The Six Nations’ two title favourites face-off in a titanic battle when France play host to Ireland in Paris on Saturday, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
Wales will seek redemption and will have to stave off high-flying Scotland to keep their hopes of retaining the title alive to kick-off the weekend’s action, while England head to Rome where nothing but a full house will suffice against the Azzurri on Sunday.
Wales v Scotland
Saturday, 12 February – 16:15
The boisterous Scots have a golden opportunity to make it back-to-back wins as they storm Cardiff to confront a wounded Welsh outfit who failed to live up to even the lowest of expectations last weekend. We tipped the Irish to cover the 14.5-point spread against a Wales team who have to make do without a raft of experienced key players in their 2022 campaign, but even we were surprised by how woeful the defending champions were, ultimately taking a 22-point licking.
The Cardiff factor will lift them but I can’t see it being enough to stop a surging Scotland as fundamental flaws of a stitched-together team remain. The visitors, so bold, brave and abrasive in their 20-17 win over England, are a well-oiled machine and on a major high, their first consecutive Calcutta Cup triumphs since 1984 serving as rock fuel.
Gelling like they are and with Finn Russell running the show, Scotland should add to Wales’ woes.
France v Ireland
Saturday, 12 February – 18:45
A pearler of a pick’em. This had looked like a potential championship-deciding showdown when the schedule was announced and the opening-round results strengthened that notion, with England – the other serious title threat – having fallen over the first hurdle at Murrayfield. Granted, it’s still early days, but both teams will approach this epic confrontation like a final.
Both teams are well-coached and beaming with confidence. If it were a court case, Ireland made the stronger opening statement as to whom you should back with their 29-7 walloping of Wales. They were clinical – clinching the four-try bonus point and nearly keeping the Welsh tryless – disciplined – they didn’t concede a single penalty in the first half – and dynamic at times.
Covid hampered France’s preparation for their fixture against Italy and it showed in the first half. The conditions didn’t help either, but their class shone through after the interval and led to a solid if not spectacular 37-10 bonus-point win. So, Les Bleus were less polished but the Italian job served its purpose of shaking off the rust and ironing out the lingering Covid creases. Expect them to fire on all cylinders come Saturday.
Looking at the bigger picture, France have won four on the trot, while Ireland are pursuing a perfect 10 in Paris, their last defeat coming at the hands of the self-same French (15-13) this time last year. If anyone can unlock the defence of the Irish it’s Antoine Dupont and company.
The edge they have in flair and home ground advantage have me leaning towards Les Bleus in a cliffhanger.
Italy v England
Sunday, 13 February – 17:00
The trip to Rome is just what the doctor ordered for England to bounce back. Exactly what it’ll take for them to cheer up a grumpy and under-fire Eddie Jones is unclear, but a bonus-point victory is a must.
Italy put a solid first foot forward, playing with promise in Paris initially, but they don’t have the depth to stay in the fight against the rest of the field. Like for Saturday’s fixtures, clear skies are forecast, which means England will win by a mile.
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