Well last week threw up a few surprises, Wales’ apparent resurrection whilst Scotland failed to play without the underdog tag, France turning up to play against the Irish and Jonny Sexton channelling the inner spirit of Ronan O’Gara and banging that 45m drop goal to win the game, God I love the Six Nations. Let’s hope this week throws up the same excitement, let’s take a look at the upcoming action and see if we can predict a few results.
Ireland v Italy
Ireland make 4 changes from the thriller in Paris last weekend, Jack McGrath, Devin Toner, Dan Leavy and Jack Conan coming into the pack for Cian Healy, James Ryan, Josh Van Der Flier and CJ Stander respectively. The changes will add a little size and weight to the tight five which always comes in handy against the beefy Italian pack. The backline remains unchanged, but coach Joe Schmidt will be hoping for a little more creativity than last week’s performance. Possibly the most exciting change of the week though will be young Leinster fullback Jordan Larmour coming onto the bench, hoping to make an impact. Last years fixture between the two resulting in a 9 try rout by the Irish and a 63-10 win, but the Italians have tasted victory 4 times against the Irish and will be hoping to make Saturdays fixture win number 5.
Although Italy come into this week from a bit of a thumping at the hands of England they will have taken heart from their first half performance where they held England to a 10-17 score line at the break. Conor O’Shea will have done his research this week, noting how the French stopped any Ireland quick ball by pressuring the attack and making their tackles behind the gain line thus stopping any chance of Ireland’s usually fluid attacking game.
I would say Italy are on a slow upwards curve, but these things take time, especially with the limited resources afforded to O’Shea and his team and this weekend may well be too soon to tell against a very good Ireland team. Ireland will win this game, but the question is, by how much? Ireland will be looking for an improvement on their attack and I think they will put 40 on the Azzuri.
England v Wales
The game of the weekend without a doubt, is there two teams that have more history of deep dislike than these two? True, everyone hates England but none more than the men in red. Both teams have come into the tournament with injury worries, but you would have never known it with the positive score lines of both teams last weekend.
England make two changes from the team that hammered the Italians with Danny Care taking the place of injured Ben Youngs, the Leicester man being out for 4 months with a medial ligament tear and Jonathan Joseph regaining his centre spot from Ben Te’o. the centre change would suggest that Jones thinks Joseph will be more capable of handling the pace Wales now have out wide with the former league man, Te’o, possibly being a little bulky for the role. The change at nine won’t change the England game too much with Care being a similar, pacey scrum half. The England pack remains unchanged with Sam Simmonds earning his second cap at the back of the scrum.
Wales come into this week full of confidence after last weeks demolition of Scotland, keeping the same starting line up that did the job. The only squad change being that of George North coming onto the bench. Eddie Jones has attempted to heap the pressure on Wales fly half Rhys Patchell labelling him “Wales third choice fly half” and saying the pressure will be on him but I’m sure the Scarlets man won’t let him effect his game. Wales will be looking to stretch the England defence wide and use their pace with Steff Evans and Josh Adams impressing last week on the wings.
Before this tournament I would have said this was an easy call with the Wales team seemingly on a downwards trajectory but after last weeks performance the odds will have certainly closed. I believe England are still the favourites and that’s where my money will be going. Id go England to win by 7, but this isn’t an easy call and England will have to be on their ‘A’ game to get the result.
Scotland v France
To be fair, this weekend has some cracking games, and this will be no different. Scotland will be a wounded animal after last weeks poor performance against a rampant Wales side and will be looking to show the world they weren’t just a flash in the pan in last Autumn’s internationals.
Scotland make six changes to the team in hope of addressing last weeks poor effort, Greig Laidlaw, Ryan Wilson, Grant Gilchrist, Simon Berghan, Peter Horne and Sean Maitland coming in to take on the French. The Scots seemed to lack in leadership and control, especially from half back last week and the selection of Laidlaw will be in hopes of fixing that problem.
France put in a great defensive performance last week, stifling the Irish, forcing them to kick everything. Jacques Brunel will be hoping his men can bring a little more attacking play to their game as Scotland do not have the tactical kicking game that Ireland do. I imagine France will get more ball and a few more chances than they did last week but Scotland will have been licking their wounds all week and certainly come out firing this week.
With Scotland being at home this week I think that will give them the slight advantage, Scotland aren’t as bad as they performed last week and will be looking to show that to everyone. Its going to be tight but I’m going for Scotland by 4.