Simon Mail previews the second round of Six Nations matches with Ireland hosting Wales and France taking on Italy...
"Ireland's defensive strength could make the difference in a tight game against Wales with high winds and rain likely to limit the scoring."
Ireland v Wales
Live on ITV
Ireland grind out opening win
Ireland started their Six Nations campaign with a victory in Andy Farrell's first game in charge but a significant improvement will be required this weekend against the Grand Slam champions Wales. There was little to excite from an attacking perspective last weekend, with Ireland relying on fly-half Johnny Sexton scoring all their points in a 19-12 victory against Scotland. Their defensive strength came to the fore but Ireland produced little in the way of ambitious rugby.
Farrell has largely kept faith with the players used during Joe Schmidt's final year and he has made just two enforced changes from last weekend's win. Centre Robbie Henshaw replaces Garry Ringrose after he suffered a finger injury while flanker Peter O'Mahony comes in for Caelan Doris. Ireland stick with scrum-half Conor Murray despite a lacklustre performance as the clamour to bring in John Cooney grows.
Champions face first major test
Wales started their Six Nations title defence impressively enough with a 42-0 bonus point win at home to Italy. New coach Wayne Pivac's first match in the competition went to plan with Josh Adams enhancing his reputation further with a hat-trick. It took the wing's exceptional scoring run to ten tries in his last eight internationals.
Pivac has opted to make only one change to the team which eased past Italy. Nick Tompkins scored a superb try on his debut from off the bench last week and the centre has been rewarded with a starting spot in place of wing Johnny McNicholl. It means George North switches back to his accustomed position out wide and Tompkins lines up alongside Hadleigh Parkes.
Ireland have won three of the last four meetings between the teams although Wales dominated last year's Six Nations game in Cardiff, as they clinched the Grand Slam with a 25-7 victory. But Wales have not won away to Ireland in this competition since 2012 and this has proved a tough fixture for them in recent seasons.
The betting is closely matched for this contest with Ireland marginal favourites to win at the Aviva Stadium. The hosts will need to step up a gear from last week's sluggish effort against Scotland but they are more than capable of managing this. Their defensive strength could make the difference in a tight game with high winds and rain likely to limit the scoring. Ireland's last three wins over Wales have all been by less than 12 points and Farrell's side can edge to another victory in Dublin.
France fancied for big win
France v Italy
Live on BBC One
France started their new era under Fabien Galthie with a wave of optimism after their impressive 24-17 victory at home to England. Shaun Edwards' imprint on the team was evident with France's defensive improvement frustrating the visitors while two tries from new captain Charles Ollivon helped them put down a marker for the championship.
Italy's losing run goes on
There was no sign of positivity for Italy after the team were swatted aside by Wales in their 42-0 defeat. Franco Smith is in interim charge of the side but failed to get a response from his players as Italy's losing record in the Six Nations stretched to 23 matches. Their last victory came in 2015 and this looks set to be another long campaign for the rank outsiders.
France have won the last eight games against Italy and it would be a monumental upset if the hosts failed to extend this run in Paris this weekend. In last year's summer warm-up international, France eased to a 47-19 home win while last season's Six Nations game in Rome resulted in a 25-14 win for the visitors.
The handicap mark is set at 26 points and if last week's performances by both teams are repeated this looks well within France's sights. A slight preference is to back France to cover a 12-point first-half handicap. Galthie's side raced into a 17-0 half-time lead against England last week while Italy trailed by 21 points at the break against Wales. Expect another fast start from Les Bleus in a convincing second Six Nations win.
Follow Simon's bets on Twitter @watfordtipster
P/L 2019-20 season
Back Ireland to win by 1-12 points at [2.68]
Back France -12 to win the first-half handicap @ 5/6 (Sportsbook)