Six Nations

Six Nations Cheat Sheet: Best bets for Ireland v France, Scotland v Wales and England v Italy

Caelan Doris scores for Ireland against Wales
Ireland dominated Wales in their opening win in this year's Six Nations

Ireland host France in the standout Six Nations match of the second round and Simon Mail previews the weekend's action including England v Italy...

  • Ireland off to dominant start

  • Wales need response after loss

  • England under pressure after defeat


Ireland face crunch clash

Ireland v France
Saturday, 14:15
Live on ITV

Ireland and France have soared to the top of the world rankings over the last year and the two European heavyweights look set to duel for the Six Nations title, with this weekend's showdown likely to prove pivotal. Andy Farrell's hosts are statistically the best team in the world but France stormed to the grand slam last season and head to Dublin on a 14-match winning streak.

This year's tournament favourites Ireland underlined their status with a dominant 34-10 victory in Wales in their opener last weekend. A storming start opened up a commanding lead and Josh van der Flier sealed the bonus point success in Cardiff. Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton are both fit to start for the hosts this weekend, with Rob Herring the sole change to the team in place of injured hooker Dan Sheehan.

France were given a scare in their opener in Italy as they trailed during the second half. But Les Bleus eventually edged home with Matthieu Jalibert's try helping them to a 29-24 win in Rome. While France managed to prevail, Ireland will have seen enough from the match to give them optimism of exploiting their opponents in this showdown.

The last three contests between the teams have all been won by France but the margins have been small, with eight points the biggest victory. In fact, the last seven matches have been settled by no more than 12 points.

There is every expectation this eagerly anticipated encounter will be similarly close with little between the teams and recent defeats a rarity for either side.

Ireland are favourites to win this match at the Aviva Stadium and home advantage should tip the balance in their favour. Farrell's team were so impressive in their opening victory against Wales while France, missing a number of players through injury, showed moments of fragility in Italy. Ireland can take a huge step towards the Six Nations title by ending France's unbeaten run with a tight win.

Back Ireland to beat France by 1-12 points

2.54

Scotland make stunning start

Scotland v Wales
Saturday, 16:45
Live on BBC One

Scotland have had too many false dawns in recent years and Gregor Townsend's team will be determined to back up their dramatic opening victory over England with success against Wales. A 29-23 win at Twickenham clinched a third successive Calcutta Cup win but Scotland must now prove they can put a consistent run together. Townsend has made just one change, with prop Zander Fagerson replacing WP Nel.

Warren Gatland's return to coach Wales did not get off to the expected start after their crushing defeat against Ireland. It certainly highlighted the scale of work required to rebuild Wales in time for this year's World Cup and Gatland has acted by revamping their pack. Alun Wyn Jones, Taulupe Faletau and Justin Tipuric have been left out of the team, with first starts for Dafydd Jenkins and Christ Tshiunza while Tommy Reffell is drafted into a new back row.

scotland win.jpg

Scotland have never won their first two matches in the Six Nations and anyone siding with the hosts at 1.454/9 needs to be aware of the risks attached to trusting them.

Current form suggests Scotland should be too strong for Wales but they have never beaten a team coached by Gatland.

Instead of backing Scotland, preference is to side with their prolific finisher Duhan van der Merwe to score. The Edinburgh wing scored twice against England, including a stunning solo effort. Van der Merwe has scored 16 tries in 24 Tests for Scotland and the 2021 Six Nations top tryscorer can add to his growing reputation by crossing the line for again at Murrayfield.

Back Duhan van der Merwe to score

11/10

England need response to setback

England v Italy
Sunday, 15:00
Live on ITV

England's new era under Steve Borthwick got off to an inauspicious start after squandering a lead in their home defeat to Scotland last weekend. The defensive weaknesses in their team were costly as Scotland scored four tries to condemn England to yet another slow start in the Six Nations.

Italy also lost but they came out of their gallant defeat to France with plenty of credit. Rising star Ange Capuozzo scored for Italy as they led during the second half against the champions. It was further evidence of the progress under Kieran Crowley which resulted in momentous wins over Wales and Australia last year.

England have never lost to Italy and this is the ideal opportunity for Borthwick to get off the mark with a first victory. That said, this may not be the walkover it has proved over the years. The handicap mark is set at 19 points and improving Italy can beat this mark this if they get off to a solid start at Twickenham.

Back Italy +19.5 to win

1.93

*Follow Simon's bets on Twitter @watfordtipster

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