Wales v Ireland
Saturday March 14, 14:30
Live on BBC One
The key game of the tournament takes place this weekend in Cardiff where Wales can keep alive their title bid against an Ireland side still chasing the Grand Slam. The outcome of this match could go a long way to deciding the destination of the title, although a home win would potentially set up a three-way battle for the championship on the final day.
Wales revived their hopes of finishing top of the 6 Nations with a gritty victory in France. Warren Gatland's side started the competition poorly after subsiding during the second half of their home defeat to England. But Wales have responded strongly to this initial setback with a narrow win in Scotland followed by their success in Paris.
The momentum seems to be building for the Welsh, with improved performances across the three matches, so it comes as no great surprise Gatland has opted to select an unchanged side. Sam Warburton captains the home side for a record 34th time and will be determined to mark the occasion with a victory at the Millennium Stadium.
Ireland have produced a strong title defence so far and are the only side which retains the prospect of the Grand Slam with two games remaining. The Irish have been exceptionally well drilled under Joe Schmidt and have the best kicking game in the competition by some distance which was evident in their impressive 19-9 win over England.
The Irish have also been handed a major boost in the run-up to Saturday's game with influential fly-half Jonny Sexton passed fit. The world class back went off during the England game with a hamstring injury but he will play against Wales. His form has been exceptional and a significant factor in their record equaling tenth successive Test victory. Schmidt's side are also aided by the return to the pack of Jamie Heaslip following a back injury.
Ireland's confidence probably could not be higher after their winning run stretching back to last February against England. The Irish have enjoyed playing at the Millennium Stadium where they have won on three of their last four visits. The last six clashes between the sides in Cardiff have also been decided by 12 points or less so this has all the makings of another tight contest.
With this in mind, Ireland look a decent price to come away with a narrow victory from the match and move a step closer to clinching the title. The Irish have taken the lead in all three matches this year from a penalty. With the ever reliable Sexton on the pitch, the visitors also look worth a punt to continue this trend as the first scoring play.
Back Ireland to win by under 12.5 points in the Sportsbook at 2.6313/8
Back an Ireland penalty in the first scoring play at 2.68/5
England v Scotland
Saturday March 14, 17:00
Live on BBC One
England's Grand Slam hopes were shattered again two weeks ago after defeat in Ireland. It has left the side with plenty to ponder with the World Cup looming and the hosts still require significant improvement to be considered genuine contenders. Stuart Lancaster's team made too many errors in Dublin and it underlined England are still a work in progress.
Despite the defeat, England can still win the 6 Nations title although they will have to rely on help from Wales or Scotland in their matches against favourites Ireland. England produced an exceptional second half of rugby in their opening win in Wales but the truth is Lancaster's team have failed to match this level in the subsequent games against Italy and Ireland.
The hosts have made two changes to the side beaten in their last match. Full-back Mike Brown returns to the England side in place of Alex Goode while lock Courtney Lawes comes in for George Kruis. It is Lawes' first start of the competition and Brown also makes his comeback after suffering concussion against Italy last month.
It has been a desperately disappointing campaign for a Scotland team which came into the competition full of optimism. There have been some encouraging aspects to their play, under new coach Vern Cotter, especially in the narrow defeats to France and Wales. But the bottom line is Scotland have lost all their matches and took a significant step backwards in the dispiriting loss at home to Italy.
Scotland have made five changes for the side to face England and it is no surprise after the disappointment at Murrayfield. The availability of fly-half Finn Russell is undoubtedly a boost for Cotter's side because he should offer more flair and pace to the team. Forwards Jim Hamilton and David Denton come into the side while there are also starts for winger Dougie Fife and centre Matt Scott.
The recent history between the sides certainly won't offer much scope for positivity for the travelling Scots. England have won six and drawn one from the last seven meetings while you have to go back to 1983 for Scotland's last victory at Twickenham. Everything points to a home win but the visitors will be fired up and they are more than capable of staying within a 15-point handicap.
Their only loss by more than eight points under Cotter was in South Africa so Scotland are unlikely to cave in. Backing them with this start is worth taking although there is a chance England could run away from them as the game wears on. But Scotland have not trailed by more than six points at the break in their three defeats. England have been slow starters recently so take the visitors with a half-time handicap of seven points.
Back Scotland +15.5 at 2.1211/10
Back Scotland +7.5 in the first half handicap in the Sportsbook at 1.9110/11
Italy v France
Sunday March 15, 15:00
Live on BBC One
Italy come into this match lifted by a memorable win in Scotland which has greatly enhanced their chances of avoiding the Wooden Spoon. The Italians were unfancied at Murrayfield but defied the odds to snatch a 22-19 victory after a late penalty try. Jacques Brunel's side were worthy winners and will be targeting another win from their remaining home games against France and Wales.
The French have been major disappointments in recent years and this trend has carried on with a poor return of one win from three games this season. France were unconvincing winners at home to Scotland in their opener when they failed to score a try. There was a slight improvement in Ireland but it still ended in defeat while Philippe Saint-Andre's side let down their supporters in the 20-13 loss at home to Wales.
France are in a terrible way with the World Cup just six months away and Saint-Andre, who doesn't appear to know his best side, has made eight changes for the trip to Rome. Maxime Mermoz and Gaël Fickou come in at centre with Wesley Fofana and Rémi Lamerat injured. With so many alterations to the side, it would be a surprise if there was any fluidity to their performance this weekend.
Saint-Andre certainly won't be relishing the trip to Rome where France have slipped up in recent years. The French suffered a shock 22-21 defeat in 2011 and lightning struck twice two years later when Italy won 23-18. The hosts will fancy their chances of causing another upset and are well worth backing with a seven-point handicap advantage.
Since the start of 2013, France have won just one away match from 12 games. This is a dreadful record and certainly suggests the side cannot be trusted especially at short odds-on prices. Italy know they can beat France at home and should take confidence into this game. But it could be an attritional, low scoring clash and if you want to have the draw on side, laying France looks worthwhile considering the state of their game.
Back Italy +7.5 at 1.9420/21
Lay France to win at 1.374/11
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