It’s back to Six Nations action this weekend, and with all three matches taking place on Saturday, there is plenty to get excited about.
Wales v Italy
The unbeaten Welsh host the Azzuri at the Millennium Stadium, keen to avenge their defeat last year – the game where Wales were chasing a try in the dying moments and having been awarded a penalty, confirmed with the referee that there was time for the lineout, but then he prompty blew the final whistle as soon as Wales had kicked the ball into the corner. Who said Chris White doesn’t have a sense of humour?
Wales will be strong favourites to continue their Grand Slam march, despite Warren Gatland making several changes including recalling Stephen Jones at the expense of James Hook. Italy will be looking to keep it tight, with Marco Bortolami returning to the fold, whilst Wales will want to play with width and set little Shane Williams free on the wing.
Expect Italy to hang on for dear life, but then Wales to open them up in the second half and win comfortably.
Ireland v Scotland
The last thing Scotland need at the moment is a difficult trip to Croke Park, and their losing streak looks likely to continue – they are even without stalwart Jason White and his young back row partner, John Barclay, who have been two of their stronger players so far.
Ireland’s second half performance against France reminded everyone of the team they once were, and they’ll be looking to continue their revival on home soil. Again, I can’t really look beyond a Home win and yet more misery for the Scots.
France v England
Can England recreate their World Cup scalp by bullying France in the forwards and playing an unimaginative tight game? Will that strategy be sufficient given the rebirth of French flair, courtesy of Vincent Clerc and Cedric Heymans?
In some respects, it could be a similar contest to the Wales v Italy game – England looking to keep it tight and sneak a narrow victory, whilst France look to run from anywhere and carve up England’s back three. I wouldn’t be quite so worried about that if we had the no-nonsense Josh Lewsey as our last line of defence, but with Lesley Vainikolo, Paul Sackey and Iain Balshaw up against Clerc, Rougerie and Heymans, it’s time to be afraid.
As someone recently commented on this site, it will either be a very close game, or a complete rout by the French – I’m leaning towards the latter at the moment.
For those in the betting league, don’t forget to place your bets – and have a look at The Betting Blog for some tips.