Six Nations Matchday One Preview & Tips6 min read
Wales v Italy
Wales -24 to beat Italy
Wales begin their new era under Wayne Pivac with a gentle opener at home to Italy. Warren Gatland led the team to the Six Nations Grand Slam last season but Pivac faces a tough challenge to immediately replicate this success.
An exceptional defence was the hallmark of last year’s title triumph but with coach Shaun Edwards gone, there is no guarantee this will remain their strength. There should be no real concerns for this first match in Cardiff though, against an Italy team again likely to finish bottom of the tournament.
Wales, who hand a first appearance to wing Johnny McNicholl, have won their last 13 games against Italy and it is impossible to foresee the run ending this weekend.
With the defending champions intent on making an impression in front of their new coach, Wales are backed to cover a 24-point handicap margin in a one-sided bonus-point win.
Ireland v Scotland
Ireland -6 to win the first half v Scotland
Ireland launch their Six Nations campaign with Andy Farrell taking charge of his first game following the departure of Joe Schmidt. Ireland were hugely disappointing in last season’s tame title defence and also failed to impress at the World Cup, but a strong reaction should be expected this year.
Farrell has handed the captaincy to experienced fly-half Johnny Sexton and hands a debut to highly-rated Leinster number eight Caelan Doris for this weekend’s opener.
Scotland also performed poorly for much of last year, with fifth place in the Six Nations and a forgettable World Cup after failing to reach the knockout stages.
Gregor Townsend is under significant pressure and must cope without world-class playmaker Finn Russell after he was left out of this game due to a disciplinary breach following an extended drinking session.
Ireland have dominated recent clashes between the sides with victories in seven of the last eight games against Scotland. This includes a 27-3 victory in Japan during the pool stage of the World Cup.
Scotland trailed 19-3 at half-time in their most recent defeat to them and another comfortable Ireland victory looks likely. Expect the hosts to make a fast start, and Ireland look worth backing to lead by at least seven points at the end of the first half.
France v England
France to win the first half
England head to France in their first match of the competition, bidding to put their World Cup final disappointment behind them.
Eddie Jones’ side flopped as favourites in November’s final against South Africa and will look to put down a Six Nations title marker with victory at the Stade de France.
England are tournament favourites and 8/15 to start with a win in Paris, but there are reasons for swerving them. A World Cup hangover is entirely possible while the loss of powerful forward Billy Vunipola to injury is a major blow.
France are under new management and there could be a bright future for their young team with Fabien Galthie assisted by former Wales defence guru Edwards. Galthie has placed his faith in their talented group of players and this could pay off.
The last time England played in France, Jones’ team were beaten 22-16 and a poor recent away record, with four defeats in their last six trips in the competition, suggests this opener could prove a real struggle.
France are fancied to make a fast start this weekend and look worth backing to win the first half. The hosts should also be considered with a handicap advantage in a match which could prove a stumbling block for Six Nations favourites England.