Simon Mail previews the penultimate weekend of the Six Nations and predicts a tight win for Wales in Scotland...
The competition is edging towards next week's finale and Wales know only a victory in Scotland can maintain their title aspirations. Ireland host winless France before Grand Slam hopefuls England face Italy on Sunday.
Scotland have enjoyed a resurgence under interim coach Scott Johnson with back-to-back victories. A stylish four-try win over Italy caught the eye but the Scots had to adopt a completely different strategy to topple the Irish. A dogged defensive display, along with wastefulness from the visitors, enabled them to pull off a win which has pushed them into a tie for second.
Wales were in the midst of a crisis after their opening loss to Ireland sent them to an eighth consecutive defeat. But to their credit, last year's Grand Slam champions have picked up successive away wins in France and Italy to revive hopes of a title bid. This has extended their Six Nations record to four victories in a row on the road.
The Welsh have dominated Scotland in recent years with five consecutive wins and nine from the last ten meetings. There is no doubt that the hosts will enter this contest in a much better frame of mind than in previous clashes. But if they have as little possession and territory as their last match Wales are unlikely to be as generous as Ireland. A narrow win for the visitors looks the best play for this match.
Recommended bet: Back Wales to win by under 12.5 points at 2.767/4
Ireland have come under plenty of scrutiny after their campaign has unraveled despite a promising start. Declan Kidney's side were expected to mount a title charge after winning in Cardiff but subsequent defeats to England and Scotland have raised questions about the direction of the side. The Irish showed a lack of ruthlessness in their loss at Murrayfield and the same mistakes cannot be afforded this weekend.
France have their own problems to contend with after their worst start to the Six Nations. Philippe Saint-Andre's team were fancied by most to contend with England for the title, but the wooden spoon is now the only realistic prize on offer after three defeats in a row. Despite making wholesale changes against England, the French were unable to halt the slide and are desperate to put some pride back in the shirt.
The head to head record strongly favours France with four wins in the last five meetings and just one defeat in 13 clashes. Both sides look short of confidence but you get the feeling France could rediscover their flair and panache at any moment. The visitors may well perform better away from the pressure of the French crowd and will be determined to get off the mark this year. With such a strong record against Ireland, it could pay off to side with France.
Recommended Bet: Back France to win by under 12.5 points at 2.77/4
England are the only side undefeated in the competition and have a golden opportunity to win both the title and Grand Slam. Stuart Lancaster's side have yet to hit their best form but have still been too strong for Scotland, Ireland and France. This match at Twickenham appears to be hugely one sided and it is impossible to make a case for the visitors.
Italy made a superb start this year with a shock win over France but there has been little to cherish since then. A heavy defeat in Scotland was followed by a loss to Wales and they have undoubtedly missed suspended captain Sergio Parisse.
England have won all 13 meetings in the Six Nations and there is no reason to think this record will be halted. The Italians have been on the end of plenty of drubbings at Twickenham with their best result a 13-point defeat in 2007. Italy's most recent reversals in England have been by margins of 46 and 25 points so more of the same should be on the cards on Sunday.
Recommended Bet: Back England to win by -21.5 points at 1.654/6
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