Six Nations Rugby Championship: Round Five

As ever, Alun Wyn Jones will lead the line for Wales in what should be a bruising game with Ireland. Image Credit: AP

David Hollywood looks forward to the final and decisive round of the Six Nations

This competition ends too quickly.

England’s phenomenal performance on the opening week feels like last week.

Sadly, it was last month and we’ve reached the end-game of the competition.

We can be grateful to the top three sides for taking the competition down to the final set of fixtures. It will be overused on the day, but this really will be a ‘Super Saturday’ of rugby.

Whilst there’s no silverware on offer, and Italy are guaranteed the Wooden Spoon, their game against France is enormous.

That will get proceedings underway at 12:30pm.

Then Wales’ bid for another Grand Slam takes centre stage in Cardiff at 2.45pm.

If Ireland spoil that particular party then England will be in pole position to win the Championship against Scotland at 5pm.

See Bar One Racing’s Six Nations round five betting here

Italy v France (Virgin One/ITV, 12:30pm, Sat Mar 16th)

This really is a must-win for both sides.

Italy are staring down the barrel of a 22nd consecutive Six Nations loss. Defeat for France would leave them with one win from five and no answers with a World Cup around the corner.

Conor O’Shea and Italy will have been eyeing this game from a long way off.

Italy have fought well throughout this year’s competition, however they have failed utterly to put two 40-minute periods together and find themselves as far off in terms of results as ever.

France are very much the other side of the coin.

At Twickenham and the Aviva Stadium they have been unacceptably disorganised and were likely beaten before either game kicked-off.

They have however, played some good stuff in Paris and they easily accounted for Scotland in round three.

Italy have produced their best at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, France are yet to win on the road in this year’s championship.

If Italy do win, France will have gone two Six Nations campaigns and ten games without an away win.

In France’s favour, of course, is the head-to-head record. Since Italy joined the Six Nations their record against Italy reads; played 18 won 16 lost 2.

The two wins came in Rome in 2011 and 2013.

I have to say I fancy Italy to show up and test France’s internal metal in Rome.

Wales v Ireland (Virgin One/BBC One, 2:45pm, Sat Mar 16th)

This match up is as intriguing as it gets.

Wales chasing the Grand Slam, an improving Ireland are still chasing a title, and it takes place in the Millennium Stadium.

These two sides are the best of enemies.

In their last 10 meetings Wales have won 5, Ireland 4 and one draw.

Cardiff has borne witness to some magnificent tussles between the two sides. The Grand Slam deciders of 2005 and 2009 spring to mind.

Suitably, Wales won one (2005) and Ireland the other in 2009.

A final point to emphasise is how tight this game is. The handicap line stands at 1.5 points.

One thing in particular stands in Wales’ favour.

Warren Gatland is an excellent big-game coach. Witness his dismantling of Ireland at the 2011 World Cup, The Lions’ series draw in 2018, and his two Grand Slam wins with Wales in 2008 and 2012.

I see this being a classic test match. The tempo and intensity should reach the levels of Wales’ brutal clash with England in round three.

It should be a squeaker, but I see Gatland and Wales collecting silverware by the full-time whistle.

England v Scotland (Virgin One/ITV, 5pm, Sat Mar 16th)

Based on what I see happening in Cardiff, we’ll likely not have a grandstand finish at Twickenham.

It would be wonderful drama for Ireland to win and then see the title-tussle run in to the last game of the championship.

In terms of the games itself on Saturday evening, Scotland are in a spot of bother.

It’s 35 years since Scotland won at Twickenham. They should be emboldened by their win over Eddie Jones’ side last year at Murrayfield.

Their prospects are not helped by a rash of injuries, in particular to Stuart Hogg early in the tournament.

England have the luxury of dropping Joe Cokanasiga from the matchday squad after his phenonemal performance against Italy. Jack Nowell comes in on the wing with a steady hand.

Scotland took a 40 point beating (61-21) the last time they visited London. I would be concerned for them in this fixture.

England to win and win with a big handicap.

Verdict:

I see Italy delivering a performance against the French. Will the French perform? They could, but they haven’t done so on the road in a long time.

Italy +9.5 to win at 5/6

Ireland look like they’re on their way back to something approaching top form. Wales are the arch big-game team though. They should find a way.

Wales -1.5 to win at 17/20

England have been the best-performing team over the whole of the Six Nations so far. Scotland have underwhelmed at nearly every turn.

England -25.5 to win at 13/8

 



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