SIX NATIONS

AUTHOR: William Kedjanyi

STAR RUGBY PREVIEW: Six Nations Week 4

There are just two gameweeks left in the Six Nations this year and as we head into gameweek 4, there are several different narratives to explore. Scotland – who will feel incredibly aggrieved they are not pushing for a Grand Slam after their thumping win over England last week – travel to a sold-out Stadio Olimpico to face an Italy side that were a kick (and a controversial one) away from overturning France.

England’s Grand Slam dreams came to an abrupt end in Scotland last week but if they can ruin Ireland’s hopes of a perfect five at Twickenham then they’d have a slim shot at the title, which is something that adds another edge to one of the fiercest rivalries in the Six Nations.

And on Sunday, Wales will be looking to turn their promising performances – Ireland apart, although how many teams will we say that about this year? – into a win against a France side that has collapsed since their World Cup heartbreak. Expect no love to be lost at the Millennium Stadium.

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Italy v Scotland (2.15pm, Stadio Olimpico)

A raucous atmosphere is to be expected at all three venues this weekend but the best noise might be in Rome, where about 70,000 fans will be willing their sides on after having victory snatched them from in cruel circumstances over the last two weeks.

Italy came within a kick of beating France in Lille a fortnight ago – and that kick itself was charged down illegally, and the ball fell off the tee – whilst Scotland were hideously unlucky that an obscure angle and the TMO’s on field call robbed them of victory when they hosted France at Murrayfield.

Scotland – who ought to be unbeaten – are understandable favourites here after a comprehensive win against England when a masterclass from Duhan van der Merwe (hat-trick of tries) and Finn Russell (landed six from six kicks, set up one of van der Merwe’s tries) brought them back from 10-0 down.

On that occasion they made the most of their chances – and kicking opportunities off the tee – which is something they’ll need to do once again here if Italy show the same resilience they did during their trip to France. Gregor Townsend has plenty to be pleased about, though – Scotland are unlucky not to be unbeaten, Finn Russell and Duhan van der Merwe have been at their best, the pack has given a solid foundation and whilst the ‘Huwipulotu’ partnership has been broken up, Cameron Redpath impressed against England.

Italy should be confident of a strong showing after their unlucky draw against France, when their back three of tryscorer Ange Capuozzo, Tommaso Menoncello and Monty Iaone were hugely impressive along with Ross Vintcent and Michele Lamaro in the backrow.

New coach Gonzalo Quesada has got the Azzuri playing decent attacking rugby – they outscored England by three tries to two and made 432 metres against France despite having only 43% of territory – and they’ll present a threat to the Scots, although the tactical kicking of Russell and Blair Kinghorn could present a major issue. Italy found a way back into the game against France but Les Bleus beat 33 defenders on the day and had 70% of first half territory, numbers which would make Scotland a massive threat, and the visitors will take advantage if Italy are only available to win 60% of their own scrums too.

This might be a tighter game than the handicaps suggest, and Scotland might just edge it. The 15/8 with starsports.bet that they win by 1-12 points could be the best way to play this game.

Teams:

Italy: Ange Capuozzo, Louis Lynagh, Juan Ignacio Brex, Tommaso Menoncello, Monty Iaone, Paolo Garbisi, Martin Page-Relo; Danilo Fischetti, Giacomo Nicotera, Simone Ferrari, Niccolo Cannone, Federico Ruzza, Sebastian Negri, Michele Lamaro, Ross Vintcent

Replacements: Gianmarco Lucchesi, Mirco Spagnolo, Giosue Zilocchi, Andrea Zambonin, Lorenzo Cannone, Stephen Varney, Leonardo Marin, Federico Mori

Scotland: Blair Kinghorn, Kyle Steyn, Huw Jones, Cameron Redpath, Duhan van der Merwe, Finn Russell, George Horne; Pierre Schoeman, George Turner, Zander Fagerson, Grant Gilchrist, Scott Cummings, Andy Christie, Rory Darge, Jack Dempsey

Replacements: Ewan Ashman, Alec Hepburn, Elliot Millar-Mills, Sam Skinner, Jamie Ritchie, Matt Fagerson, Ali Price, Kyle Rowe

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England v Ireland (4.45pm, Twickenham)

The story of this Six Nations so far has been one of Irish domination. The men in green are unbeaten in three, with 15 points from a possible 15, have scored 15 tries whilst conceding just three, and they’ve covered all of their handicaps.

There were questions over what shape they’d be in after their World Cup heartbreak but unlike France they’ve picked up right where they left off, obliterating France in Marseille before comfortably having too much for Italy (36-0) and Wales (37-6) in Dublin.

England’s World Cup was a turnaround from the turmoil that had followed them in the leadup to the tournament, and hopes were high for a successful campaign, but they hadn’t impressed everyone in winning against Italy and Wales before a comprehensive defeat to Scotland, despite going 10-0 up in the early exchanges.

Their defence held out against an inexperienced Wales team in Week 2 (and in the second half of their opener against Italy), but Scotland managed to break their blitz system and that spells trouble against an experience and well set Ireland side who are simply stacked with power and pace.

Ireland’s incredible defence is also a worry for the hosts here – their attack hasn’t clicked properly so far, and it would be no surprise here if we saw Marcus Smith thrown into action earlier than he was against Scotland to try and link up with debutant Immanuel Feyi-Waboso and his Exeter team-mate Henry Slade – and the visitors are worthy of favouritism.

Very short prices about Ireland on the handicaps make little appeal – they’ve won 3-3 so far but two were at home, and their defeat of France is perhaps a little less impressive looking now – so he 15/8 about an away victory by 1-12 points might be the way to play things.

Teams:

England: George Furbank; Immanuel Feyi-Waboso, Henry Slade, Ollie Lawrence, Tommy Freeman; George Ford, Alex Mitchell; Ellis Genge, Jamie George, Dan Cole, Maro Itoje, George Martin, Ollie Chessum, Sam Underhill, Ben Earl.

Replacements: Theo Dan, Joe Marler, Will Stuart, Chandler Cunningham-South, Alex Dombrandt, Danny Care, Marcus Smith, Elliot Daly.

Ireland: Hugo Keenan; Calvin Nash, Robbie Henshaw, Bundee Aki, James Lowe; Jack Crowley, Jamison Gibson-Park; Andrew Porter, Dan Sheehan, Tadhg Furlong, Joe McCarthy, Tadhg Beirne, Peter O’Mahony, Josh van der Flier, Caelan Doris.

Replacements: Rónan Kelleher, Cian Healy, Finlay Bealham, Iain Henderson, Ryan Baird, Jack Conan, Conor Murray, Ciarán Frawley.


Wales v France (3.00pm, Millenium Stadium)

The last fixture of the weekend will probably get the least attention but there’s plenty at stake for both sides, and especially their head coaches. Warren Gatland is undertaking a rebuilding job at Wales, and frankly has had much more to take from the tournament so far than Fabien Galthie, who has endured a wretched campaign with France that sees him under huge pressure to turn things around.

The French were one of the favourites for the World Cup last year when playing rugby as well as anyone on the planet, but despite a number of in-form players they’ve been dreadful during the Championship. Beaten all ends up by Ireland in the first week at home, they were incredibly lucky to beat Scotland thanks to a controversially disallowed try and then to beat Italy when Paolo Garbisi missed a late kick, this coming after the ball fell off the tee and the kick was illegally charged early.

For many reasons – amongst them coaching changes, the absence of Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack, and a drop off in key players – it’s clear that we’re not dealing with the same France as last year and Wales should have no fear of facing them on home turf.

Warren Gatland’s men are currently bottom but they staged an incredible late rally to nearly deny Scotland after finding out their best team, were unlucky not to beat England at Twickenham (albeit with two yellow cards for the opposition), and faced and impossible task in the shape of Ireland away last time out.

The likes of Cameron Winnett, Rio Dyer, Tomos Williams, Aaron Wainwright, Tommy Reffell, and Dafydd Jenkins have all impressed so far and they shoud be looking to get stuck into a France side well and truly on the ropes. Take 9/4 on a home win and then follow up with an 8.5 point start on the two way handicap.

Teams:

Wales: 15 Cameron Winnett, 14 Josh Adams, 13 Joe Roberts, 12 Owen Watkin, 11 Rio Dyer, 10 Sam Costelow, 9 Tomos Williams; 1 Gareth Thomas, 2 Ryan Elias, 3 Keiron Assiratti, 4 Will Rowlands, 5 Adam Beard, 6 Dafydd Jenkins (c), 7 Tommy Reffell, 8 Aaron Wainwright.

Replacements: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Corey Domachowski, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Alex Mann, 20 Mackenzie Martin, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Ioan Lloyd, 23 Mason Grady.

France: 15 Leo Barre, 14 Damian Penaud, 13 Gael Fickou, 12 Nicolas Depoortere, 11 Louis Bielle-Biarrey, 10 Thomas Ramos, 9 Nolann Le Garrec; 1 Cyril Baille, 2 Julian Marchand, 3 Uini Atonio, 4 Thibaud Flament, 5 Emmanuel Meafou, 6 Francois Cros, 7 Charles Ollivon, 8 Gregory Aldritt (c).

Replacements: 16 Peato Mauvaka, 17 Sebastien Taofifenua, 18 Georges-Henri Colombe, 19 Romain Taofifenua, 20 Alexandre Roumat, 21 Paul Boudehent, 22 Maxime Lucu, 23 Yoram Moefana.

WILLIAM KEDJANYI


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