The Autumn Nations Cup concludes this weekend and Simon Mail thinks England will be too strong for France in the final at Twickenham...
"There is no doubt England are in an enviable position with home advantage against a severely weakened France team. The hosts are short-priced favourites and should justify this although it could prove closer than widely expected."
Six Nations champions build winning run
England v France
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Six Nations champions England have the chance to end the year by winning the inaugural Autumn Nations Cup. Eddie Jones' side have home advantage for the final against France and will be backed by 2,000 fans, for the first time since the spring, at Twickenham. It looks a golden opportunity for England to win the competition against an understrength France team.
England have won all of their matches since losing in France in their Six Nations opener in February. It has been a dominant run for the World Cup finalists and wins over Georgia, Ireland and Wales sealed their place in this autumn's final. Tries from Henry Slade and Mako Vunipola wore down Wales as they secured a 24-13 win in Llanelli last weekend. The only change to last week's side is Anthony Watson comes in on the wing to replace the injured Jonathan Joseph.
Depleted France face huge challenge
France have made significant progress under new coach Fabien Galthie this year with second place in the Six Nations followed by their spot in this weekend's final.
Wins over Scotland and France secured a trip to Twickenham but significantly France's squad has been decimated for the final.
An agreement this summer ruled their players could not feature in more than three matches this autumn. It means 20 players have been ruled out including Antoine Dupont, Virimi Vakatawa and their captain Charles Ollivon.
There is no doubt England are in an enviable position with home advantage against a severely weakened France team. The hosts are short-priced favourites and should justify this although it could prove closer than widely expected. France defeated England earlier this year and although it will be a very different team they should not be dismissed completely.
France have no shortage of emerging talent coming through, having won the under-20 World Championships in both 2018 and 2019. Winning at Twickenham may be beyond them but there is value in backing their promising young team to keep it close with England prevailing by no more than 12 points.
Ireland still searching for consistency
Ireland v Scotland
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Ireland have home advantage this weekend in their third-place playoff against Scotland. Andy Farrell's side have been inconsistent this year and are still looking to develop their team after falling short in the biggest games against England and France. Ireland's performance in their lacklustre 23-10 win over Georgia last weekend was criticised by Farrell and an improvement will be needed against this week's opponents.
Scotland bid to continue progress
Scotland are well rested for this match after being handed a 28-0 win over Fiji due to their scheduled opposition's Covid 19 outbreak. Gregor Townsend's side were beaten 22-15 at home to France in their last match in the competition. But it has been an encouraging year for Scotland with Six Nations wins against France and Wales.
Ireland, who bring fly-half Johnny Sexton back from injury, have won their last four clashes against Scotland but were arguably fortunate in the Six Nations this year. Scotland wasted numerous attacking opportunities as they slipped to a 19-12 defeat and will expect to push Ireland close at the Aviva Stadium. Scotland have not last by more than 12 points in their last four defeats over the last 15 months and the best bet is to back Ireland to grind out a narrow win.
Wales aiming to end troubled year on high
Wales v Italy
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Wales will be pleased to see the back of this year with Wayne Pivac's side struggling on the pitch. A disappointing Six Nations campaign resulted in fifth place and Wales have lost seven of their nine matches under new coach Pivac. Wales upped their intensity last weekend, with Johnny Williams giving them an early lead against England but were unable to hold out.
Italy propped up the Six Nations table and their performances in the Autumn Nations Cup have been mixed. A strong display pushed Scotland all the way before losing 28-17. But Italy were well beaten by France last weekend which underlined their limitations. Franco Smith will want a competitive performance in Wales and to avoid a repeat of their thrashing earlier this year.
Wales romped to a 42-0 win at home to Italy in the Six Nations, in Pivac's first Test in charge, although it has clearly not gone to plan since then. The hosts, who recall George North at centre this weekend, should be too strong again but it is anticipated to be much closer this time with the handicap mark set at 17 points. Wales should win with something to spare but the most appealing bet is North to score at 3/1 with the Sportsbook OddsBoost. North has a sensational record against Italy, scoring nine tries in his last six matches against them and is worth backing at generous odds to cross the line again for Wales.
Follow Simon's bets on Twitter @watfordtipster