Friday, February 24, 2012

England, France & Ireland Tipped To Win In Round 3 Of 2012 Six Nations

Round three of the Six Nations should provide a clear indication of the teams most likely to win the 2012 tournament. The current betting has Wales and France almost neck-and-neck as the likely champions but both face difficult games on the road this weekend with Wales travelling to Twickenham to take on England whilst France head to Edinburgh to face Scotland at Murrayfield. The third game will see Ireland take on Italy at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.

With both England and Wales winning their opening two matches the pair sit joint top of the Six Nations standings, England won against Scotland and Italy and Wales beat Ireland and Scotland, as a result, this match is poised to be a cracker.

Add to the mix that a Wales win would give them a 20th Triple Crown and leave them needing to win their remaining two home games against Italy and France to claim the Grand Slam, then it is easy to see why this Twickenham clash is so crucial. Moreover, England also harbour Triple Crown and Grand Slam aspirations of their own and with a growing belief in the England squad that they can do it, we could all witness a game between an irresistible force against the immoveable object. Wales have been installed as the 4/6 favourites to win this game in the 6 nations odds with an England victory rated as a 6/4 chance.

Both teams will field exciting line-ups, particularly in the backs with England looking to combat Wales’s free running rugby with a robust defence that can quickly turn into attack. The key battles will lie in the centre three-quarter areas where the Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies Welsh partnership will try to outgun the English pair of the recalled Manu Tuilagi and tough tackling Brad Barritt. While in the vital breakdown area, the outcome of the anticipated head-to-head battle between the two skippers, Sam Warburton of Wales and Chris Robshaw of England could also prove decisive. The prediction for this game is a narrow England Win.

In the Scotland v France game, Scotland's record against their opponents in the Six Nations hardly inspires confidence with only one win in twelve meetings between the two, that came in 2006 when the Scots triumphed 20-16 over an under par French outfit.

There is nothing under par however about the current French team who come to Murrayfield after finishing runners up in the 2011 World Cup. They also come with a new coach, Philippe Saint-Andre, who, while adopting a more pragmatic approach to rugby, knows how to win games as he proved in his time in club management in the Aviva Premiership.

France of course has only the benefit of one game played so far in the tournament this year with their last game against Ireland being called off due to bad weather. They did however defeat Italy 30-12 in their opener scoring four tries and looking like a team who mean business.

Saint-Andre will know that a win at Murrayfield and a win in the re-arranged match against Ireland in Paris next week, they will have two games against England and Wales remaining to decide their Six Nations destiny this year and dependent on the outcome of the England v Wales match this weekend, the final game in Cardiff on 17th March could also be a Grand Slam decider.

Scotland however will be no easy pickings for the French and potentially they have a very decent team with a number of match winning players. They play to a sound tactical plan but if they have a problem, it is their ability to sustain the good periods that they have often created and as such, France should prove too strong and pick up the win.

In the final game, Ireland Head Coach, Declan Kidney, has kept with the same XV that he named for the aborted France game a couple of weeks ago with Keith Earls finally getting his chance after missing out of their opening game against Wales. Ireland will be looking to maintain their 100% winning record against Italy in the Six Nations, which has seen them win all 12 of their previous encounters since the expansion from five to six nations in 2000.

There is no doubt that the Irish are still smarting over their opening game defeat at the hands of Wales in Dublin where they lost to a controversially awarded last minute penalty. It was a defeat that was hard to stomach but in the cold light of day, Kidney knows that the Welsh momentum that got them the penalty award was the result of poor Irish defending which lacked aggression at crucial times.

Italy, looked a very decent team in their 15-19 defeat by England a fortnight ago. In that game, they outplayed England for long periods and were deservedly ahead after scoring two tries just before half time. Head Coach Jacques Brunel is unquestionably getting a tune out of the ‘Azzurri’ but whether it is a good enough one to beat Ireland in Dublin is doubtful and Ireland should win this one.

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