Italy v Scotland

Scotland to win by one to seven points

The battle to avoid the wooden spoon takes centre stage in the opening match of this weekend with Italy hosting Scotland in Rome.

Both teams have lost their first two matches in this year’s Six Nations and it seems inevitable the beaten side this weekend will finish the tournament bottom. This is a position familiar to Italy with the side on a 24-match losing streak in the tournament, having propped up the table for the last four years.

Italy were thrashed 42-0 in their opener in Wales but produced an improved performance, scoring three tries, in their 35-22 defeat to France. Franco Smith is trying to encourage a more attacking gameplan and will have targeted this match as their best chance of a long-awaited victory.

Gregor Townsend has come under increased scrutiny after Scotland’s dismal World Cup and the breakdown in his relationship with Finn Russell, with the fly-half not currently being considered for selection.

Scotland’s lack of ruthlessness cost them in their tight 19-12 defeat in Ireland on the opening weekend. Brutal conditions scuppered the chance of a free-flowing game at Murrayfield as they lost 13-6 to England in the second round.

This is a potential banana skin for Scotland and they have endured several nervous moments in Rome in recent years. Italy are likely to push them all the way but the visitors are backed to edge to a win by no more than seven points.


Wales v France

France +2 first-half handicap

Six Nations Grand Slam champions Wales suffered a setback in their title defence after losing Ireland, with a win against France this weekend essential if they are to retain any hope of holding onto the trophy.

After a dominant victory against Italy, Wales were exposed defensively in their 24-14 defeat in Dublin. Wayne Pivac’s side were punished by Ireland and the absence of coach Shaun Edwards was evident.

Edwards will be in the opposition camp this weekend after France pulled off a major coup by bringing in the defence coach. His impact, working alongside new coach Fabien Galthie, has already been seen after France started the tournament with back-to-back wins.

An impressive 24-17 home win against England was followed by a victory against Italy which, while not as consistent, showcased the flair within this young France team.

Their last meeting only came four months ago at the World Cup with Wales coming from behind to edge out 14-man France 20-19 in their quarter-final. France were unlucky to lose and appear to have progressed under their new coaching set-up.

The way France have started their recent meetings against Wales, leading in the last two games at half-time, suggests the visitors merit support with a two-point first-half handicap advantage.


England v Ireland

Ireland +7.5 to win

The third round of matches concludes with a huge clash at Twickenham as England face unbeaten Ireland.

Eddie Jones’ side suffered a miserable start to the tournament after falling to defeat in France but managed to grind out a hard-fought win over Scotland to keep their title hopes alive.

England have yet to display the mesmerising form which saw them topple New Zealand on their way to last year’s World Cup final. An improvement is required this weekend against an Ireland team finding their feet under new head coach Andy Farrell.

While Ireland were reliant on their defence holding off Scotland in their opener, the team stepped up a gear with an impressive performance in beating the champions Wales. A bonus-point victory, with four tries, enhanced their title aspirations and an unchanged Ireland head to Twickenham with renewed confidence and the chance to clinch the Triple Crown.

England are favourites but have yet to get going in the competition and this could prove a tough obstacle for the hosts. Ireland will be buoyed by their winning start and are fancied to keep this tight. Given a handicap head start of seven points, preference is to side with Ireland in a game which could be settled by fine margins.

Odds are correct at the time of posting

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