This weekend

All prices Bet365

Saturday 2.15pm
Scotland v Wales

In Paris Scotland looked underpowered in attack specifically without Hogg, Russell and Jones and didn’t ask France many questions. Russell is back for this game and so are a few others notably Watson and Nel but lack of depth with such a long injury list remains an issue, exacerbated here by the withdrawal of winger Maitland during the week.

What gives Scotland hope against Wales is that the game is at home. Even when they did not perform that well against Ireland two rounds ago, Scotland could have won the game with more accuracy and a lot better tactical decision-making.

In beating England Wales were direct, matched them physically and were terrific in the back three nullifying the kicking game threat. That direct approach is likely to be employed here as they will feel they can overpower the Scots. Wales are yet to really hit their straps in attack this championship (witness, zero bonus points) but their defence is very good.

Anscombe continues to get the start over Biggar which surprises me but at least ensures Biggar is on the field in the second half to hopefully close the game out.

Wales are three point favourites here on the spread as they look for a 13th win in a row. I expect them to win narrowly. This despite some remarkable timing on the news of an impending restructure of Welsh Rugby and the projected merger of the Ospreys and Scarlets for whom eleven of this team play. That’s 80-90 players, coaches and support staff across those two franchises with plenty on their minds this week out of the blue, when Wales are going for a grand slam. No, you couldn’t make it up.

Wales to win by 1-12 points 7/4

Saturday 4.45pm
England v Italy

England were exposed for the lack of a Plan B, locked into a pre-set game plan, when Wales came back at them in Cardiff. England’s focus slipped in the second half as the kicking game went awry and Wales won the territorial battle.

Under Plan A, where England look to power through opponents then employ a sophisticated kicking game after multi-phases which worked so well against Ireland and France, centre Henry Slade has passed the ball twice in three games, which is quite something.

Of course England are likely to win convincingly here, even with team rotation likely. It will be interesting to see if the attacking approach shows more breadth. Whilst the Italian back three isn’t the quality of Wales’ trio, it is at least competent.

Italy, now winless in twenty games in the Championship, have scored seven tries in this Six Nations and covered three spreads.
Big picture, the Italian rugby system is starting to work. The under-20s beat Scotland last month. More significantly, Benetton are second in their Pro14 conference. Most obviously, on the pitch in the Six Nations, Italy pushed Wales and Ireland and are kicking themselves for the small errors that let the games slip away. Those errors are likely to continue, Italy are of course nowhere near a finished article but once again Italy have some more point scoring potential than a few years ago.

England are 35 point favourites here. I’d like to pencil in Italy for 15 points or so, so we have to ask will England score 50 to cover? Well they scored 10 tries versus Ireland and France combined, though 6 of them were against a French team that had absolutely no organisation. I have to suggest again that the handicap takes no account of how much more competitive Italy are becoming.

Italy +35 at Evens

Sunday 3pm
Ireland v France

Against a weakened Scotland team France picked players in their right positions, and young players Dupont and Ramos in particular played very well. Encouragingly if looking for anything like a repetition of this improved form, the unchanged team selected here shows a rare thing for France, stability.

Risks to that are that for an International side the French remain poor travellers and not likely to be the steadiest prospect against the Irish team’s trademark suffocating style. France are likely to have to counter attack off back foot and this is risky as all we have to go on for these young players is one game of mostly good execution.

Ireland haven’t performed well in three games in this Championship with a number of injuries pre and during the Championship and a lack of rhythm evident.

Now the interesting thing is that the handicap quote of Ireland -15 assumes in my opinion that Ireland put in a sustained 80 minutes. That might be accurate. The key Irish pair of half backs Murray and Sexton have been off-form so far in the three games and if they were to fire then Ireland could click. Sexton has really got the treatment. By attacking so flat he has come in for heavy punishment and whilst that is his game, he’s been forced off the field in two of the three games. Can France consistently apply pressure on him as others have done? That could be where Ireland -15 is decided.

Ultimately I think having to take Ireland -15 doesn’t leave a lot of room for manoeuvre. Nor am I particularly comfortable about having to side with the French in Dublin in a big way. So this is a game for smaller stakes for me

Ireland to win by 1-12 points 7/4