Six Nations: Improving France fancied to edge past Wales
Simon Mail previews the last weekend of this year's Six Nations with Wales travelling to France and Scotland facing Italy...
"Despite their head to head record, France are seen as narrow favourites for this final match and are fancied to edge past Wales."
France v Wales
Live on BBC One
France have undoubtedly made significant progress from previous years and appear to be heading in the right direction under Guy Noves. Narrow away defeats in England and Ireland were nothing to be disheartened about while the French have picked up wins over Scotland and Italy. A closing victory this weekend could potentially see them finish second after failing to break the top three in the last five Six Nations.
Wales have had their fair share of criticism during this season but silenced the doubters last weekend after a superb home win over Ireland. Rob Howley's side were extremely disappointing during their defeat in Scotland but responded strongly. Their exceptional defence was the key to victory over the Irish as a brace from George North secured a 22-9 win.
France have struggled recently against Wales losing their last five meetings including the 19-10 defeat in last year's tournament. Although the visitors have had the upper hand the French are in better shape than recent years. There is plenty at stake with the runners-up spot behind England a potential reward for the winners.
Despite their head to head record, France are seen as narrow favourites for this final match and are fancied to edge past Wales. Whether the visitors will be able to defend as well as they managed against Ireland is questionable and Les Bleus are playing with more confidence under Noves. France's last seven wins at the Stade De France have been by no more than seven points so another tight win is predicted this weekend.
Scotland v Italy
Live on BBC One
Scotland were brought back to reality with a crushing defeat at Twickenham last week as they were thumped 61-21 by England. It was a tough loss for the Scots after impressing so much during the tournament. But they produced their worst display by some margin and were punished by Eddie Jones' ruthless side. Vern Cotter will be expecting a strong response in his final game in charge this weekend.
It has been a challenging first Six Nations campaign for Conor O'Shea with Italy bottom of the table having lost all four matches. The Italians have had their moments, especially during the first half at Twickenham after leading champions England, but the superior fitness and quality of their opponents have told as the matches have gone on.
Italy have caused the odd upset against them but Scotland have won six of their last seven clashes. Cotter will not want to reflect on the last time they hosted them in the competition two years ago after the Italians pulled off a shock 22-19 victory. This was only the second time Scotland lost at home to Italy.
Scotland are overwhelming favourites to win their closing match and the handicap mark is set at 26 points. But a better option could be to back the hosts to cover a 15-point second-half handicap. Italy have started matches well but fallen away after the break and this could be the case again this weekend. Italy have lost every second half by at least 17 points and Scotland are fancied to pull away at Murrayfield.
Follow Simon's bets on Twitter @watfordtipster
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