England to win Grand Slam
David Gee looks ahead to the final weekend in the RBS Six Nations and is tipping wins for Italy and Scotland.
- Related Content
The former will be looking to conquer Ireland for the first time in the competition while Scotland are getting a handy start on the handicap.
Meanwhile, England can just edge to Grand Slam glory in Wales.
Following their performance against England last weekend, Italy will be looking forward to hosting Ireland in Rome and they will be hoping they can beat Declan Kidney's men for the first time in Six Nations history. A victory for the Azzurri could conceivably see them finish third which would be their highest ever finishing position. Ireland will be kicking themselves for letting France back into the game late on in Dublin last weekend and they can still mathematically end up with the wooden spoon so there is quite a bit at stake at the Stadio Olimpico. It wouldn't be the build-up to an Irish Six Nations game without another of their stars injured and the curse struck again as fly-half Johnny Sexton was ruled out of this weekend's encounter with a torn tendon in his left foot. Ireland's injuries have been their worst enemy once again and they will have to regroup next year - possibly without Brian O'Driscoll as this could well be his last Six Nations match. Italy will be without their talismanic prop Martin Castrogiovanni this weekend after the Leicester front-rower failed to recover from a thigh injury. The 31-year-old is replaced at tighthead by Treviso's Lorenzo Cittadini with Andrea Lo Cicero reclaiming the number one shirt from Alberto De Marchi. There is also a change in the back row where Simone Favaro comes in for Robert Barbieri, who is out with a hip injury. Given the way in which Italy have played in this tournament, if they tackle, they'll win. If they don't, then I'm not even sure they'll stay within the seven points that the layers give them. I'm willing to take a chance that they can play like they did against England last weekend - they've come close to beating Ireland before and the 5/2 they do so for the first time seems a little big.
Verdict: Italy by 4.
The Millennium Stadium hosts a Grand Slam decider for the fifth time since the Six Nations begun with Wales winning three of them and Ireland winning in Cardiff back in 2009. Only two sides have ever won away from home to capture the Slam, with England claiming that honour in 2003 as well as the Irish in 2009. Can Stuart Lancaster's men do it again? You'd have thought so before their performance against Italy at Twickenham last weekend but I'm sure little seeds of doubt have been sown in even the most fervent England supporters mind ahead of their date with destiny. Wales will feel like they have nothing to lose and will be delighted they are in this position having lost to Ireland in the first game of the competition. Wales boss Rob Howley has once more put the team dynamic before individuals with his choice of captain for Saturday's clash and has appointed Toulon prop Gethin Jenkins as the third different skipper of this season's Six Nations campaign, following Sam Warburton and Ryan Jones. Like Warburton and Jones, Jenkins offers previous experience of the role, latterly against Italy a year ago. Jones broke a bone in his shoulder during last weekend's victory over Scotland, and he is replaced in the back-row by Justin Tipuiric, with Warburton wearing Wales' number six shirt. Howley has decided for a second successive game not to reinstall Warburton - last season's Grand Slam skipper - as captain, preferring instead to let him concentrate on his own game. That approach worked a treat at Murrayfield five days ago when Warburton delivered an authoritative man-of-the-match display. Joe Launchbury has passed a late fitness test and will start for England on Saturday. The Wasps lock injured his elbow against Italy but he has improved to retain his place in a side that features four changes for the title decider. Tom Croft will start at blindside flanker in only his seventh appearance since returning to action after recovering from a broken neck that almost left him paralysed. Croft has replaced James Haskell, Joe Marler has reclaimed the loosehead prop shirt from Mako Vunipola and England will start with Owen Farrell and Ben Youngs at half-back. This game could well go down to who kicks the best between Farrell and Leigh Halfpenny and with both in fine fettle with the boot, it could go either way. The layers make England the two point favourites which looks about right - especially as you can envisage a controlled England performance even if they're not getting a huge amount of possession. If pushed, I think England might just squeak it but there doesn't look to be a lot of value in this game.
Verdict: England by 3.
France are used to going into the final game of the Six Nations need a victory but seldom does it come in these circumstances. Les Bleus need to win not only to avoid the ignominy of the wooden spoon but they also have to do so to avoid being winless for the first time in the Five/Six Nations since 1957. Philippe Saint-Andre's men have been pretty appalling all tournament and needed a late try against Ireland last weekend to salvage a draw. Scotland on the other hand have had an encouraging campaign and Scott Johnson can certainly take a lot of positives from their performances. They were slightly unlucky not to come away with more from their game against Wales last weekend and the score-line didn't really reflect the way in which they played. ohnson has made two alterations to his starting line-up for the trip across the Channel, with debutant Grant Gilchrist replacing injured lock Richie Gray, whose hopes of a place in the British and Irish Lions party that will travel to Australia this summer looks dashed by a hamstring injury. The other change sees Perpignan's Al Strokosch return in place of Rob Harley at flanker. Saint-Andre has only made the three changes to the side that drew with Ireland last weekend. Les Bleus have have recalled centre Mathieu Bastareaud, while lock Sebastien Vahaamahina and flanker Antoine Claassen come in for their first international starts. Bastareaud takes over from Florian Fritz, who has a foot infection and may not make the bench, while Vahaamahina comes in for Christophe Samson and Claassen gets the nod ahead of Yannick Nyanga. It wouldn't be a surprise to see France finally get off the mark against the Scots but I'm not sure their superiority stretches to a 12 point start, which is what they have to give Scott Johnson's men according to the layers. They haven't been impressive at all in this competition and didn't really deserve to get a draw against the Irish. Conversely, Scotland have definitely impressed and I reckon they can definitely stay within the handicap on Saturday evening without quite doing enough to win.
Verdict: France by 5.