The 2018 Six Nations series is hotting up as we head into Round 3 of the tournament. All three games are important this week, with France looking to finally get a win after an awful 12 months, Scotland looking to prove they belong with the big boys, and Ireland and Wales meeting in a clash that both with think they can win. Here are our predictions:
France vs Italy
First to Paris, in a game which will see the bottom two sides go at it hammer and tongs to avoid the wooden spoon.
I can see this game going one of two ways. One, France start fast and capitalise on Italian mistakes. This will cause Italy to drop their heads early at which point Les Bleus will do as they please. Two, the off field shenanigans of the French players after the Scotland game disrupts the entire group, and too many changes disrupts any cohesion they had in training. This makes it a struggle to break the Italian will and as long as the Azzurri stay in the game they become harder to put away.
Conor O'Shea's men showed life in Dublin when it was too late, but it was life nonetheless. If you make errors -as the French are prone to do - then the Italians have the ability to punish you. Either way though, I still see the same end result after 80 minutes.
Prediction: France to win by two scores.
Scotland vs England
On to the Calcutta Cup, and it's the hardest one to predict in many years. England scraped past Wales at Twickenham with the help of a clueless TMO decision while Scotland cut the chains of expectation that anchored them against France and produced a thrilling display in attack - and a dreadful day in defence - which is how Gregor Townsend is going to have to live with them playing.
That being said, if Scotland play that way against this English team it's going to be trouble. Eddie Jones' side haven't played all that well yet this tournament, relying on the brilliance of Owen Farrell and Joe Launchbury to dig them out of a hole. I think England, with Nathan Hughes coming back as their only change, will have their best performance of the championship so far and that's why I fear for Scotland's chances.
An England team on song will absolutely crucify that Scotland team from two weeks ago as they will capitalise on every mistake that the Scots make. Scotland have made no changes except welcoming back Willem Nel back onto the bench from injury, and they need to tighten up a porous defence if they are to have any chance of making sure the Calcutta Cup stays in Edinburgh.
Prediction: England victory by 10 points plus.
Ireland vs Wales
Two weeks ago the noises coming from the Irish camp were all pleasing to the ear and I would've bet my house on an Irish win in this one. As the week ended though, so did Tadhg Furlong and Iain Henderson's hopes of being involved in the game. This makes the confidence of an Irish victory much less certain.
Having already lost Robbie Henshaw to injury, this was a huge blow for Ireland and the Welsh smell blood. With Ireland having lost three British Lions, Wales gained three in the shape of Liam Williams, Leigh Halfpenny, and Dan Biggar. That sudden boost in experience tips the scales ever so slightly in Wales' favour and they historically love to spoil an Irish party, especially when they are the underdogs.
So much now rests on halfbacks Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton's shoulders and they will not have the armchair ride they enjoyed against the Italians, having lost significant power upfront. As always with Ireland their kicking game must be on point, with Williams and George North (waiting to be sprung from the bench) ready to jump on any loose kick that sails in their direction with devastating counter attacking ability.
Then there's always the Gatland factor. Whatever it is about Wales, thanks to Warren Gatland, they know Ireland inside and out. Every move, every weakness, every strength and the ability to turn that strength into a weakness. The only comfort I can possibly point to for Irish fans are the numbers which say Joe Schmidt has never lost a Six Nations home game.
Andrew Porter proved himself against the Italians and James Ryan did the same the week before in Paris. Will that be enough though? This one is going to be as close as it is will be physical.
Prediction: Ireland win by less than a converted try.
What do you think of our predictions? Let us know in the comments below!