Grand Slam glory awaits England in France, Wales and Ireland to end Six Nations with wins
Jamie Clark, Sports Editor | March 17, 2016
England are chasing their first Six Nations Grand Slam since the auspicious year that was 2003. Their first foreign head coach Eddie Jones has already guaranteed the championship, but must mastermind victory in Paris where France are unbeaten under boss Guy Noves.
Coral rate the Red Rose as firm odds-on 1/3 favourites to scoop the Grand Slam they seek across the Channel. Also in action on the final day of the 2016 Six Nations are Wales against winless Italy, while Ireland entertain Scotland and both can finish third.
Wales v Italy
- Saturday, March 19th
- Principality Stadium, Cardiff
- Kick-off: 14:30 GMT
- Live on BBC1
Warburton absence offset by Webb return
Warren Gatland can feel assured of victory because the Dragons have never lost to the Azzurri at home, so Coral make Wales overwhelmingly odds-on 1/200 favourites.
That can be enhanced to evens if you take the Welsh in the handicap market which is set at 35 points after last year’s 20-61 mauling of Italy in Rome. A 10th straight win looks certain.
Although skipper Sam Warburton misses out for the hosts after being stretchered off at Twickenham last time out, Dragons gaffer Gatland is buoyed by the return of scrum half Rhys Webb after injury.
North and Roberts are try threats
It may be a little harsh on Gareth Davies, who has six tries in his last nine Tests, to lose his place, but Webb went over in that big 2015 victory over the Azzurri and he’s 10/11 for a try anytime.
Alun Wyn Jones and Alex Cuthbert are also missing for Wales, but Justin Tipuric, Luke Charteris and Hallam Amos come into the XV to emphasise their strength in depth.
While winger George North is looking to score a Six Nations try for a fourth successive match and odds-on at 4/9 to get one anytime, a better bet in that market could be Dragons centre Jamie Roberts at 9/4 as he’s got two in his last four outings against Italy.
Azzurri alter half backs yet again
Jacques Brunel takes charge of his final Six Nations fixture here, but yet again has to make changes – five in all. Although Azzurri centurion and veteran prop Martin Castrogiovanni returns from suspension, Tommaso Allan comes in at fly half.
Michele Campagnaro is a miss for Italy at centre, so the threat will again come from number eight Sergio Parisse and winger Leonardo Sarto, who crossed in Dublin.
If punters wish to back an Azzurri player in the anytime tryscorer market, then it’s one from Parisse (11/4), Sarto (3/1) and full back David Odiete (5/1).
Ireland v Scotland
- Saturday, March 19th
- Aviva Stadium, Dublin
- Kick-off: 17:00 GMT
- Live on ITV1
Irish have to handle in-form Tartan team
Scotland have defeated Ireland away just once since 1998, but Vern Cotter’s crew come to Dublin with a renewed confidence and seeking a third successive victory after wins over Italy and then France.
While taking the Tartan Team at 9/4 is tempting, Joe Schmidt’s hosts are odds-on 1/3 favourites with good reason. It’d be four wins in a row in this fixture if the Irish pull this one off.
Ireland do make a back row shuffle for the visit of the Scots, with Tommy O’Donnell replacing Josh van der Flier in their only change to the winning XV at home to Italy.
Heaslip could pay with another crossing
Skipper Rory Best has proved his fitness despite a calf problem and the hooker is one of many Irish players to have crossed against Scotland.
Andrew Trimble went over first against the Azzurri last time out, and has three tries in six Tests when previously paired with the Tartan team. Take him at 13/8 anytime or 9/1 to break the deadlock once more.
It’s number eight Jamie Heaslip who looks real tryscorer value at 4/1, however, after his brace last time out. He has crossed three times in his last seven appearances against the Scots.
Poor old Jonny Gray…
Cotter cannot field lock Jonny Gray (torn pectoral muscle) or fly half Finn Russell (concussion) in Dublin, and they will be missed by the Tartan Army.
Ryan Wilson also replaces Josh Strauss at number eight, leaving Scotland skipper Greig Laidlaw as the key component of his side’s spine.
Likely tryscorers in Tartan here are wing duo Tommy Seymour and Tim Visser (both 5/2 anytime), impressive full back Stuart Hogg (7/2 in that market) and centre Duncan Taylor (9/2).
France v England
- Saturday, March 19th
- Stade de France, St-Denis, Paris
- Kick-off: 20:00 GMT
- Live on BBC1
Les Bleus look unlikely to stop Grand Slam
France have only managed to score more than 20 points once during this Six Nations campaign, and that against whipping boys Italy; while the visiting Red Rose have only put less on the board in their Calcutta Cup win at Murrayfield.
England are shaping their identity under Eddie Jones, with Les Bleus 9/4 to deny the champions a Grand Slam success. Danny Care is in at scrum half for the visitors, with Mako Vunipola joining brother Billy among the forwards.
It’s in that latter area that the French make their changes, but even when they have won it has not been at all convincing. Last year’s edgy Rugby World Cup warm-up meetings may be more of an indicator to the result than the open affair at Twickenham in the 2015 Six Nations.
Watson, Nowell and Joseph will be key
Red Rose winger Anthony Watson crossed first against Wales last time out, and has three tries in just two Tests versus France. That makes him a fine 15/8 anytime tryscorer bet, and a nifty 9/1 to repeat going over first.
Jack Nowell and Jonathan Joseph has also been influential in recent Les Bleus battles, so take either of them at 11/5 anytime. Scrum half Ben Youngs may be a shout off the bench and and a longer punt would be impressive physical specimen Billy Vunipola at 4/1.
Fofana and Fickou are French duo to fear
Noves is being loyal to former Toulouse charge Gael Fickou, and the centre got himself a try in Scotland last time out. He’s a fantastic 5/1 for a repeat crossing against England.
Wesley Fofana is having to operate out wide because of Les Bleus’ shortage of fit wingers, but he is no less dangerous there. He’s got two in four when previously paired with Red Rose, so Fofana is a threat at 11/4 anytime.
Because of these strong backs, this battle of cross-Channel rivals should be close, but England look terrific value at 13/8 to win by a margin of 1-10 points.