The third round of the Six Nations begins this weekend with a cluster of incredibly exciting and important games to come as Italy host Scotland, France travel to face Wales, and England host Ireland.
Italy vs Scotland (Saturday, 15:15 GMT)
Italy come into this one without a win after two matches and once again in real danger of picking up the wooden spoon. An improved attacking display against France still came with those defensive lapses and deficiencies, with the side unable to get anywhere near the level across the 80 minutes that they needed to be to beat France. Scotland meanwhile may have lost twice but they battled hard against Ireland and could have won had it not been for an uncharacteristic error from Stuart Hogg when looking to dot down for a try, while the elements tested every inch of their ability against England at Murrayfield as they were edged out of the game. The Italians are a team they will target as entirely beatable though, and while it is not always easy to go to Rome and blow the home team out of the water quickly, we feel that the Scottish players will be hugely up for this game as they look to get a win on the board. Therefore we are backing a fairly comfortable Scottish win, with Italy losing the last seven meetings between the two sides, and we think they are likely to add another loss to that record.
Wales vs France (Saturday, 17:45 GMT)
Wales may have seen their Grand Slam dream dashed in game week two by Ireland, but Wayne Pivac’s men will go into this one knowing that the Championship is still very much within their reach. A strong performance saw the Welsh dragon beat Italy 42-0 in Cardiff and they will now return to the Principality Stadium looking to end France’s Grand Slam hopes. The French arrive following a superb win over England in their opening game which was followed by a slightly less-assured win over Italy in their second match. While the side will be confident following their run, they know that a display of mediocrity that smacks of France over the last few years will see Wales win this one. Our hope for this game is that France’s sublime attacking play from their win over England comes up against Wales’ improved attacking game-plan which has placed much more emphasis on going forward this year. With so much strong attacking talent on display, some may find it tough to pick a player that will definitely standout, but our man to do this in most games involving Wales is Josh Adams, with the winger Wales’ best finisher and one of the best backs in the game today. With this in mind, we are backing him to score a try anytime in the game.
England vs Ireland (Sunday, 16:00 GMT)
So we come to Sunday and the game of the weekend, as two of the world’s best sides come face-to-face for the first time this decade. This is the first time England play at Twickenham this campaign and they will be pleased to return home, with a loss to France in round one coming via a champagne French performance before they battled the harshest of elements to beat Scotland in the midst of a harrowing conditions. Now, England know they will have to really up their level if they are to beat an Irish side that will be full of confidence once again. Ireland meanwhile rode their luck against Scotland as they ground out a result that was massive for the side and new coach Andy Farrell, with the boss needing a win straight off the bat after he took over from Joe Schmidt at the end of last year. A much-improved performance against Wales saw the side strengthen their own Grand Slam hopes, but it is very interesting to note that their win was once again based on a strong defence, powerful ball carrying and picking and going, with this a staple of Ireland’s play for years, and showing that not much has really changed for the men in green under their new coach. For England then it will be a similar proposition as it always is if they are to win this one, with the side needing to disrupt Ireland at the breakdown in order to stop them getting onto the front-foot with their runners, while the return of Manu Tuilagi adds a much-needed physicality to England’s midfield which is vital, especially with Billy Vunipola still absent. In this one we feel that the match will be a tight one that sees minimal points between the two sides. Bar the friendly match between the two at the back end of last year, games between the two have been close, with all eight of their last competitive matches seeing the winning margin come by no more than 12 points, and so we are backing England to win by 1-12 points.