Rugby Union

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

Owen Farrell in action for England against Italy
Owen Farrell captained England to victory over Italy in their last match

Wales host England this weekend in the Six Nations while Ireland face Italy and France take on Scotland with Simon Mail previewing the third round of matches...

  • Ireland in charge after France win

  • England off mark under Borthwick

  • Scotland target Paris upset


Ireland set sights on grand slam

Italy v Ireland
Saturday, 14:15
Live on ITV

Ireland head to Italy this weekend in the driving seat to win this year's Six Nations after opening the tournament with back-to-back bonus point wins. A comprehensive win in Wales was followed by a major statement victory over last season's champions France in Dublin.

The 32-19 win over France was an epic encounter between the top two teams in the world, with Ireland underlining their huge progress over the last year under Andy Farrell. A frenetic, end-to-end first half was edged by the hosts but Garry Ringrose's late try sealed the outcome to end France's 14-match winning streak. James Ryan will captain Ireland this weekend with Johnny Sexton ruled out due to a groin injury.

Italy have lost their first two matches this year but that certainly does not tell the full story. France were given an almighty scare in Rome at the start of February, with Italy leading during the second half before being beaten 29-24. Italy again beat the handicap mark as underdogs at Twickenham, with the visitors scoring twice in their 31-14 defeat.

The result in Rome on Saturday is surely not in doubt with Ireland, who have won the last 12 matches against Italy, pressing their case as World Cup contenders.

A handicap advantage of 23 points for Italy merits consideration but Ireland are in such strong form and have scored 155 points against them across the last three meetings. Preference is to back Ireland to score more than 18 points during the first half. Ireland have got off to fast starts so far, with at least 22 points in both of their opening 40 minutes and are worth siding with again at the expense of Italy.

Back Ireland to score over 18.5 first-half points

10/11

Troubled Wales face challenge

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

Wales will face England this weekend but only after a strike from the players was averted on Wednesday. A dispute with Welsh rugby bosses over contracts continued a turbulent start to the year which has seen the team lose their opening two matches. Warren Gatland's return has not heralded an upturn with a thumping loss against Ireland followed by another heavy defeat in Scotland.

England are off the mark, having lost their opener to Scotland, under Steve Borthwick after their home victory against Italy. It was not the most convincing performance but the former Leicester coach is rebuilding England's confidence after a miserable end to Eddie Jones' tenure. Anthony Watson makes his first England start in almost two years, in place of wing Ollie Hassell-Collins as the sole change to the team.

Wales insist they are not distracted but their contract wranglings cannot be ideal preparation for this match, with debutant centre Mason Grady one of nine changes to the team. Nor their two previous games which resulted in them conceding 69 points.

England have won three of their last four matches against Wales and will sense this is a big opportunity to claim another victory against brittle opponents.

With England seemingly picking a more settled team and a raft of changes for Wales, this looks a strong chance for the visitors to pick off another win. The Cardiff cauldron is never an easy place to win at but England can edge to victory by up to 12 points to continue the hosts' misery.

Back England to win by 1-12 points

2.52

scotland wales.jpg

Scotland can cause France trouble

France v Scotland
Sunday, 15:00
Live on ITV

France must bounce back after their long unbeaten run was ended by Ireland but Les Bleus face a challenging match against a rejuvenated Scotland this weekend. Last year's grand slam winners France have been unable to match those lofty heights so far, with a scrappy win in Italy followed by the loss to Ireland.

Scotland, who recall flanker Hamish Watson this weekend, have made a stunning start to the tournament after winning their opening two matches in a Six Nations campaign for the first time. Finn Russell has been instrumental as their playmaker, in inspiring them to another win over England before finally backing this up with a 35-7 drubbing of Wales at Murrayfield.

Recent history certainly offers Scotland hope with three wins from their last five clashes against France. This includes a victory at the Stade de France two years ago and Scotland are in better form now which offers Gregor Townsend more than hope for the trip to Paris.

Scotland are dangerous opponents but France's recent home record is formidable. This year's World Cup hosts will be fired up to ensure they avoid back-to-back defeats and should be able to respond after their setback against Ireland. Scotland can keep it close but a France win by no more than 12 points looks most likely.

Back France to win by 1-12 points

2.52

Follow Simon's bets on Twitter @watfordtipster

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