A fortnight ago two Six Nations games were decided on the gain line and specifically at the breakdown. England’s hopes of claiming a record third successive title have been cast into doubt while Ireland are now favourites following their convincing win over Wales.

Matches this weekend in the penultimate round of games are as follows

Fourth Weekend of the Six Nations

A fortnight ago two Six Nations games were decided on the gain line and specifically at the breakdown. England’s hopes of claiming a record third successive title have been cast into doubt while Ireland are now favourites following their convincing win over Wales.

Matches this weekend in the penultimate round of games are as follows

Saturday 10th March

Ireland v Scotland 2.15pm
Ireland maintained their unbeaten 2018 Six Nations record with a 35-27 victory over Wales in Dublin Theys completely dominated the match, enjoying 69% possession and 75% territory with Wales having to make 175 tackles. Indeed the statistics in general speak to that superiority: 166 ball carries to Wales’ 74; 457 metres made to Wales’ 251; and 93 tackles Wales’ 175.
In the first half, however, Ireland could not convert their dominance into points while Wales scored from the one chance they had. After the break, Ireland were more clinical and capitalised on their superiority, as Wales tired due to the sheer amount of work they had put in.
For much of the game Ireland had all the attacking flair and creative instinct with a New-Zealand style offloading game coming to the fore, which was certainly a step up from an often metronomic “play by numbers” approach in recent years under Schmidt.
Ireland live off penalties, kicking to the sidelines and, from there, effecting their monotonous but irresistible driving mauls and Wales played into their hands, the discipline previously seen at Twickenham missing
Scotland recorded a famous a 25-13 victory over England at Murrayfield which brought to brings to an end an eight-game losing streak for Scotland against England and represents Scotland’s greatest triumph of the modern era. For someone who has been expecting this for two years (the signs were there) to not be on them when it happened was a bit frustating. Of course, recency bias being what it is,immediate talk afterwards was of Scotland’s championship chances. “Win in Dublin and it’s on.” Which it is, with Italy away last game, but winning in Dublin is a long shot.
The keys to Scotland’s success at Murrayfield were parity up front (which I didn’t think they would get) and they marmalised England at the breakdown. With front foot and turnover ball Finn Russell and especially Huw Jones had a party and great to watch it was too.

They scored three tries, having not managed one against England here since 2004, and took the game to their opponents from the kick-off. What was ultimately decisive was the ferocity of their defence when required in the second half.

For this weekend, Scotland are 3/1 outright and +10 on the handicap. I looked at the +!0 earlier in the week and decided to sleep on it before getting too carried away. The negatives are clear:

- Playing away from home with the verve and flair they showed at home recently is tough. Scotland have shown that at Cardiff this year
- Ireland won’t have the same issues at the breakdown that England had. Good luck trying to get Peter O’Mahoney and CJ Stander off the ball on the floor
- Ireland at home will be forcing Scotland to play from areas of the park that will make it difficult to play their loose, unstructured game
- Furlong and Henderson will be back, and Scotland won’t be getting the better of Ireland in the tight five

However, +10 with the firepower this Scottish team has is extremely tempting. Ultimately I don’t expect Scotland to win, I expect Ireland to travel to Twickenham with the title and the Grand Slam to go at, but Scotland will score points and might even keep it close.

Scotland +10 at 10/11 for me

France v England 5.45pm
France broke their duck in this year’s Six Nations winning a mediocre affair against bottom-placed Italy in Marseille. It ended an eight-match winless run for the French.
Tries by Paul Gabrillagues, Hugo Bonneval and Mathieu Bastareaud did the damage, with Maxime Machenaud kicking five penalties in an error-strewn and stop-start spectacle. You can’t say France didn’t create chances. In the first half alone, Wenceslas Lauret was put through a hole by Lionel Beauxis but failed to give the pass. Another attack stalled on the visitors’ line but Machenaud dithered at the ruck and the ball was turned over. Then an offload a couple of metres from Italy’s try-line bounced off Bastareaud’s knee and a defender just beat the Toulon centre to the touchdown.Remy Grosso’s powerful left-wing run also ended in disappointment.
Justifcations for this varied, for example they were too impatient and there was a lack of depth by support runners. Ultimately though a new team thrown together late on under a new coach had no understanding from players unfamiliar with each other after a raft of changes, and it showed.
On the upside Bastareaud, back after a three-week ban, made his mark in midfield. He carried 15 times, tackled hard and registered a try with eight minutes remaining, burrowing over from close range. On the downside Lionel Beauxis is not the answer at fly half
For this weekend there is again no Teddy Thomas in the squad, and indeed none of the “Edinburgh eight”.

If you factor in the last hour against Wales and most of the Scotland game then most would say England have hit a major bump en route to the 2019 Rugby World Cup. The. France and Ireland matches will reveal exactly how major this is

Against Scotland England were way off pace in the first half and the lack of backrow balance (a 5 at 6, a 6 at 7 and an 8 just back from injury) was costly as the Scottish back row hammered them at the breakdown.

England’s only other defeat under Jones was in Ireland last year when they were outgunned at the breakdown too and their half-backs struggled to make much of slow ball. That reduced the effectiveness of Farrell, as at Murrayfield. Overall though England looked slow.

Now none of this (how do England win a world cup without a number 7, an unsolved question!) might matter in Paris as against France it is far more likely to be a close quarters slugfest, possibly in bad weather looking at the forecast and the likelihood of France executing a game plan as Scotland did has to be pretty slim. Firstly they don’t have the breakdown skills and secondly mistake free disciplined rugby looks to be an anathema to the national side.

As it is England are priced up at 1/3 outright and -7 on the point spread for the match. I don’t see much to go at. In a slugfest that might not see many tries I can’t even muster the enthusiasm to take France with the points.

What I do think is a reasonable proposition is that the most likely scoring play is a penalty kick, that the least disciplined team is the French (one of their second rows is on the way to what must be a record having conceded 17 in three games alone), that Owen Farrell is an 88% international goal-kicker and for the cherry on top the weather looks grim.

I will be backing First scoring play England penalty at 6/4 with Bet365

Sunday 11th March

Wales v Italy 3pm

We can give Wales credit for going the distance in Dublin but they played into Irish hands, allowing themselves to be out mauled and over-powered. We were quite fortunate to get the point spread cover. Meanwhile Scotland’s Murrayfield heroics put the Welsh defeat at Twickenham into a far less flattering perspective.
In Dublin Sexton’s profligacy and an Irish defence which seemed to narrow the longer the match continued, handed Wales a shot with which, with their new found élan and creativity, they threatened to stage a Dublin daylight robbery.
In truth, it would have been completely unwarranted, such had been the disparity in possession, which was 70% in Ireland’s favour at the end, but which had been a staggering 85% after the Irish secured the four-try bonus point after 53 minutes.

Discipline was fantastic in the previous game at Twickenham but Wales conceded two penalties in the first five minutes in Dublin. By the final whistle it was nine.

On Sunday they have as good an opportunity as ever to put the frustration of the last two rounds behind them, and with the Scarlets back line flair shown all championship put plenty of points on the board as what should be the first of two wins to end the Championship with France to come.

We nearly burgled the cover in Marseille with the match ending with a 17 point France win for the bookmaker’s bonanza of the match ending exactly on the spread.

Once again there are pockets of encouragement. Minozzi at full back is a budding star and Negri at 6 had a stormer in Marseille, and might take over Parisse’s mantle. Fortunately time and injuries appear to be catching up with the great man Parisse himself, a peripheral figure in the championship so far.

Italy are just not up to the required standard at the moment but as mentioned previously all the legwork is going in in the academy and club system to produce the talent for a few years time

For now though, Wales are a huge 29 point favourite on the handicap and I can’t muster the argument to oppose them.

Gong back to the beginning of the 2015 championshipover 18 taly matches the second half has seen the most tries on 13 of 18 occasions and the first half only twice (three draws) once in 2015, once in 2016 and not since.

This is intuitive, defences tire, games open up and the Italian bench in particular doesn’t have the strength of the starting XV

Therefore it is interesting to see Betfair Sportsbook/Paddy Power offer us 5/6 on the three way most tries market for the second half. I would have thought the price should be shorter