Six Nations Preview – Round 3

England’s march to a consecutive Six Nations crown will be tested by Italy at Twickenham this weekend, but it is the other two matches which look to have all the interest.

And if Eddie Jones’s feel that the Aussie coach will be going easy on them against the competition’s whipping boys, they had better think again.

“We want to be absolutely brutal up front so there is no Italian player left standing at the end of the game,” said Jones,.

“We want to make the opposition fear us.”

It is the games at Murrayfield and Dublin that really catch the eye this weekend.

At Scotland’s HQ – they host Wales, knowing that victory would still put them firmly in contention to win the competition – but they will be doing it with a much changed side with five changes from the team that lost in France last time out.

John Barclay will take over as captain with Greig Laidlaw ruled out of the rest of the campaign with an ankle injury. Wales came close to beating England in their last match and come into the clash with confidence and interim boss Rob Howley makes just one change with star winger George North returning for Alex Cuthbert.

At the Aviva Stadium, Joe Schmidt’s side will welcome back star stand-off Johnny Sexton, captain Rory Best and Rob Cairney as they look to have their strongest XV of the campaign so far. France are without brilliant wing Virimi Vakatawa with Yoann Huget coming in. In two further changes Rabah Slimani and Bernard le Roux also come in.

The brings you exclusive reaction and insight on every game from Inside Rugby’s Stuart Watkins and BoyleSports’ Leon Blanche.

Scotland v Wales – 14:25 Saturday

MATCH ODDS: Scotland 11/10 Draw 22/1 Wales 5/6
STUART SAYS: It is very hard to call, based on both sides it is hard to assess who is in a stronger position and I think Wales will fancy their chances, they were unlucky last week but I think with Scotland playing as they are they have the confidence to beat anyone at home. So I think on that basis, as they are at home, I think they will just win it.
We picked Scotland as our dark horses at the start of the tournament and we are going to stick by them here but this will be a tough one, but if they want to move to the next level they need to be winning games like this – only a few points in this either way.
There is not much to separate these two sides, they took advantage of playing at home against Ireland – the odds are just with Wales – I was disappointed with what they did against France whilst Wales were bang in there with England for almost the whole match. This is going to be a very close encounter – even the handicap there is hardly anything to separate them and I think it will come down to the kicking – but I would just give it to Scotland.

Ireland v France – 4:50 Saturday

MATCH ODDS: Ireland 2/7 Draw 25/1 France 3/1
Home advantage is huge in the Six Nations and Ireland at home will fancy themselves against anyone and as is always the case with France you never know which France will turn-up – on their day they are brilliant, but we haven’t seen that for a while now so hard to look past Ireland.
Ireland with Sexton and Cairney back, are a different animal, if those two players are fit – Ireland by more than ten for us.
At 2/7 clearly the Irish are favourites and at home you would expect them to have the edge, they are very solid. The handicap better is saying 8 points and I am not sure I would be too keen on that as I think France at plus 8 could be too much for the home side.

England v Italy – 3:00 Sunday

MATCH ODDS: England 1/1000 Draw 100/1 Italy 33/1
STUART SAYS: Italy have taken some real heavy defeats so far, but with their coaching staff they have with the Premiership experience – they will want to put in a good showing, but England will surely have far too much quality for the Italians to trouble them – they might front up in the set-piece but England have too many match winners for them to cope.
England will not pick too much of a weakened side, indeed some likely changes 
England are minus 41 in the handicap which says it all really, and I think they will comfortably get that – they will want to get the bonus point and Ireland showed that with smashing them in Rome. Italy if they are lucky will stay with them for ten minutes, I think England will win, take bonus point and beat the spread too.

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