England’s second loss in successive weeks meant that Ireland won the Championship a week early and now travel to Twickenham with the Grand Slam in their sights.
Final weekend games on Saturday are as follows
Italy v Scotland 12.30pm
Italy, for the third season in a row go into the into the final game winless having lost in Wales by 24 points (nevertheless covering the handicap)
Despite only scoring 14 points and going down to yet another loss, Italy can hold their heads high after a plethora of positive spells last weekend. Sustained pressure and good structure to their game had Wales in trouble at times and it’s just a shame they conceded early tries. Had they not leaked those 14 points then the game could have played out differently. For all their promise, and Minozzi at full back has been one of the emerging stars of the tournament, they have again finished second best by some distance and now must beat Scotland to avoid another Six Nations whitewash.
In Dublin Scotland beavered away and racked up a huge number of tackles, but they kept letting Ireland off the hook as they created and then butchered chances. Scotland are still looking for that elusive impressive display away from Edinburgh, with the exception of visits to Rome. Of course, they are in Italy this week. A bonus point win and an Irish victory could see Scotland finish above England.
If points were awarded for artistic impression in Dublin, Scotland would have been far more competitive as they are great to watch and look dangerous from anywhere on the field but the gulf in maturity between the sides last weekend was clear. Scotland needed to execute perfectly and in giving away an interception try and then failing to score in three clear opportunities Scotland failed to do that.
Here Italy are 10/1 underdogs and Scotland -17 on the handicap. I don’t have a real view on that, would like to think Scotland would cover but Italy do have more about the going forward this year, they’ve scored
Once again we can back the highest scoring half being the second at 4/6 with Bet365 a bet that has now come in in 14 of Italy’s last 18 Six Nations matches
England v Ireland 2.45pm
Haemorrhaging penalties and blunt in attack England looked one paced and one dimensional in losing 22-16 in Paris. Even France, without the loose forwards offered by Irealand, Wales and Scotland, mashed them at breakdown.
There appeared to be little cohesion or understanding about what England were trying to do or how they were planning to break down the defence in front of them. So much for the “pace” of this back three (Watson, May and Daly) bringing a new spark to the England attack. Instead, they looked bereft of ideas, lacking direction and fluency.
England tend to stand off at the contact area, committing few numbers, and this allowed France to slow down their ball, if not win a penalty because the Englishman was gripping tightly to the ball when a Frenchman was trying to get his hands on it
So England failed to get any rhythm in attack as they either couldn’t get quick ruck ball or coughed up possession completely (as well as territory or points on the scoreboard) by conceding penalties. Of England’s 16 penalties conceded (a figure that has risen match by match through the championship) 9 were conceded at the breakdown. France won nine turnovers to England’s three
Interestingly, it is the same trio of match officials ( Jaco Peyper, Marius van der Westhuizen and Angus Gardner ) in charge of the game at Twickenham, Gardner replacing Peyper with the whistle. Whether that knowledge of how the southern hemisphere triumvirate interpret things will help, it’s difficult to know but England’s failure to adapt to situations in-game doesn’t inspire too much confidence that they will adapt and think on their feet, not work to a constrained game plan.
Obviously for all to see there is something wrong in the balance of the England back-row at the moment, and while a lot of that is due the absence of Billy Vunipola (a huge miss. In the 2016 championship he had 93 runs for 336m, 8 offloads, 25 defenders beaten. England forwards in this year 327 runs for 582m, 10 offloads, 24 defenders beaten.) and his ability to penetrate the defensive line, there is more to it. England still lack an openside flanker, with Sam Underhill unable to string games together due to injuries. That leaves Robshaw the “six-and-a-half” as Jones so famously put it and James Haskell, who at the start of the season was out of the international picture, yet could find himself back in the starting line-up for the finale with Ireland.Lacking any kind of pacy openside or dynamic presence capable of blasting opponents off the ball at a time when the modern game increasingly demands such specialists, England are currently struggling. Ireland hold a clear edge here and also at half back where Murray and Sexton are decisive and there is a tactical clarity that England lack.
The Irish got the win that ultimately won them the Six Nations title but just as importantly, the Grand Slam is still on. It would be only their third in their history.
Ireland were patient, canny and physical against Scotland but most importantly they thrived off Scottish errors.
They controlled the pace of the game. Sexton dumped the ball when he wanted, or they sped up when they wanted. Passing was crisp. Stress levels for the hosts were never that high.
Ireland are often criticised for playing percentage rugby and theirs kicking approach is part of a calculated game but this championship they have created chances too, often off set plays. The close-range set-piece has long been a strength of Ireland’s under Joe Schmidt and the power play that created Stockdale’s second score last weekend was typical.
Lethal winger Jacob Stockdale has now equalled the tournament record for tries in a season. He has six, with a game in hand. He is the first man to score more than one try in three consecutive games in any form of the Championship since 1914. So far this championship in their four games Ireland have made 113,106, 89 and 150 tackles. Their opponents 253,175,225 and 230. With Ireland dominating and attacking with precision, it’s a strong combination
Here Ireland have been installed as marginal favourites, though there is some even money around and -1 on the handicap.
To back them here flies in the face of recent Six Nations history. In the last three championships the number of away wins from the main teams are England 3 of 6, Ireland 1 of 5 and France/Wales/Scotland 0 for 17 combined. Clearly Ireland with three home games this year have the schedule advantage too
However I do think Ireland should win, in what could be a one score game and we can get 2/1 with Skybet on Ireland winning by 1-12 points
Wales v France 5pm
From Steff Evans’ ability to keep the ball alive by whatever means, George North impressing and looking hungry in a two-try showing and Hadleigh Parkes showing his class and power in midfield, the much-changed Welsh backline definitely took their chance toimpress last weekend. Having made 10 changes against Italy would expect the strongest side to be fielded for a game Wales will have targeted against side that typically travels poorly. Wales will finish second behind champions Ireland if they defeat France with a bonus point next Saturday.
France were far from outstanding last weekend but did cause England problems at the breakdown and punished their ill-discipline. One of the strengths of the Welsh team is the back row though and most likely without a breakdown advantage it will be difficult for France who can bludgeon with Bastareud and have plenty of flair in the back three but aren’t the disciplined unit Wales mostly are.
Wales are 1/3 outright and -7 on the handicap.If pressed I would suggest they will cover.I like the look of Wales to win by 1-12 points at 13/8 with Skybet.