The 2022 Six Nations Championship returns after a the first of two bye-weeks with three exciting international fixtures, two of which look very difficult to call.
Only three points separated Wales and Scotland in Cardiff but it was the hosts who got the deserved win while tipping Ireland to emerge victorious in Paris was always something of a gamble.
Predictably, Italy were unable to break their losing run against England.
Things were tight and difficult to predict in Round Two and this weekend it looks even harder to confidently choose winners in two out of the three matches as Scotland welcome France to Murrayfield, England host Wales at Twickenham and Italy head to Dublin to take on Ireland.
Here are our predictions for the week three matches:
Scotland v France
- Date: Saturday, February 26
- Kick off: 14:15
- Venue: Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh
- Odds: Scotland 28/11, France 4/9
Round Two provided two very different narratives for these title hopefuls as early favourites France reinforced their Grand Slam challenge with victory over a resilient Ireland while Scotland’s early optimism was shattered as they came unstuck in Cardiff.
The Scots’ run of 20 years without a win in the Welsh capital goes on despite entering their last encounter as pre-match favourites following a brilliant round one win over England.
Quite simply, Wales did an excellent job of shutting down Gregor Twonsend’s game plan and exploiting Nic Berry’s questionable refereeing of the breakdown to earn a deserved win.
The question for Scotland now is whether they go back to the drawing board or back the likes of Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg to bounce-back and return to their inspired best this weekend.
They will have to do that if they are going to stand any chance against this phenomenal French side who seemingly lack any obvious weaknesses.
Ireland threw everything they had at the favourites in Paris but came up agonisingly short as Les Bleus held on for a 30-24 win.
The were as free flowing and memorising in the loose as ever but their set piece was strong and Number 8 Grégory Alldritt is making an early claim for Player of the Tournament.
However, France are yet yo play away from home in this year’s championship and they wont find many more intimidating atmospheres than a full house at Murrayfield.
This wont be straightforward for the visitors and there’s no question that Scotland have the ability to win but France should have enough to keep their Grand Slam hopes on track.
Our prediction: France to win by a 7 to 10 point margin
England v Wales
- Date: Saturday, February 26
- Kick off: 16:45
- Venue: Twickenham Stadium, London
- Odds: England 1/5, Wales 6/1
The bookmakers have England as heavy favourites for this one but Wales will be riding a wave of confidence after their brilliant handling of Scotland in their Round Two win.
Taking on England at Twickenham will be a more daunting prospect but it’s hard to see the visitors being dominated in this match in the same way they were on the opening weekend in Dublin.
This young Wales side now know they are capable of big wins in big tests and Wayne Pivac will be buoyed by an easing of their injury problems with 86 cap and three time British & Irish Lion back row Taulupe Faletau set to return.
He may struggle to find a way straight back into the starting XV due to Ross Moriarty and Taine Basham’s impressive performances so far but could be used to devastating effect coming off the bench.
As for England, they were able to strut their stuff in Rome as they won their Round Two fixture over Italy in convincing style and even managed a whitewash of the hosts.
In truth though that match was a “test” in name only for Eddie Jones’ side as the hosts offered very little to cause them any real problems.
The quality of the England players was never in question but their discipline and lack of leadership have been.
However, much like Wales, they will be boosted by the return from injury of a key figure with Courtney Lawes due to be involved.
The Northampton Saints forward has been England’s most consistently impressive performer for a while now and it would be surprising not to see him named captain if he is ready to start.
We were burned in Week Two by going heart over head in the France v Ireland match so have opted not to take that approach again and this one should be a comfortable if not commanding win for England.
Our prediction: England to win by 10 to 14 points
Ireland v Italy
- Date: Sunday, February 27
- Kick off: 15:00
- Venue: Aviva Stadium, Dublin
- Odds: Ireland 1/100, Italy 100/1
There really weren't too many holes to pick in Ireland performance against France where the fact that the hosts only won by less than a converted try showed just how close the two nations are at the moment.
They were perhaps a bit uncharacteristically scrappy at times but that was more down to the immense pressure the French defence were able to apply than anything else.
Despite the win they still have plenty to play for. The Triple Crown is a very real possibility and they are by no means out of the title race with France still having to go to Edinburgh and Cardiff before facing England in Round Five.
It has to be heads down and on with business and they have the ideal fixture to do that this Sunday when they host Italy in Dublin.
The Italians showed flashes of skill and cunning in their Week One defeat to France but were toothless against England and were deservedly whitewashed.
At a time when the questions over their place in the annual championship are once again being discussed, a trip to the Aviva is probably not the fixture they would have chosen to try and prove doubters wrong.
Both teams very much have something to prove but this one isn’t all that hard to call, Ireland will almost certainly demolish Italy to claim a bonus point win. The only question is by how big a margin.
Our prediction:Ireland to win by a 40+ point margin.
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