Two rounds left and the title hopes still remain alive for England with Scotland, with Ireland hot on their heels. Here’s my predictions for this weekend’s encounters.
Wales v Ireland – Friday March 10, 8:05pm
Wales, with only one win this tournament, they have another tough match on their hands on Friday. Against England and Scotland, they looked like the real deal in the first-half but failed to turn pressure into points in the second-half. Liam Williams has been Wales’ only shining light in what has been a dismal campaign so far. He has been a real threat on the left wing and I won’t be surprised if he finds his way over the try line, for a fourth time this tournament. Good as Williams is, it will take more than just him to turn Wales’ fortunes around.
Ireland on the other hand are littered with finishers and with a sprinkle of Johnny Sexton magic, it’s hard not to see this game swinging in Ireland’s favour. I’m looking forward to seeing the head-to head battle between Conor Murray and Rhys Webb. Not just a Six Nations match up for grabs but a possible Lions starting shirt too. Ireland are picking up momentum and Wales will have to hope their red wall of defence stays strong against an Ireland attack finding its feet. Let’s hope the Welsh fans can awake that sleeping dragon!
Predictions: Liam Williams to score first but Ireland to win in the last ten minutes of the game.
Italy v France – Saturday March 11th, 130pm
Well, what can I say. Conor O’Shea take a bow! Just when you thought the Six Nations couldn’t get any more exciting, then Italy go and throw a big rule book spanner into the works. I don’t see Italy employing the same strategy against France as it’s been done now, and teams will have figured out a way to combat it. But a good poker player never shows all of their hand at once and O’Shea may have another trick up his sleeve.
Italy showed against England that they are more than just the whipping boys. Michele Campagnaro was the key man for me. His first start in the campaign and what an impact he made, scoring a try from pure individual brilliance. Italy have shown that they remain a threat until the final whistle and France will be fully aware of the threat they pose – last year only a failed drop goal attempt was the difference between the two teams!
France, with one win to their name, will be desperate for a second. Gael Fickou is the man who has impressed me most for Les Bleus. He poses a threat in the midfield with his assists and devastating runs. All the talk as though will be about Sergio Parisse versus Louis Picamoles. Picamoles’ injury in the first-half last year didn’t allow this battle to play out until the end, so hopefully we can see the heavyweight fight this time around!
Predictions: France to win.
England v Scotland – Saturday March 11, 4pm
Bamboozled, flabbergasted and outplayed are how I would sum up England’s first-half display against Italy. Eddie Jones’ post match interview is definitely one worth a watch. “It’s not rugby” are the words he says over and over again. What it was, was brain over brawn. We may criticise Eddie and his team for this but regardless of the performance, they secured another win and remain on course for the title.
England are now two games away from winning a Grand Slam, and overtaking New Zealand’s record of 18 consecutive wins. Now all that stands in their way is the flower of Scotland and the Irish clover. Scotland are full of confidence and are hungry for a third consecutive win, and an opportunity to get their hands on the Calcutta Cup and the Triple Crown – the latter something they haven’t done for 27 years!
Tommy Seymour and Tim Visser are in scintillating form for Scotland on the wings and chuck into the mix Stuart Hogg and you have a devastating back three. England will need to be at their very best on Saturday. The return of Billy Vunipola will be a much welcome boost. England have missed his attacking runs, his offloads and soft touches in the game which Nathan Hughes has failed to replicate.
Predictions: England to win and Elliot Daly to score the winning try. I predict it will be a close match until the last quarter.