The 126th Guinness Six Nations returned with a bang last weekend, as France produced the upset of the round to stun England, while it was as expected with wins for Wales and Ireland.
All talking out of Round 1 was the outstanding Parisian display from France to oust World Cup runners-up England 24-17 at the Stade de France, while Wales routed Italy 42-0 in the competition’s opening encounter and Ireland edged their way past Scotland 19-12, powered by the brilliance of captain Johnny Sexton.
Ireland v Wales
February 8, Aviva Stadium
Kick-off: 14:15 (GMT)
Match odds: Ireland 8/15 Wales 6/4
Round 2 of the 2020 Guinness Six Nations kicks off with potentially the pick of the weekend’s fixtures as Andy Farrell’s Ireland welcome defending champions Wales to Dublin’s Aviva Stadium.
Wins for both sides in Round 1 set the clash up neatly, but Wales stand at the top of the table courtesy of their bonus-point triumph over Italy, where wing Josh Adams was the star of the show picking up a hat-trick of tries.
Farrell started his tenure as Ireland head coach with a win inspired by his new captain Sexton, who was the driving force from both the kicking tee and running in a try in an opening victory which could be best described as a lukewarm performance.
Make no mistakes, Saturday’s clash, though, will require both sides to be on top of their game as this will prove a pivotal game in deciding the destination of the silverware this season, with both sides in the reckoning.
Wales, although hammering Italy, will face a much sterner defensive wall and attritional effort from Ireland, who have talent scattered across the field with full-back Jordan Larmour and wing Jacob Stockdale providing the X factor behind a potent pack.
Ireland will win the battle up front and at the set piece, but the interesting clash will be in seeing which back-three come out of top, with Adams and George North up against the in-form Irish rising stars Larmour and Stockdale.
Ben’s Prediction: Ireland win by nine points
Coral pick with John Hill: Ireland were not at their best against Scotland in their opening game but thanks to Johnny Sexton they got the win. This will be a much tougher game against Wales so it may prove wise to take the four points head start on the visitors here in what looks likely to be a tight game.
Scotland v England
February 8, Murrayfield Stadium
Kick-off: 16:45 (GMT)
Match odds: Scotland 12/5 England 1/3
After opening round defeats Scotland and England lock horns on Saturday evening as the first piece of Guinness Six Nations silverware is settled with the Calcutta Cup clash at Edinburgh’s Murrayfield Stadium.
Scotland, who have stood by their decision to omit Finn Russell as their stand-off continues, did come away from their loss to Ireland with a losing bonus-point, but failed to cross the whitewash, all 12 of their points coming from the boot of Adam Hastings.
Meanwhile, England offered a dire display against France, going into the half-time break with zero on the scoreboard for the first time since 1988, but head coach Eddie Jones will have undoubtedly read the riot act and more this week.
Although Hastings presented a confident display from the kicking tee, without Russell pulling the strings, Scotland do appear to lack the necessary creativity to take key games in this competition, with captain Stuart Hogg stranded in the background without service of the ball.
England too were below par and the absence of No 8 Billy Vunipola was evident with few players crashing over the gainline against France, but the late brace of tries for Jonny May highlights the strength Jones’ side do have in tearing defences apart through speed.
England will, and should, be favourites in Edinburgh this weekend, but must step up to the plate after a slovenly start to the competition.
Ben’s Prediction: England win by 18 points
Coral pick with John Hill: England’s Grand Slam hopes were dashed at the first hurdle in Paris. Expect to see a response from Eddie Jones’ men. They were much better in the second half against what looks a decent France team so they may be able to come out of the blocks firing here. If they are at their best, they can cover the seven point handicap in the Calcutta Cup.
France v Italy
February 9, Stade de France
Kick-off: 16:00 (CET)
Match odds: France 1/250 Italy 33/1
Round 2 of the Guinness Six Nations comes to a conclusion in France once again as they welcome Franco Smith’s Italy to the Stade de France.
Producing the shock of Round 1 to overcome England, France were praised heavily for their organised defensive efforts, which locked the tourists out for the majority, much of the commendation being heaped on new defence coach Shaun Edwards, who has moved from Wales to great effect.
Italy, though, suffered the fate of same old, same old, with yet another hefty defeat inflicted upon them by Wales, with little to speak off by the way of encouragement.
A lingering question for France at the Guinness Six Nations is always consistency, but Edwards will settle for nothing less than the Round 1 performance when it comes to defence and a below-par Azzurri should not pose of a problem for the talented Les Bleus backline.
France will score tries and plenty of them you would assume, while Italy will be looking for their first points of the competition, but will find them hard to come by against this renewed Les Bleus line-up.
Ben’s Prediction: France win by 32 points
Coral pick with John Hill: Italy were woeful against Wales in their Six Nations opener and it would be a big surprise if they were not blown away again by France. In what is a rejuvenated France team, which is full of speed, they should take Italy to school in this one so take the French to cover the 26 handicap spread.