Italy will keep it tight

  • By: George Primarolo
  • Last Updated: February 9 2014, 15:52 GMT

George Primarolo looks ahead to this weekend's Six Nations clashes and fancies Wales to sneak past Ireland.

Italy made things hard for Wales last weekend
Italy made things hard for Wales last weekend

Those two meet at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. He's also got a selection for the France v Italy clash, and, of course, he's looked at Saturday's Scotland v England showdown too.

Check out his game-by-game verdicts below:

Ireland v Wales (Saturday, 1430 GMT)

Sometimes results don't necessarily tell the whole story. On the face of it, Ireland were impressive against Scotland and barely had to come out of second gear to get off the mark last weekend. Conversely, Wales looked tired and sluggish against Italy in Cardiff and have a mountain to climb if they are to land their third successive Six Nations title. However, to put these results into context, we need to look at the strength of the opposition. Scotland came into the game wanting to play expansive rugby but even though they moved the ball well, their lack of ruthlessness out wide cost them dear. Ireland were able to get cheap ball from the Scots and dominated the scrums. Both sides gave away cheap penalties as well and Ireland cannot afford to do this against the Welsh, nor will they be able to dominate the scrum so easily. Wales were given an early gift by Angelo Esposito in the opening skirmishes but Leigh Halfpenny was equally as generous in the second half when his wayward pass allowed the outstanding Michele Campagnaro to intercept and scamper his way to a second try. However, while the post-match analysis concentrated on Wales' apparent failures in the game, I feel that not enough credit has been given to the Azzurri for a thoroughly professional performance in which they showed the rugby world that they are on the cusp of moving into the big time. Everything points to this weekend's game in Dublin being a nip-and-tuck encounter and one in which the Welsh should not be underestimated. Sam Warburton came through last weekend's brief cameo in one piece and that has seen him recalled to the back row. His presence will surely see Wales a stronger side than the one that faced Italy. Gethin Jenkins adds extra beef to the front row and will win his 102nd cap, while Andrew Coombs comes into the second row in place of the injured Luke Charteris. Ireland welcome back Paul O'Connell to the fold and this will give them a big fillip as they look to test their progression under new coach Joe Schmidt. This is a big game for Wales, who haven't lost an away game in the Six Nations since 2011. Win and they set up a huge encounter against the French in the next round. Lose and they will be facing an uphill battle to regain their Six Nations crown. The layers make Ireland favourites which can only be on the basis of last weekend's matches. They do have home advantage but if any side have shown that they are not afraid of travelling, then it is Warren Gatland's men. On paper, Wales still have the best side and although they did not play to their potential last weekend, it would be folly to suggest that they are a side on the wane. Ireland were flattered by Scotland last weekend while Italy weren't given enough credit for their performance against Wales. It all points to a tight match in which Wales look the value at 5/4 to record an away victory.

Verdict: Wales by 4

Scotland v England (Saturday, 1700 GMT)

Although Scotland always raise their game against the 'auld enemy', they are going to have to be unrecognisable from the side that lost to Ireland last weekend if they are to record their first victory against England since a 15-9 win at a wet and windy Murrayfield in 2008. They were outplayed in the scrum and didn't make the most of the ball they did get out wide last weekend and this last point is crucial as they are unlikely to get many chances against an England side that will be out to prove a point after last weekend's last-gasp defeat in Paris. Although Stuart Lancaster's men were on the wrong side of the 26-24 scoreline on Saturday evening, they played with so much promise that it is inconceivable to think that they are not on the verge of something special. After gifting the French an early try, England fought back with a vengeance to the point that it looked highly unlikely that Les Bleus could get back into the game in the last 20 minutes. However, France conjured up a victory out of nowhere and you can forgive the England players for still wondering now how they managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. England's forwards were immense in Paris. Dylan Hartley has come of age recently and his tackling was brutal. The engine room combination of Courtney Lawes and Joe Launchbury was nothing short of immense and Owen Farrell was as clinical as ever with the boot. Luther Burrell won the battle of the debutants, scoring a fine try in the process, and his partnership with Billy Twelvetrees in the centres is one to look forward to in years to come. The jury is still out on Jack Rowell, who looked a little nervy and unsure at times but he is still very young and I would expect his performances to improve massively as the tournament progresses. All in all, there is plenty to look forward to with England and if Lancaster makes the correct calls, then his side should win their remaining four matches. The only criticism you can levy against Lancaster last weekend was that he took Danny Care off before the game was put to bed. The scrum-half ran the game superbly and England lacked his drive when he was replaced. Unsurprisingly, Lancaster has named an unchanged side for the Calcutta Cup clash while his opposite number, Scott Johnson, has made three changes to his Scotland side. Glasgow flanker Chris Fusaro replaces Kelly Brown in the back row while Tommy Seymour will enjoy his first championship experience as he comes in for his injured Glasgow Warriors team-mate Sean Maitland on the wing. Matt Scott, the Edinburgh centre, is promoted from the bench with Duncan Taylor now among the substitutes. It would be a real shock if England failed to win this game but the problem for punters this weekend will be the playing surface at Murrayfield. The pitch has come in for some real criticism of late due to a parasitic infection and if it fails to hold up again, then it could really spoil the game. The prospect of torrential rain in Edinburgh adds another dimension to this which means that points could be in short shrift if the elements conspire to produce a shocking playing surface. England should win this but with Scotland liable to raise their game against their old adversaries and the Murrayfield playing surface under scrutiny, this is probably a match best left alone.

Verdict: England by 10

France v Italy (Sunday, 1500 GMT)

For the reasons stated above, France cannot afford to underestimate Italy when they host the Azzurri in Paris on Sunday afternoon otherwise they will face a repeat of the corresponding fixture last year when Jacques Brunel's side posted a 23-18 victory at the Stadio Olimpico. However, it cannot be stressed just how much last weekend's victory over the English will have boosted French morale and if they can get past the Italians on Sunday, they will head to Cardiff with their heads held high and a real chance of beating the Welsh. Philippe Saint-Andre's men flew out of the blocks last weekend in Paris when dazzling England with some real flair in the first 10 minutes but an impressive English fightback pinned the French in their own half for long periods before and after half-time. To their credit though, Les Bleus fought hard and kept themselves in the game when other French sides in recent history would have cried enough. If they show that sort of tenacity for the rest of the tournament, then they have big chance of turning themselves from wooden spoon winners into Grand Slam winners in the space of 12 months. Italy played very well last week but Brunel will be concerned about just how many penalties they gave away. The Azzurri conceded 14 penalties against Wales - the most of any side in the opening weekend. If they can cut these out and still show the same sort of defensive prowess and attacking bite that they did in Cardiff, then they will definitely keep the French within the handicap mark of 19. A lot will depend on the performance of their skipper Sergio Parisse, who produced another towering display last weekend with 22 carries in total. The performance of Tomasso Allen at fly-half was encouraging and I'm not sure how many more superlatives can be hurled at Michele Campagnaro who was outstanding on his debut. There were plenty of encouraging signs from the French as well, with Yannick Nyanga outstanding in the pack for Les Bleus. Gael Fickou's introduction from the bench showed just how much strength in depth the French have and he looks certain to have a say whether he starts or is brought on in the second half. There is still lots of work to do for both sides but they will have been encouraged by their respective matches last weekend and the destiny of this match could easily depend on which side gets on top early. France have the ability to win this well but I expect Italy to hang on in there for a large portion of the game and their match against the Welsh last weekend has shown they can claw their way back into matches if they do go behind early on. France should win and make it two from two heading to Cardiff but don't expect Italy to make it easy for them and they should do enough to cover the handicap once more.

Verdict: France by 12

  • All the matches are being televised live in the UK on the BBC.
  • Posted at 0900 GMT on 07/02/2014.