Simon Mail previews the third weekend of the Six Nations with Wales hosting unbeaten France and Scotland looking for a first win of the campaign in Italy...
"The last four matches between Wales and France have been settled by no more than five points and Les Bleus are fancied to keep it close again in Cardiff."
Wales v France
Live on BBC One
Wales need response after Ireland defeat
Six Nations Grand Slam champions Wales loosened their grip on the trophy after losing in Ireland in the last round of games. The defeat leaves them needing to win their remaining three matches, starting at home to unbeaten France, if they are to have any chance of successfully defending the title. Wayne Pivac's side demolished Italy 42-0 in Cardiff but could not handle Ireland's attack in their 24-14 loss in Dublin.
Wales' defence was uncharacteristically shoddy against Ireland and Pivac will need to resolve this if the team are to contend for the championship. Scrum-half Gareth Davies returns in place of Tomos Williams - one of two changes for this weekend's game. Flanker Ross Moriarty replaces Aaron Wainright while Dan Biggar and Josh Adams have been passed fit to play at the Principality Stadium.
Improving France title contenders under Galthie
France have been also rans in recent editions of the Six Nations but the appointment of Fabien Galthie, alongside the recruitment of former Wales defence coach Shaun Edwards, could herald the start of a sustained period of success. Opening up with back-to-back wins, France have emerged as genuine title challengers although this weekend could reveal whether they are the real deal.
Galthie's talented young team made a statement in their first match, surging into an early lead during their 24-17 victory against World Cup finalists England. France clinched a bonus-point 35-22 win over Italy in Paris but now face the challenge of improving their poor away record. Galthie brings fit again Virimi Vakatawa into the backline with Gael Fickou shifting out to the wing. Vincent Rattez is ruled out after suffering a broken fibula against Italy.
Wales have won the last three meetings between the teams but that does not tell the full story. The most recent clash came in October in their World Cup quarter-final in Japan and Wales were given an almighty scare. France led 12-0 early on and were handicapped in the second half by Sebastien Vahaamahina's red card. A late Moriarty try snatched the victory but it was harsh on France.
There is no doubt France are on the upward trend and the visitors look worth backing given a six-point handicap advantage. The last four matches between Wales and France have been settled by no more than five points and Les Bleus are fancied to keep it close again in Cardiff. France should have won the last two games against Wales and this current team has the attacking threats to push the champions all the way.
Italy v Scotland
Live on ITV
Townsend under pressure to deliver win
Scotland boss Gregor Townsend knows he faces a must-win match in Italy with defeat likely to spell the imminent end of his tenure. After failing to progress from their pool at last year's World Cup, Townsend has left out his star fly-half Finn Russell from the Six Nations, for disciplinary reasons, with no resolution between them looking likely.
Their 19-12 defeat in Ireland, on the opening weekend, was an encouraging performance although their lack of ruthlessness ultimately proved costly. Dreadful weather conditions scuppered any chance of an open game against England at Murrayfield as they were beaten 13-6 to leave them in danger of finishing bottom. Townsend has opted to bring in Gloucester centre Chris Harris for Huw Jones this weekend in one of three changes.
Italy have also lost their first two matches in the tournament, beaten heavily in Wales before a gallant effort in the defeat to France. This extended their losing streak in the Six Nations to 24 games. Franco Smith wants Italy to play more expansively and there were signs of that in Paris with exciting back Matteo Minozzi adding to his growing reputation with another try.
This match is likely to decide the wooden spoon and Italy will know this is a big opportunity to claim their first tournament win since beating Scotland in 2015. The visitors have won their last seven matches against Italy although their last victory in Rome was only by a two-point margin. Italy should put up a strong fight but Scotland can claim a much-needed victory by no more than 12 points at appealing odds.
Follow Simon's bets on Twitter @watfordtipster
P/L 2019-20 season
Back France +6 @ 10/11 (Sportsbook)
Back Scotland to win by 1-12 points at 2/12.96