Six Nations: Scotland can bounce back with home win over France
Simon Mail previews the second weekend of the Six Nations with Scotland hosting France and Ireland taking on Italy...
"The Scots did defeat France 29-18 at Murrayfield two years ago and their recent home form is encouraging. Scotland have won seven of their last eight home games with the only defeat coming against the All Blacks."
Scotland v France
Live on BBC One
Scotland's start to the Six Nations was nothing short of disastrous after last week's 34-7 defeat in Wales. Gregor Townsend's side came into the competition with high expectations after their progress last year which included a record win over Australia and a narrow defeat to New Zealand. But Scotland failed to live up to the hype and produced a dismal performance in Cardiff.
Townsend was shocked by their performance and it is no surprise the team to face France features plenty of changes. Former captain Greig Laidlaw returns at scrum-half in place of Ali Price in one of six alterations. Sean Maitland comes in for injured winger Byron McGuigan while centre Peter Horne is chosen ahead of Chris Harris. Scotland will be desperate to show the attacking form which was heralded last year this weekend and know another defeat will be a desperate outcome after coming in with such high hopes.
France also come into this match looking for their first win after a dramatic 15-13 defeat at home to Ireland. Jacques Brunel took charge of his first match and appeared to be heading for a victory after Teddy Thomas' 71st minute try. But the hosts were sunk in the final play of the match after a stunning drop-goal by Johnny Sexton. There were signs of potential from the French, particularly defensively, but the team are very much in transition under new management.
Scotland are odds-on favourites for this match although 11 defeats in 12 matches against France suggest this is not a bet worth taking. The Scots did defeat France 29-18 at Murrayfield two years ago and their recent home form is encouraging. Scotland have won seven of their last eight home games with the only defeat coming against the All Blacks. The hosts can be expected to come out firing in attack after the criticism they received this week and look worth support to cover a three-point first-half handicap at Evens.
Ireland v Italy
Live on ITV
Ireland got off to a winning start in the most dramatic fashion after Sexton's heroics snatched the victory with the final attack of the game in France. The Irish came into the tournament widely expected to challenge champions England for the title. But their opening performance was unspectacular and their attack failed to fire with the side rarely looking like scoring a try.
Joe Schmidt will expect his team to develop as the competition progresses and they have a good opportunity to do so with three successive home matches before a potential decider at England in the final game. Exciting Leinster back Jordan Larmour is likely to make his Ireland debut from off the bench while Jack Conan, Jack McGrath, Devin Toner and Dan Leavy come into the pack for the game at the Aviva Stadium.
Italy predictably lost their opener 46-15 at home to England although there were some encouraging signs. Conor O'Shea's side certainly played more attacking rugby than in previous years and were rewarded with two tries and another score which was ruled out for a forward pass. However Italy's only win in their last 13 matches came against Fiji in November and it is difficult to see where their next win in this competition is going to come.
The outcome of this match is surely beyond doubt with Ireland given a handicap of 34 points to cover. Rather than taking this, it could pay off to back the hosts to overcome a 19-point second-half handicap. Ireland have won their last two second halves against Italy by at least 21 points and have the firepower, especially with talents such as Larmour to come off the bench, to pull away from the visitors the longer the game goes on.
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