobody can really tell what will happen on Sunday.
Scotland don’t score many tries, and their gameplan is likely to be based around Chris Paterson’s goal-kicking and Andy Robinson’s determination to ‘control the scoreboard’. I can’t really see them getting away with playing a narrow game against a France team containing the likes of Mathieu Basteraud and Aurelien Rougerie, and the French really ought to win this game.
It would be a real upset for Scotland to win this one, and I’m backing France to win the Championship, so I have predicted France by 13.