Six Nations: Round Three Preview

Ireland v Italy

This is a game Ireland should really win, and win comfortably.  Italy may have given England a fright a fortnight ago, but they are no great shakes on the road, and until they find a fly-half from somewhere they’re not going to trouble teams outside their home ground.  The trouble is that Ireland tend to give them a bit too much respect.  Last season – admittedly in the Flaminio, Deccie picked a horrendously out-of-form Tomas O’Leary at scrum-half, seemingly in a bid to counter the Italian forwards.  The result was that Ireland almost lost – Italy were a restart away from winning.  Ireland need to be bullish here and go wide early and often.  They should forget about nonsense like ‘earning the right to go wide’ and simply play the game at the highest pace they can.  Get Sexto flat on the gainline and put the ball through the hands.  Do that and Italy will start to fall off tackles, and tries will come.

A more likely outcome is that Ireland start slowly, butcher a couple of chances and get sucked in to a war of attrition.  Ireland will probably grind Italy down by a score or two but they should be looking to put this team away.

Verdict: Ireland to win by around 10-12 points.

England v Wales

Judging by the tone of some of the previews of this game, you would be expecting Wales to win by 2 scores or more – Barnesy has said England should be fearful, and the Grauniad were running pieces from the Welsh team of the mid-1980s boasting about how they didn’t respect any of the English players, with a clear line running through to today’s callow and ordinary Red Rose side.

Still, this is Twickers, and England don’t lose by much here – save for the Boks the November before last, they haven’t been far behind on the scoreboard in a long time.

All that said, the Welsh team look far too strong, a combative and skillful pack are getting ball to the destructive backs, which eventually leads to scores. The key to stopping Wales is to slow down the ball and get Mike Philips in a dogfight – this ensures the centres get the ball while static instead of going forward. And the key to beating them is to use their strength against them – have their relatively immobile backs turning around and drifting across by aggressive rucking and carrying then varying the attack with kicking behind, skip passes and hard lines.

Do England have the tools for this? Yes, in the form of Lawes, Wood, Morgan, Dickson, Cipriani, Tuilagi and an intelligent ball-playing 12. Lancaster’s team, however, is unlikely to contain any of those.

Verdict: Wales by 3-5 if Morgan plays and 7-10 if Dowson plays.

Scotland v France

An admirable ballsy selection by Robbo here – teenager Stuart Hogg is rewarded for his entertaining and effective cameo against Wales. John Barclay is back and with 2 genuine opensides in the team, expect Scotland to try and make this a dogfight at ruck time.

Mini Greig Laidlaw holds the 10 jersey and concerns about his defence against the giant French backrow and centres might have led to the re-instatement of Ooooooooooooooohhh Graeme Morrison – its hard to think of any other reason to pick him to be brutally honest.

Even if France do manage to be dragged down to Scotland’s level, its difficult to see them not prevailing. France have quality everywhere and a bench packed with high-class operators and Julien Dupuy. In the unlikely event of them finding themselves in trouble, the replacements will make the difference.

Verdict: We’ll be surprised if France need to go higher than third gear, and certainly don’t expect them to if they are in front. France by 9ish.

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