AUTHOR: davidstewart

STAR PREVIEW Sat: Six Nations Super Saturday

The Six Nations ends with ‘Super Saturday, giving rugby fans a sporting feast of action to bring this year’s tournament to a close, as well as deciding the winner. Only two sides are in the running for this year’s championship; France, who can complete Grand Slam if they beat England in the game’s finale, and Ireland, who must beat Scotland hope England can pull off a result afterwards.

We start with Wales v Italy, which takes place in Cardiff.

Wales v Italy

This has been a frustrating Championship for both Wales and Italy, with the Welsh challenge undone by injury whilst Italy haven’t managed to get anywhere close to breaking their long losing streak in this tournament; It’s not 36 games, the longest run in the history of the Championship (incl. Five Nations); with their last win coming in 2015.

They should arrive here with better spirits at least after a competitive showing against Scotland, when and Callum Braley’s 30th minute and an Ange Capuozzo double gave them three tries in a 22-33 defeat when they were the better side by a distance for the last twenty minuities and their pack got the better of the Scots.

There have been some excellent performances for Italy during this tournament – Juan Ignacio Brex, Michele Lamaro, Monty Ioane, and Danilo Fischetti have been valiant whilst Paolo Garbisi has probably locked down the number 10 jersey for the foreseeable future – but Italy have struggled to match what appears to be a very high level amongst the other Six Nations at the moment and it’s hard to imagine them threatening Wales on the road here.

It’s been a very testing campaign for the title holders, but it’s worth remembering just how bad their injuries have been (against Ireland, they were missing more than 600 caps) and whilst they were well beaten against Ireland, they have England and France seriously tough games (losing by a combined margin of eight points when markets had predicted double digit losses on both occasions) and then outmuscling Scotland in a hard fought encounter in week 2.

It’s a campaign with a few positives to take for Wales despite their frustrations, and their starting XV today feels well balanced with Taulupe Faletau and Josh Navidi powering the backrow whilst Josh Adams and Louis Rees-Zammit are an exciting pair of options on the wing if Dan Biggar, on his 100th cap, and centre Owen Watkin can find them , and all things being equal, Wales should be able to find some freedom today.

Wales should be able to push a handicap close to the 30’s, and ditching the 21-30 and 31-40 point winning margins should give us a run for our money.

Wales v Italy
Guinness Six Nations 2022
Principality Stadium, Cardiff

2021: Wales won 48-7 in Rome
2020: Wales won 38-18 in Llanelli
2020: Wales won 42-0 in Cardiff
2019: Wales won 26-15 in Rome
2018: Wales won 41-38 in Cardiff
2017: Wales won 33-7 in Rome
2016: Wales won 67-14 in Cardiff
2015: Wales won 23-19 in Cardiff

BACK Wales to win by 21-30 points 1pt at 9/4 (Latest Star Price ? CLICK TO BET NOW)
BACK Wales to win by 31-40 points 1pt at 11/4 (Latest Star Price ? CLICK TO BET NOW)

Ireland v Scotland

Ireland still have a chance of taking the Six Nations title if they can beat Scotland in Dublin and they’re strongly fancied to do that this afternoon, with Star Sports going just 1/8 on a victory for the men in green.

Andy Farrell’s side have been in a rich vein of form and despite being narrowly beaten by France, they performed with credit there and arrive here after wins over Italy in Dublin (57-6) and England at Twickenham (32-15) in recent weeks.

Scotland come here after picking up a second victory against Italy, but they will be disappointed with a Championship that has had so much promise at various stages after their dramatic victory against England on the first matchday.

Stuart Townsend’s side were 11 point winners in Rome and looked good when they clicked, but they ended the game poorly against the Italians who dominated the last 20 minuities and that will be a worry against an Ireland side that has such strength in depth. Charlie Ewels red card provided to be a the decisive factor last weekend despite a spirited English response – including plenty of domination in the scrum – but they kept their composure late with Hugo Keeenan, James Lowe and Jamison Gibson-Park in particular having excellent games whilst Keenan and Lowe crossed for tries.

Today they could face a different challenge against a Scotland side which, for all that they’ve had a frustrating tournament, remain extremely dangerous in attack.

Last Saturday, Scotland entered the Italian 22 on just three occasions and scored three tries thanks to Sam Johnson and two Chris Harris scores, spending a collective 53 seconds in the Azzurri 22 (for comparison Scotland’s 22 on six occasions before the break, spending almost four minutes in the red zone but scoring just once before the break).

Scotland have made the fewest 22 entries per game in the Guinness Six Nations this year (6.8), however they’ve averaged the most points per entry of any nation (2.9) and in the shape of Stuart Hogg, Darcy Graham, Chris Harris and Ali Price, they have danger men all across the backline who can test the Irish defence (and the Matt Fagerson and Hamish Watson 8-7 combination can front up as well).

Their issue, however, is facing one of the best balanced sides in the tournament. Going forward Ireland have averaged the most 22 entries (12) and boast the second most points per entry (2.8), with twenty tries to their name in four games. Defensively they’ve also been rock solid as well, with just three tries conceded.

Those sorts of numbers present a tall task for any side to match up to and given their record so far it’s not a surprise to see Ireland as 15 point favourites here – and more on alternative handicaps.

It’s hard to fancy an upset – since 2014, only England (2019) and France (2021) have picked up away wins against Ireland in the Six Nations, and the hosts can win a high scoring game, where overs on points could be the bet.

Ireland v Scotland
Guinness Six Nations 2022
The Aviva Stadium, Dublin

2021: Ireland won 27-24 at Murrayfield
2020: Ireland won 31-16 in Dublin
2020: Ireland won 19-12 in Dublin
2019: Ireland won 27-3 in Yokohama
2019: Ireland won 22-13 at Murrayfield
2018: Ireland won 28-8 in Dublin
2017: Scotland won 27-22 at Murrayfield
2016: Ireland won 35-25 in Dublin

BACK OVER 52.5 total match points 2pts at 8/11 (Latest Star Price ? CLICK TO BET NOW)

France v England

Le Crunch with the Grand Slam on the line. Whatever happens, tonight’s tournament ender should have plenty of edge and no little amount of drama, and it could be a close one between the two rivals.

There isn’t much that hasn’t already been said about France, who are enjoying a golden crop under Fabien Galthie with the 2023 World Cup on home soil in mind. They showed their flair and attacking skill in victories against Ireland (30-24) and Scotland (36-17) before grinding out a really hard fought victory against Wales last week, which might set the template for any English tactics here.

The French’s incredible backline – in case you’d forgotten, it has the halfback pairing of Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack, along with Melvyn Jaminet, Damian Penaud, Gael Fickou, Jonathan Danty, Gabin Villiere – can take even the best set defences to pieces, but Wales managed to reduce their influence on proceedings by kicking long and playing the territorial game, aided by an excellent kick-chase.

Eddie Jones (who’s put George Furbank into the 15 slot and put Freddie Steward at 14, presumably for kicking reasons) has employed similar tactics with this England side – who gave Ireland a phenomenal game considering Charlie Ewels’ second minute red card – and if England can make this a close quarters game then they could give themselves a fighting chance.

France’s discipline has been excellent so far – less penalties than the rest and no cards – but England can target the lineout with Courtney Lawes playing at flanker and Nick Isiekwe joining Saracens’ team-mate Itoje in the second row, and if England can force some scrums, then their front row – led by Ellis Genge – can give the French serious issues.

They forced Ireland into six scrum penalties last week – an astonishing number given that the rough average for recent hears has gone no higher than 4.7 per game – and

Of course, France will have some support and in Gregory Alldritt, Anthony Jelonch, Francois Cros, Paul Willemse, and Cameron Woki – the power to go head to head with their hosts. But this game might not be played on their terms and in a close arm wrestle, a handicap of 10 points looks an extremely tall order if England can keep 15 men on the field.

France v England
Guinness Six Nations 2022
Stade De France, Paris

2021: England won 23-20 in London
2020: England won 22-19 in London
2020: France won 24-17 in Paris
2019: England won 44-8 in London
2018: France won 22-16 in Paris
2017: England won 19-16 in Paris
2016: England won 31-21 in London
2015: France won 25-20 in Paris
2015: England won 19-14 in London

BACK ENGLAND +10 6pts at 5/6 (Latest Star Price ? CLICK TO BET NOW)

PROFIT/LOSS (MARCH 2022): LOSS -30.43 points
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