The Six Nations is finally upon us and what a weekend to kick off this year’s edition of the tournament as 4/5 favourites and defending champions Ireland play host to England.
The Irish are the form side in world rugby right now, but Eddie Jones’ men head across the Irish Sea with a point to prove.
England +8.5 @ 50/57
Having won the previous two Six Nations, the Red Rose were dealt a harsh dose of reality last year after losing three of their five matches to finish in fifth place.
They went on to lose their summer series in South Africa 2-1, bouncing back during the autumn internationals, winning three out of four matches, while they were unlucky to go down to New Zealand by a point.
England have lost on their last two trips to Dublin and haven’t scored a try at the Aviva Stadium since 2011, so Jones will be well aware of the size of the task that awaits his rejuvenated side.
Ireland wrapped up just their third Grand Slam by winning at Twickenham last March and have now won three of the last five Six Nations under the guidance of Joe Schmidt.
The New Zealander has turned the Irish into a force to be reckoned with, winning 18 of the last 19 Test matches, including beating the All Blacks at the Aviva in the autumn.
Clashes between Ireland and England have become attritional affairs and with conditions set to be tricky, it could be a low-scoring encounter.
The boots of Jonathan Sexton and Owen Farrell are likely to decide this match, with Farrell fancied to keep it close for an England side now clear of the majority of their injury issues.
Wales to win @ 20/21
The 2019 curtain-raiser takes place in Paris on Friday as France entertain Wales. The hosts are in dreadful form, winning just three of 11 Test matches since Jacques Brunel was appointed head coach.
Les Bleus have slipped to ninth in the world rankings, with a first ever home defeat to Fiji in the autumn a particularly low moment.
However, they were unlucky to lose the majority of their Six Nations matches last year and Top 14 sides are challenging the Irish provinces for European dominance on the domestic front, giving cause for optimism.
The Welsh sneaked a win against France last year in Cardiff, continuing their recent dominance over their continental rivals, having now won six of the last seven matches.
This will be Warren Gatland’s last year at the helm as he prepares to step down after the World Cup, and he has his charges in fine fettle, completing a clean sweep in the autumn internationals.
Gatland make just three changes to the team that beat South Africa last time out and against the unpredictable French, who have benched Mathieu Bastareaud, they can claim a narrow win.
Scotland to win by 11-20 points @ 59/20
Could this be the year Scotland finally mount a serious Six Nations title challenge? With three home games to come at fortress Murrayfield, it at least gives the Scots a platform to build on.
Gregor Townsend’s men have won their last eight at home, including a memorable Calcutta Cup triumph last year, while they blanked Italy 29-0 the last time they came to Edinburgh.
The Azzurri have lost 17 Six Nations games in a row, slipping to 15th in the world rankings after a tricky summer.
The glimmer of hope for the Italians is that they are at least playing good, attacking rugby, scoring 12 tries in last year’s Six Nations – more than the Scots and France.
Italy pushed Scotland very hard in Rome last March although it won’t be close again on Saturday.
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