Stephen Ferris looks ahead to Italy v Wales, England v France and Scotland v Ireland in Six Nations
The Six Nations is back this weekend as Wales chase a Grand Slam.
Our rugby ambassador, Stephen Ferris gives us his views ahead of round four with plenty still left to play for.
Italy v Wales – 2.15pm Saturday 13th March
It’s not looking like Wayne Pivac is going to make that many changes to the Welsh team that put 40 points on England in the last round.
Usually when the big 5 play against Italy you will see a raft of changes on the team sheet. It can be a game used to look at potential future stars, or even to give guys game time who might be coming back from injury. So to hear rumblings that there won’t be many changes, is very surprising!
Italy dont have the luxury to chop and change most weeks so you can be sure they will be fielding a very similar team to the one that got hammered by Ireland 48-10 two weeks ago. This game was probably Italy’s worst performance in a long time and if they are going to try and compete with the Welsh, they are going to have to really sort themselves out.
But how do they do that? How do they compete? Italy can play some nice rugby when they have the ball, but most of their problems come when they don’t have possession.
Their discipline is shockingly poor at times, giving away needless penalties which are usually compounded by a yellow card or two.
There also seems to be a lack of trust in their defensive system when they have to scramble. Missing one on one tackles, shooters breaking the line, and a general lack of belief when they concede a soft score or two.
There is no question that Italy has improved over the last number of years, but so has everyone else. Bringing in Georgia or Romania into the Six Nations to replace Italy won’t make a bit of difference to who gets the wooden spoon every year, and I hope that most rugby fans out there understand that.
As you can probably tell, I’m going for a Welsh victory. Believe it or not this is the first game Wales have been favourites for since the start of the competition. But by how many points should they win by? Wales are currently 1/66 to win this game. Yes, you did read that right.
The handicap is 25 points which feels slightly low considering Ireland beat Italy by 38, France won by 40, and England by 23. The higher scores against coming when Italy were at home, and of course they are playing in Rome once again on Saturday.
England v France – 4.45pm Saturday 13th March
Who would’ve thought that England would be one out of three come the start of round four? Not many is the honest answer.
Struggling for form, their key players look like they are all over the shop both mentally and physically, and of course the head coach Eddie Jones is being as stubborn as ever with his team selections, even though there are players tearing it up, week in and week out in the Gallagher Premiership for their respective clubs. The World Cup finalists need to sort their ship out before it sinks once and for all.
France have had three weeks off due to the postponed game between them and Scotland, so you would think they are raring to go. But maybe France will be a little rusty, or will they pick up from where they left off with that convincing win away from home against Ireland?
Something that we do know is that France are still on an unbeaten run in this competition, and that they can mix it with the world’s best when they click. It’s going to take a colossal effort to beat the English in their own backyard, and I’m expecting a performance jam packed with huge physicality, but also a little finesse.
France should have players well rested after their extended break, and Romain Ntamack looks likely to get back into the starting team at outhalf which is a big positive. The young man already looks very accomplished at international level and he will be hoping to execute the game plan which will hopefully lead them to victory.
Many people might be jumping on England to win this one. Fans and punters alike will be saying: ‘surely they can’t play that badly again?’
‘They should have won the last World Cup if it wasn’t for their scrum getting demolished. They won the Autumn Nations Cup and last year’s Six Nations so they will definitely come good this week…’
I’m not so sure they will come good.
The atmosphere around the England camp seems very deflated and some people might say that they are in a hole. The reality is that Eddie Jones has selected players with very little game time who just haven’t performed to the level he expects.
If he selects the same faces once again, then I’m going for a French win which could ultimately cost Eddie Jones his job.
Scotland v Ireland – 3pm Sunday 14th March
Round four of the Six Nations is finished off with a monstrous game on Sunday between Scotland and Ireland.
Ireland have won nine of the last 10 games between these two across all competitions, surely Scotland can break this losing mentality they seem to have when they play the Irish?
Ireland are off the back of a very dominating performance away from home in Italy. With Josh van der Flier and Rhys Ruddock playing for Leinster at the weekend, that would suggest that they are not in the running to be selected for this Scottish game.
Will Connors and Tadhg Beirne were superb in the back row for Ireland two weeks ago and it’s hard to change up that dangerous combination after they played so well.
Team selection is the biggest talking point for Ireland at the minute, because they seemed to play much better after Andy Farrell made numerous changes from the disappointing defeats to France and Wales.
We have to take into consideration here that Italy did play very poorly, but even still, putting a team to the sword at international level is no mean feat.
Ireland also had a couple of tries disallowed so the scoreline could have been much worse for the Italians.
Jonny Sexton played with a smile on his face and completed 80 minutes, which some people might say is a miracle, nonetheless it’s very encouraging to see Ireland’s most decorated outhalf playing to the high standards he demands from himself. Andy Farrell will be hoping for another majestic performance from his captain, as will all the Irish fans cheering the team on from in front of their TVs.
Scotland were so close to making it two out of two against Wales a few weeks ago. Losing is never easy, but losing by a solo point at home is a bit of a sucker punch.
Scotland played brilliantly for large parts of the game and arguably should have been more points to the good at half time.
Both teams put on a hell of a spectacle for all the neutral supporters out there, but Scotland remains that team that seems to never be able to get the job done when the going gets tough. They are going to win against Ireland again very soon, but unfortunately for them I don’t think it’s going to be this year.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.