2017-01-31 by Phantom
Match 1: Scotland vs Ireland
The Scots lost out narrowly at home to England and away to Wales last year before completing back-to-back wins in Italy and at home to France before coming unstuck (in Dublin) against these opponents, who have won the last four meetings. The Irish lost their grip on the Six Nations title early in last season’s edition, drawing at home to Wales and losing in France and England before they finished with home wins over Italy and Scotland. Their November international campaign started with a memorable victory over the All Blacks and, although New Zealand took revenge two weeks later, the Irish finished the year with a home win over the Wallabies. A resurgence in Irish rugby this year, led by Munster and Leinster in the Champions Cup, could easily have an effect on the national team, whose excellent ball retention, solid set piece and efficient work at the breakdown should give them the edge in the opening clash of this year’s tournament.
Tip: 4, 5
Match 2: England vs France
The visitors are a dangerous outfit. They started their 2016 Six Nations campaign with two narrow home wins, surviving a scare against Italy before edging out Ireland, but lost their next three matches in Wales and Scotland and at home to these opponents by margins of 9 to 11 points. A two-match series in Argentina was shared 1-1 and two home tests in November saw Les Bleus lose 23-25 to an under-strength Australia before they gave the All Blacks a decent game in Paris, albeit in a 24-19 defeat. However, it’s hard to look past the hosts after an impressive 2016. Only five teams have successfully defended the Grand Slam and, in seeking to become the sixth, Eddie Jones' England have pledged to adopt a bold approach. Last year’s perfect Six Nations campaign launched Jones' regime with Twickenham's first silverware for five years and by the end of 2016 the Australian had presided over 13 successive Test victories which also included a whitewash of the Wallabies (away) and comfortable home wins over the Boks, Fiji, Argentina and Australia. No surprises expected here!
Tip: 1, 2
Match 3: Italy vs Wales
A 23-21 defeat to France in Round 1 was as close as Italy got to a victory in the 2016 edition of the Six Nations. In June, a narrow defeat to Argentina was followed by wins over USA and Canada and in November the ‘Azzurri’ recorded the biggest win in their history, a 20-18 success over a hapless Springbok side. This will be tougher, though.
Defeat to England in Round 4 last year ultimately cost the ‘Red Dragons’ their chance of 2016 Six Nations glory. They were competitive for much of the first two June Tests against the All Blacks but were thrashed in the third, losing the series 3-0.
In November they quickly recovered from a home defeat to Australia to complete wins over Argentina and Japan before also seeing off the Boks. Wales are unbeaten in nine clashes with the hosts and are fancied to complete the ‘Perfect 10’.
Tip: 4, 5
Match 4: Wasps v Ospreys
In a fiercely competitive Anglo-Welsh Cup Pool Two, the Ospreys and Exeter are joint top with Sale just a point behind. Wasps thrashed eight tries to one away at the Chiefs last weekend which, coupled with Harlequins' victory at Worcester, put them out of the competition. With little to play for, the hosts are confidently overlooked. The visitors will be without Rhys Webb, who has re-joined the national side ahead of their Six Nations opener against Italy, but boast 14 wins from their last 15 outings and can guarantee their passage to the next round with victory at the Ricoh Arena.
Tip: 4, 5
Match 5: Saracens vs Leicester Tigers
Leicester’s third win in three pool games (over Northampton Saints) last weekend ended a miserable run of five successive defeats in all competitions and means they cannot be caught in Pool Four. The Saints' first defeat in the competition means they will struggle to qualify from Pool One with Saracens well in control of their own destiny. The hosts have won five of the last 6 clashes between these sides and the last six on home turf. They’ll be hard to beat!
Tip: 1, 2