Stephen Ferris previews the new Autumn Nations Cup
Ireland kick the competition off on Friday night against Wales who are on a very bad run of form at the minute.
Ireland are 1/4 to get the win, with a handicap of 9 points which is usually a lot in an international fixture. There seems to be turmoil in the Welsh camp due to their loss of form, and the coaching staff of Wales has also been changed in the last week due to the defence coach being let go.
Someone had to be the fall guy for their recent capitulation, but again, all this negativity isn’t good for team morale!
It’s not all doom and gloom for Wales as they welcome back one of their key men, Justin Tipuric, who is an outstanding international rugby player.
Wales head coach Wayne Pivac will select 14 of the same players who lost at home to Scotland and I think he is looking for a massive reaction from all those individuals.
Ireland are making a number of changes to their team after the disappointment in France. New cap James Lowe is one of the most exciting players in the northern hemisphere, and his battle with Liam Williams will be epic.
Johnny Sexton continues to drive the team wearing the captain’s armband and he will be glad to see some leadership beside him with Peter O’Mahony and Iain Henderson back in the starting team.
Seven changes in total to the team that lost in France, and for me it’s only a good thing as it freshens up the team environment.
On paper, Wales should be closer to Ireland than the 9-point handicap suggests, but their recent form yields little faith. Weather conditions will surely play a part in the points margin, and of course that is by how many points Ireland will win by.
Wales want to prove a lot of people wrong about their team, so I’m going for an Irish win, but for Wales to beat that handicap. So my bet, Wales +9.
Ireland v Wales Bets
James Lowe to be first try scorer on debut would be my bet, what a player. Josh Adams who scored the most tries at the World Cup in Japan is a good bet if you’re a Wales fan.
Ronan Kelleher to score a try anytime is another shout as he’s sure to be looking for a try off a rolling maul.
Group A Betting
England will be favourites to get themselves into a final, especially with having Ireland at home in a few weeks’ time. But will England use this competition to bleed new life into their team? Or will they be wanting more silverware under Eddie Jones?
This should be an easy enough game for England to start this competition versus Georgia and I’m expecting them to bounce on and top group A.
I’m hoping all the teams in the competition make lots of changes from week to week which will give all the viewers an indication of what their country’s international future looks like.
Group B Betting
France will be hot favourites to top this group, and with Six Nations player of the tournament Antoine Dupont leading the charge at scrum half, I wouldn’t be betting against them.
Romain Ntamack at outhalf pulls all the strings and there is a certain feel to this French side that they are building something special.
Virimi Vakatawa and Gael Fickou are so dangerous in attack and if the French pack can provide quality ball you will be sure to see some fireworks.
France to top Group B is my prediction, with Scotland giving them a tight game when they meet.
Group A Predictions
Ireland v Wales- Wales +9
England v Georgia – England to win by more than 30 points
Group B Predictions
Scotland are riding a big high after their away win in Wales when they take on Italy. But with no Finn Russell and no Adam Hastings they might struggle for direction away from home.
Scotland have lots of quality in their team and I fancy them to beat the handicap of 10 points. My bet is Scotland -10.
France versus Fiji should be a highly entertaining game as there are so many talented players taking the pitch. France should dominate the set pieces and also have a little more structure to their game to give them the advantage. France to win by 15-20 points is my prediction.
Autumn Nations Cup Winners
Of course, I want to say Ireland, but I think that with England away from home in their group, they will just fall short. So, an England v France final is my prediction.
I’m sure a lot of other rugby fans will be saying the same thing! Squad rotation will certainly have an impact on some of the results over the next four weeks, so the strength and depth will be tested massively.
England have huge numbers playing at a high level as do France, so you would expect their squads to cope with the attritional format of the competition.
My prediction? France to win the competition. But that is more because I don’t want to see England win another trophy in such a short space of time!