There’s always a weekend in every Six Nations campaign that defines it. Some say it’s best when that comes in Round 5, but personally – I can’t imagine a better situation than the one we have this week.
Ireland and England needs no added bite – Leo Varadkar and Boris Johnson have been going at over Brexit for the last 12 months and personally, I’d sooner see that boxing match than Cian Healy against Mako in the front row of a scrum – but beggars can’t be choosers.
Italy and Scotland kicks us off and luckily for them, one team has to win. Unless we all want to jump on the draw there?
But Wales and France could well be the key fixture in all of this, and perhaps the most intriguing matchup. A post-Gatland hangover cure could see all four teams on two wins from three if the spreads are correct. I’m excited – are you? Let’s go.
For all the clear deficiencies that Italy have – and that list is longer than a recipe in Delia’s latest cookbook, I just can’t walk away from eight points against a Scottish team who insist on creating problems for themselves in big games.
A few years ago there was a real sense that Scotland could make the step into proper contention with the big seven, but they’ve taken two steps backwards if this is anything to go by.
And a big reason for that may be the absence of Finn Russell – a gorgeous little storyline to follow. However, it’s only news because of Scotland’s poor showings thus far.
Their turnovers conceded are through the roof and a lot of those are unforced. Just as well, too – because Italy are struggling to turn the ball over at the breakdown (drink), at the lineout (drink) and in open play (drink). They’ll always have their pack weight at scrum time, I suppose?
Wales, in open play, are not great. Yes, they’ve good ball carries when they go pick and drive, but their metres gained from those situations always end up with them coughing up turnovers.
It’s why the likes of Tipuric simply won’t get a Lions nod ahead of any of the England back row, nor CJ Stander. But the focus should be on France here and the rising stock of Dupont. I have no doubt that he’ll make the intelligent decisions to pin Wales back and this French team are built not to fall into the Welsh trap.
Most of Galtand’s success was based around winning the ball back at ruck time, which this Wales unit did superbly in both of their games thus far in this campaign.
But the French offload more than any other side, and that level of intensity and clever evasion of rucks could see them put up a big score if they play territory carefully.
France need to get better at the lineout, so maybe a few quick feeds could keep Wales in check. I’m more confident putting my money in French hands here.
A £/€1 double on these two selections returns £/€3.64 with Paddy Power. Prices correct at time of posting, subject to change.