In terms of the destination of the Championship the permutations are as follows:

- Wales win the Grand Slam if they beat Ireland.
- England win the title if they beat Scotland with a bonus point and Ireland beat Wales
- Ireland win the title if they beat Wales and Scotland beat England, the combination of these results has to be considered unlikely
- If England beat Scotland without a bonus point and Ireland beat Wales with a bonus point, England and Ireland will be level on points. England currently have a 64 point difference advantage over Ireland

Saturday 16th March
12.30pm Italy v France

Italy were the architects of their own downfall at Twickenham. In addition to the disruption caused by two midfield injuries in the first half they also missed a lot of first up tackles against England’s big men and got a lot of the basics wrong in exiting (or attempting to) their own 22, with two charge-down tries from attempted clearance kicks going a long way to removing any chance of them covering the spread again.

Encouragingly when they did get some ball they carried plenty of threat in attack. They scored two tries and now have nine this Championship.

We were extremely fortunate to get a winning bet in the France game as they were terrible for 75 minutes, disorganised in defence and completely steamrollered by Ireland. Two tries in the last five minutes shouldn’t deflect from this.
Italy have now lost 21 Six Nations matches in a row and of course the issue of promotion/relegation is being discussed widely. The inconsistencies are frustrating for now being onside with them is a hairy prospect in any game, albeit they have covered 3 of 4 spreads this championship.

Here, Italy are unlikely to throttle the French in the suffocating style that Ireland could do, for one thing this Italian team has strengths out wide and not in the forward pack but they have to have a fighting shot at getting a win here in what should be a very open and high scoring game. Of course the uncertainty is that France appeared cowed by the prospect of playing in Dublin and London against the big boys but are unlikely to be about the prospect of playing in Rome but I don’t think 9/2 and +12 takes into account Italy’s improved ability to put up points

Italy 9/2 and Italy +12 at 10/11 are available with Sportingbet

2.45pm Wales v Ireland

Wales are I think the best defensive team world rugby. Before the tournament I didn’t think this would carry them to four wins out of four and a shot at a grand slam, but tactically they are very astute, they don’t make many mistakes and have those four wins without playing that well in attack for long periods.

Wales have only scored nine tries in their four wins but have only conceded six. They still have no bonus points, but a win here would render that moot as the team winning the Grand Slam earns three extra bonus points to ensure that a grand slam winning team is guaranteed to win the tournament.

For several years at the provincial level the Welsh forwards have been dominated by the Irish franchises. In addition Liam Williams’ fitness is crucial having gone off in Edinburgh last weekend as he is the primary defensive player to counter Sexton and Murray’s kicking game.

Ireland completely throttled France and leading by over 20 points after 55 minutes were able to make seven substitutions to minimise the impact of this quick turn-round on some key players. Sexton had his best game of the Championship and that will have to continue here for Ireland to win.

I mentioned in the pre-tournament report that a six day turn-around from rounds 4 to 5 for Ireland was a big ask, one of the six days is taken up with travel and time is short for game planning but in Ireland’s favour this is a mature team, still world ranked 2, a number of players who were injured for earlier games in the championship are back and Schmidt is as canny as Gatland, which is a rarity in the Six Nations terms as Gatland’s ability to get the Welsh team to vary tactics game by game and then implement them efficiently is a real competitive advantage, most obviously seen in the victory over England.
These are two really good defensive teams, I wouldn’t expect many tries in the match and expect it to be very close, coming down to the last ten minutes (in a match that could be something like 18-15 either way) and Ireland definitely have a decent shot.

Ireland were Odds on and handicap favourites for this match pre-tournament prices are now Wales 5/6 Ireland 5/4 and Ireland +2. I will back Ireland at 5/4 with Sportingbet

5.00pm England v Scotland

England will know their fate in terms of winning the Championship before kick-off, if Ireland beat Wales then a win would seal the deal for England (a bit frustrating for us, given Wales beat England) but irrespective of Cardiff this will be hyped up as a big game for England after Scotland beat them 26-13 in Edinburgh last year and as Eddie Jones frequently mentions rubbed his nose in it. England will be going full pelt at this.
Against Italy the England big men went well, showing guile as well as brawn and whilst it shouldn’t be as comfortable here events have conspired to work against Scotland.
Scotland were disrupted by yet more injuries in the first half against Wales. All of the back three were injured, and they are already missing Stuart Hogg. Here they could well pick Adam Hastings at 15, he is a talented fly half but one with limited experience at full back and this will be an area England should exploit much as they did when Ireland picked a makeshift 15 in the first match of the Championship.

Lack of depth is a real issue as is Scotland’s lack of size in the back line with Horne and Grigg in midfield. How do they cope with England’s power?

I just don’t see them getting close. They can be dangerous and clearly attack in more original ways than many Northern Hemisphere sides but apart from first hour of their first game the error count in Scotland attack has been huge, a result of all the disruption to combinations and such a long injury list. Of course the market does not see them getting close either, Scotland are 9/1 outright and +18.

So faced with the prospect of taking England -18 at 10/11 I am going to have a smaller bet in the winning margin market
England to win by 21-30 points 16/5 with Paddy Power