Wales will thwart France, Scotland run to end in Italy, England to overcome Ireland
Jamie Clark, Sports Editor | February 25, 2016
Following a fortnight’s break, the 2016 Six Nations reach the midway point of the tournament with that all-important third game.
England and France both hold hopes of a Grand Slam, but the latter’s credentials shall surely be tested away to Wales; while the Red Rose take on injury-hit defending champions Ireland.
There’s also the contest to avoid the wooden spoon taking place in Rome between Six Nations whipping boys Italy and hard luck story Scotland.
Wales v France
- Friday, February 26th
- Principality Stadium, Cardiff
- Kick-off: 20:05 GMT
- Live on BBC1
Something’s got to give in Dragon’s den
Guy Noves has got the French winning ugly, and that is a sign of champions, but Les Bleus have enjoyed only home comforts during this Six Nations campaign to date, and have far from an encouraging recent record in Cardiff.
With just one competitive win away to Wales since 2006 under their belt, France are 12/5 outsiders with Coral to make it three victories from as many matches in this tournament.
That means Warren Gatland’s unbeaten men (three points so far) start as odds-on 1/3 favourites to stop that Les Bleus bid for the Grand Slam, and better at 10/11 in the handicap market set at eight points.
Such a margin has been covered in three of Wales’ four consecutive wins over the French, and that makes a 9/2 price for the 6-10 bracket to be the victorious scoreline for the home team well worth considering too.
France face North
Gatland makes three changes to his XV that narrowly beat Scotland last time out, though centre Jonathan Davies has proved his fitness to be retained.
Alex Cuthbert is recalled on the wing in place of Tom James; while Dan Lydiate is in for Justin Tipruic at blindside flanker, with Sam Warburton on the openside, and Bradley Davies gets the nod at lock over Luke Charteris.
Dynamic Dragons duo George North and Gareth Davies are the ones to watch, though, and there’s no hesitation in tipping them for tries again after their exploits against the Scots.
Nifty North has twice crossed for the opener against France, and is well worth a punt at 8/1 to do so again. He is also a safer 15/8 in the anytime try scorer market.
Tempo key for Davies to deliver
In-from scrum half Davies, meanwhile, believes a high intensity approach can continue to pay off for Wales. “Our game plan is always to play some rugby, a high tempo game,” he said.
“If we can do that Friday they’re going to be blowing and hopefully we can make the most of that.
“They’re a lot more forward orientated team, so I think our pack are really going to have to man up. I’m sure if they can do that, us backs can do the rest of the work for them.”
With six tries in his last seven Rugby World Cup and Six Nations appearances, half back Davies should be shorter than 11/4 anytime to go over again. He also appeals in a superb 7/2 wincast.
Les Bleus embarrassment over eligibility error
France head coach Noves had hoped to bring New Zealand-born wing David Smith into their setup, but he then remembered he has played rugby sevens for the All Blacks, scuppering his chances of turning out in the Six Nations.
That has left Les Bleus short of wide options with Teddy Thomas’ untimely injury, but a debut now awaits Djibril Camara, who is 9/2 to cap his bow with a try anytime. Embarrassing as this has been for the French, Noves is showing ruthlessness.
Not content with a single point victory over Ireland, Noves drops former Toulouse charge Sebastien Brezy and brings in Maxime Machenaud at scrum half. He joins namesakes Mermoz and Medard (5/1 to cross again after doing so against the Irish) among the backs.
Visiting replacements worth keeping an eye on
Other alterations are among the forwards with Rabah Slimani (tighthead prop), Paul Jedrasiak (lock) and Antoine Burban (openside flanker) coming in for Uini Atonio, Yoann Maestriand Yacouba Camara respectively.
Noves has some notable faces back on the French bench, though, in fly half Francois Trinh-Duc and centre Gael Fickou. What influence the former can have will be limited, however, as Jules Plisson has impressed as kicker.
Fickou, who Noves is familiar with from his Toulouse era, could be a game-changer coming on in the second-half and is one to keep an eye on during in-play markets.
Italy v Scotland
- Saturday, February 27th
- Stadio Olimpico, Italy
- Kick-off: 14:25 GMT
- Live on ITV1
Injury to Canna could cost Azzurri
Scotland’s last Six Nations victory came in the Eternal City on February 22nd 2014, but that two-year, nine-match winless run in this competition should come to an end because hosts Italy are without injured kicker Carlo Canna for this clash.
All roads lead to Rome for Vern Cotter’s crew and that is why the travelling Tartan Army see their team start as 4/9 favourites to defeat the Azzurri, though the Scots shall be wary of the home team as they lost to them at Murrayfield last term.
Two subsequent victories for Scotland in Rugby World Cup warm-up action mean the 7/4 on offer for the Italians to upset them again isn’t nearly long enough, especially if you consider they have lost five of the last six Tests between these two.
Brilliant backs all fit for Scots
Cotter keeps tryscoring centre Duncan Taylor (5/1 to repeat his feat against Wales anytime) in midfield alongside Mark Bennett, who has two in as many matches against the Azzurri.
That makes Bennett a terrific price at 3/1 to cross again, with the Tartan team able to keep both Tommy Seymour (11/5 anytime) and full back Stuart Hogg (also 3/1) in their XV.
Down the other wing will be Tim Visser, who crossed for a brace last time out in this fixture, and is fit again in Cotter’s only change from the agonising loss to Wales. Visser is 8/1 to score the opening try or 15/8 anytime to add to a three in three record.
Sarto and Campagnaro have previous
Azzurri wing Leonardo Sarto (4/1), centre Michele Campagnaro (6/1) and flanker Alessandro Zanni (11/1) are the only players in Jacques Brunel’s XV that have tries against Scotland on their CVs.
Kelly Haimona returns at fly half to cover Canna’s absence, while fit-again full back David Odiete comes in for Luke McLean in two of four changes for Italy from their 40-9 hammering by England.
The others see Joshua Furno in at lock for George Biagi, who has a broken rib, and veteran hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini returns.
One bet on Italy that is worth considering is for them to score the first try at 6/5, with Cotter’s crew conceding before crossing themselves in seven successive internationals.
Scotland’s quest for a Six Nations victory shall surely end at the 10th attempt, though, with a winning of margin of 1-10 points sublime at 7/4.
England v Ireland
- Saturday, February 27th
- Twickenham, London
- Kick-off: 16:50 GMT
- Live on ITV1
Irish injuries mean Red Rose win on cards
England have won five of the last six Tests against Ireland and, because Joe Schmidt has so many missing from the travelling party, a first home win for Eddie Jones looks highly likely.
The Irish came into this tournament as dual defending Six Nations champions, but 5/2 to take this Test at Twickenham as they field two very inexperienced flankers.
Jones and the Red Rose are 1/3 to maintain their 100 per cent record in this term’s competitions, and are bold enough to hand highly-rated lock Maro Itoje his first start.
While former England Under-20 captain Itoje replaces the injured Joe Launchbury, prop Joe Marler comes in for Marko Vunipola in just two changes from that demolition of Italy.
Joseph should kick on from hat-trick heroics
Red Rose centre Jonathan Joseph made a stunning return to form last time out in Rome, after a series of lukewarm showings under Stuart Lancaster at the Rugby World Cup last autumn.
Crossing for a memorable second-half hat-trick to crush the Azzurri, Joseph looked much more the man that won the player of the tournament for last year’s Six Nations.
There is considerable value, then, in backing Joseph at a fine 5/2 price in the anytime tryscorer market. England also appeal to win by 6-10 points at 9/2, having done so in three of the last four head-to-heads.
Joseph’s fellow backs Anthony Watson (15/8 anytime) and Ben Youngs (5/1) have crossed against the Irish before, while Jones views visiting fly half Johnny Sexton as fair game to be targeted.
Sexton struggles mean Madigan may have role
“We target players all the time. That’s part of rugby isn’t it? I’m not saying Sexton is a weak defender, but we’re going to target players because we want to win,” England’s Australian coach said in the build-up to the match.
Sexton has been forced in both of Ireland’s Six Nations matches so far, and his rough treatment by France certainly did not escape the notice of Schmidt.
Irish kicker Sexton is fit to figure from he start, however, with Ian Madigan a willing replacement as ever.
McCloskey must get off to a Van der Flier in midfield
Schmidt has to name a new centre pairing with Stuart McCloskey making his international debut alongside Robbie Henhsaw (15/2 for another try against England), with Jared Payne out with a hamstring problem.
The back row, number eight Jamie Heaslip apart, has a very inexperienced look to it, with one flanker, CJ Stander, earning just a third cap and the other, Josh van der Flier, gets his bow.
“They don’t lack for enthusiasm and they are both incredibly excited about the stage they’re going to be playing on,” Schmidt said of his debutant duo.
Other Ireland changes see Keith Earls (4/1 anytime for a try) return on the wing, as Dave Kearney is on the treatment table. Brother Rob has crossed against the Red Rose before, and is a 6/1 shot to repeat that feat.
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Coral’s top tips: Take nifty 9/2 prices for Wales and England to both prove a try better than respective opposition France and Ireland with winning margins of 6-10 points.