Expect England to make easy work of Azzurri in Six Nations
England have a perfect record of 20 wins against Italy in rugby union and, while a prestige football friendly on the road in less than a month’s time will be tough to call, Coral make Stuart Lancaster’s lads overwhelming odds-on favourites at 1/200 for victory at Twickenham.
This is a Six Nations home banker for punters, then, with England winning their previous 15 meetings in the tournament by an average points total of 27.2. That is in 26-30 bracket for margin of victory, and odds of 9/2 say this amount will be the difference between the hosts and the Azzurri.
Having stunned Wales 16-21 in Cardiff in their Six Nations opener, Lancaster has kept faith with the same XV for this much easier test. That means Twickenham debuts for Jonathan Joseph (5/6 to score a try again anytime), who crossed last time out, and George Kruis.
“We know what’s coming at us, but we have prepared well and are looking forward to getting back home and playing in front of our fantastic supporters,” Lancaster said.
Italy make four changes after losing 3-26 in Rome to Ireland in their first Six Nations outing, with former skipper Marco Bortolami joining fellow veteran Mauro Bergamasco in returning. These alterations notwithstanding, there is no case for an Azzurri upset.
Elsewhere this weekend, France (12/5 for victory in Dublin) travel to Ireland (4/11), having failed to score a try at home against Scotland, but still beating them 15-8. Les Bleus make an enforced change at loose-head prop with Eddy Ben Arous replacing Alexandre Menini, who has a foot injury.
Two of their last three Six Nations encounters have been draws, but this seems a remote prospect again at 18/1. Ireland coach Joe Schmidt has recalled fly half Jonathan Sexton, and fellow British and Irish Lions players Sean O’Brien (flanker) and Jamie Heaslip (number eight).
Scrum half Conor Murray crossed first in the easy Irish win in Italy, and is 16/1`to do so again here. For, France the danger man is usually Teddy Thomas, and he is 7/2 in the anytime try market.
Last, and by no means least, on Valentine’s weekend is Wales’ trip to Murrayfield, and they make it without George North, who suffered a concussion in the home loss to England. Winger North was “angry” at being omitted, but head injuries are becoming an increasing concern in sport in general.
Scotland, 6/4 to improve on a dismal record of one win in a dozen years, are out avenge their heavy 51-3 loss at the Millennium Stadium last year says skipper Greg Laidlaw.
“The last time we played Wales we were on the wrong end of a thumping – we need to turn that around,” said scrum half Laidlaw. “It was a bad day for the team, a bad day for the Scottish jersey, and we will be using some of that emotion.”
Putting it right will be no mean feat, with Wales reeling for that dramatic defeat by England. Warren Gatland’s side are odds-on 4/7 favourites to win in Edinburgh, with Liam Williams replacing North as their only change.
After conceding a dozen penalties in Paris, the Scots must clean up their act against quality opposition if they want to avoid the customary battle with Italy for the wooden spoon at the bottom of the Six Nations table.