After a well-earned week off, the Guinness Six Nations returns to action this weekend, but as Coronavirus dominates international headlines, there are only two thirds of the fixture list left standing.
Third-placed Ireland, level on points with England and just four points adrift of leader France, have had their clash with Italy postponed due to the ongoing spread of the virus, with over 100 deaths in Italy already. A sobering thought, which should see sport pale into insignificance.
Back in the competition, though, chasing on the tails of France, Eddie Jones’ England face a familiar foe as their old enemy Wales travel to rugby headquarters for what promises to be a classic Twickenham showdown in Saturday’s only game, while top of the table Les Bleus make the trip to Edinburgh on Sunday to lowly Scotland.
England v Wales
March 7, Twickenham Stadium
Kick-off: 16:45 (GMT)
Match odds: England 1/7 Draw 33/1 Wales 9/2
If England are to have a chance of regaining the Guinness Six Nations crown in 2020, victory over Wayne Pivac’s Wales in London this weekend is a must if they are to maintain pressure on France.
Since losing to France on the opening weekend, Jones’ England have been resolute with strong performances to dismiss both Scotland and Ireland in impressive fashion.
Defending champions Wales, meanwhile, are languishing in fourth with two defeats from three matches and little in the way of encouragement from their opening performances, their only win coming against rock-bottom Italy in their opening round fixture.
England have the edge, home advantage, form and fire power to take out their old rivals, place the final nail in the coffin of Wales’ campaign this weekend and set things up nicely for a grandstand finale weekend.
Ben’s Prediction: England win by 18 points
Coral pick with Harry Aitkenhead: “England are very hot favourites to win at Twickenham against an injury stricken Welsh side, who will be hoping that Dan Biggar recovers from the knee injury he picked up back at Saints last weekend. The 1/7 won’t tempt many punters but the -13 handicap on the hosts could see support, however it might well profit to be on the other side. Wales have lost only two matches by more than 13 points since November 2017 and they were a World Cup warm-up match and the bronze medal match at the tournament. They won’t roll over at Twickenham and +13 looks a big head start.”
Scotland v France
March 8, Murrayfield Stadium
Kick-off: 15:00 (GMT)
Match odds: Scotland 2/1 Draw 25/1 France 4/11
France will aim to extend their lead at the Guinness Six Nations summit on Sunday as they take on fifth-placed Scotland in the heart of Edinburgh at Murrayfield Stadium.
France boast a healthy record against Scotland, winning 12 of their last 14 European encounters between the sides, although, the wins for Gregor Townsend’s team did both come at Murrayfield in 2016 and 2018.
Without discrediting Scotland, who by their own admission have been below par in the competition to date, Sunday’s result is critical for Les Bleus, who host Ireland, whom they have beaten just once in their last nine meetings, on the final weekend, while England have an easy run-in against Italy.
Ben’s Prediction: France win by 12 points
Coral pick with Harry Aitkenhead: “Punters aren’t straying too far from the French here and we make it just even money that they win their final two games. If you think the French will leave Edinburgh with the win then the -6 handicap mark is the best bet because Scotland haven’t lost a game by 6 or less points since doing so by exactly that margin to South Africa in November 2018. This could well be the penultimate step to a first Championship since 2010 for the French and that year they also sealed the slam.”