England were so disappointing in Paris last week, never really in the game and with familiar weaknesses being exposed. Well done to the 16% who picked France on Superbru, but I was certainly not one of them.
There are some more tricky picks to make this weekend too – here are my Six Nations predictions for the second round of matches.
Ireland v Wales
Ireland were lucky to come away with a win against Scotland last weekend, with only the profligacy of their opponents letting them off the hook. They’ll be better for that run out under their belt, and they can take confidence from the efficacy of their defence near their own line – as much as you can blame the Scots for not being able to score, you have to give credit to the men in green for refusing to yield.
It’s hard to read too much into the Wales win over Italy, such was the paucity of their opposition, but I think they look stronger this weekend with George North back on the wing ann Nick Tompkins in at centre. They’ll be sure to test that Irish defence, and they are likely to be better at taking their chances than Scotland, and I just have a feeling they might nick it.
Wales by 2
Scotland v England
I can see Scotland winning this one. That England performance against the All Blacks is starting to look like the anomaly, rather than the start of a new era of dominance, and familiar frailties are being exposed, with indecision across the team. A fired up Scotland, frustrated at their defeat last week, can cause them problems at the breakdown, minimise the quick ball available for George Ford and therefore nullify the England attack.
Scotland can frustrate England, but do they have enough in attack to break down England’s defence? They struggled to get past Irish tacklers last week, and I’d expect England to bring a similar wall of tacklers. The English analysts also have the benefit of seeing how Scotland spread the ball at every opportunity last weekend, and England should be ready to counter it.
England’s pack should have the edge, and it appears Eddie Jones is looking to exert dominance in that area, with a 6-2 split on the bench between forwards and backs. If George Ford and Owen Farrell are short of ideas out wide, just revert to the bludgeon and see how far that gets.
I’m also encouraged by the selection of Willi Heinz at scrum-half, who should be able to provide snappier distribution and if England do find themselves on the front foot, he’s more likely to keep them there.
England really need to win after two defeats in a row and a particularly mediocre showing last weekend, and I think that drive can potentially cancel out the home advantage. So then looking at the lineups, there are only a few Scots that I would pick over their English counterparts, and England should win – with a big if that everyone plays their role effectively in a cohesive gameplan.
England by 4
France v Italy
This is a question of how many France will win by, and the winning margin over the last 8 fixtures between the teams has been just under 19 points. Italy seem to be rebuilding (from a low base) around a gameplan with two playmakers, which didn’t work particularly well in Cardiff and likely needs more time before they can start challenging the best teams.
France by 28