NatWest Six Nations 2018 Round Five
Ireland are gunning for glory on St Patrick’s Day against England at Twickenham in the final round of the 2018 NatWest Six Nations, looking to follow the Class of 1948 and 2009 by winning what would be an historic third Grand Slam. Italy entertain Scotland beforehand, with Wales and France closing proceedings on what looks set to be a glorious, climactic day of Six Nations rugby.
Italy v Scotland
- Saturday 17th March 2018, 12:30, Stadio Olimpico
- Italy 7/1, Scotland 1/12, Draw 40/1
Saturday afternoon represents Italy’s last chance of victory in this championship at the fifth time of asking. Four losses, 174 points conceded, a points difference of -109 and no bonus points secured, winless Italy are also pointless, and head coach Conor O’Shea will be desperate for his charges to get something from this game despite already collecting their 13th wooden spoon in 18 years.
Scotland are currently in fifth place in the Six Nations table, but a four-try bonus point victory over the Azzurri could see Gregor Townsend’s men finish runners-up if other results go their way. Two victories over France and England have shown their immense potential, whereas defeats to Wales and Ireland have highlighted how much improvement still needs to be done, but they’re still the form team going into this clash and should secure their 21st victory over the Italians in 29 games.
The stats make for ugly reading if you’re a supporter of Italian rugby, with the hosts 5/1 to be leading by 1-7 points at half-time in Rome. They’ve missed the most tackles in the tournament, an alarmingly high 101 at a rate of 25 per match, highlighting the clear defensive fragilities within the Italian ranks.
Add in continued question marks over their long-term future and suitability at this level of competition, and you could say Italy’s future is bleak and uncertain. However, they have got the better of Scotland on eight previous occasions and possess the knowhow and expertise to potentially do it again. They’re 10/3 in the race to 10 points, and will be looking to the likes of Matteo Minozzi, Sebastian Negri and Tomasso Castello - all of whom have impressed in the Italian jersey - to get them over the line at the fifth and final attempt.
Scotland’s first Six Nations campaign under the guidance of Townsend has been something of a topsy-turvy affair, a mixed bag. The Calcutta Cup celebrations were countered by the crushing capitulation against Wales, and the sheer grit shown to see off France was in stark contrast to the multiple butchered try-scoring opportunities against the Irish. However, led by John Barclay, the Scots are 4/9 favourites to open the scoring against the Italians.
Scotland’s dismal record on the road in the Six Nations has been well-documented, and they’ve been turned over by the Azzurri in Italy on three previous occasions, in 2008, 2010 and 2012. They’ve also lost 10 line-outs on their own throw – the most of any team - but with Finn Russell rediscovering his mojo and Stuart Hogg as threatening as ever, Scotland fans should be celebrating three wins from five come the close of play on Saturday. The full-back has gained 368 metres in four games, more than any other player, and could sparkle in the Rome sunshine.
Sports.net’s Top Tip
Scotland 11-15 points
England v Ireland
- Saturday 17th March 2018, 14:45, Twickenham
- England 1/1, Ireland 5/6, Draw 20/1
The wheels have well and truly fallen off Eddie Jones’ England chariot in this Six Nations campaign. They were dubbed pre-tournament favourites, lauded for their brilliance and genius, but back-to-back away losses to Scotland and France have brought the Red Rose crashing back down to earth. Forget their two opening victories over Italy and Wales, this out-of-form side looks a shadow of its former self, and they’ve haven’t suffered three Six Nations defeats in over 10 years.
Ireland’s date with destiny has come, and the men from across the Irish Sea have oozed class and confidence thus far. Four wins from four, top of the table with three bonus points and the Six Nations already in the bag with one round to go, they’ll arrive at Twickenham, on St Patrick’s Day, for a shot at the Grand Slam. It doesn’t get much bigger than this for an Irish rugby supporter.
England have been rocked by those two losses, and question marks have rightly been raised over selection, tactics and personnel. The England management have stubbornly persisted with the same, ineffective, out of position back-row for too long, and changes must surely be made if they’re to halt the Irish juggernaut. Danny Care is 3/1 with Boylesports to score a try at any time, and the scrum-half has been playing behind a retreating, barren pack and misfunctioning, error-strewn backline.
Discipline has been another problem for England, who, in a coincidental role reversal, had their own Grand Slam dreams shattered by Ireland 12 months ago with a 13-9 loss. They now have an opportunity to do to Ireland what they did to them last year, and you’d expect Chris Robshaw, George Ford, Dan Cole and co to relish the opportunity to prove the doubters wrong and spoil the Irish St Paddy’s Day party.
Ireland have been simply irresistible at times, scoring a tournament high 17 tries, making the most carries (699), most passes (900) and most metres (2,017) thus far. With Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton at the heart of everything good about this well-oiled machine, the controlling half-back lieutenants have steered their men to the brink of rugby immortality, and they’re 5/6 to score the first points of the second half in London.
Ulsterman Jacob Stockdale is the tournament’s top try-scorer with six tries, and the visitors are 13/8 in the Ireland/Ireland Half Time/Full Time betting. If they play the game and not the occasion, skipper Rory Best could send his countryman in a celebratory state of euphoria and a place in the history books.
Sports.net’s Top Tip
|Half Time/Full Time||
Wales v France
- Saturday 17th March 2018, 17:00, Principality Stadium
- Wales 1/3, France 13/5, Draw 25/1
Wales are on one of four teams to have won two and lost two so far, along with England, France and Scotland, separated only by bonus points. It is these three bonus points that has pushed Wales up to second in the table and, although the Six Nations title is out of their reach, another bonus-point victory over Les Bleus in Cardiff would be enough for the hosts to finish the tournament as runners-up.
France are only one point behind Wales in the table, but this has been a turbulent and overshadowed campaign for head coach Jacques Brunel. On-field inconsistencies, off-field discipline and muddled selections see the French arrive at the Principality Stadium maybe thinking what might have been had the likes of Teddy Thomas and Louis Picamoles not been dropped for their late-night antics post-match in Edinburgh.
Home advantage can often be a pivotal factor that decides close, tense Six Nations affairs and, although both these teams don’t have anything to play for on paper, the chance to finish as runners-up should be all the motivation needed on Saturday in Cardiff. The hosts are 9/2 for Wales 24+ in the Australia Winning Margin betting, whilst the visitors are 10/11 in the France +4 1st Half Betting odds.
Expect many of Wales’ big names to return to the XV after Warren Gatland made 10 changes against Italy, with the likes of Ken Owens, Leigh Halfpenny and Scott Williams primed to battle the gargantuan French outfit. Wales have won five of the past six meetings between these two teams and are 3/10 in the Draw No Bet odds.
As for France, Mathieu Bastareaud has been a revelation in the centre channel since returning against Italy, and the rampaging Toulon man will once again play to his strengths at the Principality, carrying the ball straight and hard in a bid to get his side over the gain-line. François Trinh-Duc, another battle-hardened, seasoned veteran, rolled back the years against England from the fly-half – France’s third different starting 10 in four matches – and the visitors are 6/5 to open the scoring on Saturday.
However, although the hosts are still missing the likes of Sam Warburton, Rhys Webb and Jonathan Davies through injury, Welsh supporters should see their men in red secure victory which could very well secure the runners-up spot if other results go their way.
Sports.net’s Top Tip
|Half Time Winning Margin||
Wales 1-5 points