France can help England out

  • By: George Primarolo
  • Last Updated: March 13 2014, 22:24 GMT

George Primarolo previews the final round of Six Nations matches with three sides still in with a chance of winning the title.

France: Offer value to beat Ireland
France: Offer value to beat Ireland

Six Nations title hopefuls England should make simple work of Italy in Rome on Saturday but Ireland's task against France at the Stade de France may not be as easy as some suggest.

Scotland are also taken to stay within the handicap when they travel to Cardiff to face a Welsh side which may just have been broken by England at Twickenham last weekend.

Here's the match-by-match verdict:


Italy v England (Saturday, 1230 GMT)


England's victory over Wales on Sunday means that they head into the final round of the Six Nations still with a mathematical chance of winning the tournament. Of the three sides currently on six points, Ireland are the ones in the driving seat courtesy of their handsome points difference and England know they will need to put a big score past Italy if they are to give themselves any chance of winning. Of course, England will be in the driving seat if France manage to beat Ireland in Paris but that match comes last this weekend and Lancaster's men know that they need to get the job done in Rome before they start worrying about anything else. Italy have fought hard in this competition so far but have ultimately been outclassed. England are unchanged from the side that beat Wales convincingly at Twickenham and the way in which they have been performing this year, it would be a major shock to see anything other than an away victory. Lancaster's men will have the luxury of bringing Manu Tuilagi off the bench in Rome and that is the only change where the Leicester Tigers player replaces Saracens full-back Alex Goode. Italy have played really well in the first half of most of their matches and have still been in touch in every game after 40 minutes. However, they tend to struggle in a big way in the latter stages of the match and it is likely to be the same case again. England will definitely come out on top at the death but don't expect them to have put several past the Azzurri at half-time.

Verdict: England by 20.


Wales v Scotland (Saturday, 1445 GMT)


It has been a poor Six Nations for Wales and, the result of the French match aside; they have looked lethargic and impotent. While the majority of their squad will be tired after a Lions tour which has taken a lot out of the players, I'm sure there will be some serious soul searching being done over the summer as the coaching staff try to come to terms with this campaign. Scotland started badly, with heavy defeats against England and Ireland but they were probably facing a very tough task against those two sides and their performances since have gone a long way to cheering their fans up. The victory against Italy in Rome was priceless from this perspective and a heart-breaking defeat against France last weekend will have still buoyed their fans in the cold light of day. Wales have made six changes to their starting line-up with Dan Biggar named alongside Mike Phillips at half-back. Joining the duo in the backline as a new face will be Liam Williams, with the trio in for Leigh Halfpenny, Rhys Webb and Rhys Priestland. The rest of the backs remain unchanged from Sunday's game at Twickenham with Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies in the centre and Alex Cuthbert and George North on the wings. In the pack Gethin Jenkins makes his 105th appearance on Saturday, moving one ahead of Stephen Jones. Jenkins will feature in a new-look front row alongside Scarlets pair Ken Owens and Rhodri Jones who get their first starts of the campaign. In the second row, Luke Charteris returns from injury to take his place alongside Alun Wyn Jones. Scotland boss Scott Johnson has named 13 backs from which he will finalise selection for this starting XV this weekend.

Injuries sustained in last weekend's match against France have meant that Johnson will consider his options at training on Wednesday and Thursday before confirming the make-up of his back division and bench. Meanwhile, among the forwards, the only change to the eight which started the French Test sees Ryan Wilson restored to the back row in place of the injured Johnnie Beattie, with the experienced Alasdair Strokosch returning to provide cover on the bench. I wouldn't want to be lumping on Wales this weekend after their defeat to England. There is a strong chance that this game could have broken them and they seem to be limping towards the end of this tournament rather than finishing it with a bang. The main point punters have to wary of when betting against Wales is that they can usually keep in touch on the scoreboard, even when they are not playing well as any penalties given away will be gobbled up by the boot of Halfpenny. He's absent now though and if Scotland can keep the penalty count down, then they will have a big chance of keeping Wales within the handicap. It's not a five-star bet by any means, but Scotland may represent a little bit of value.

Verdict: Wales by 7.


France v Ireland (Saturday, 1700 GMT)


Only France stand between Ireland and their first Six Nations title since 2009 and, given their points difference, any margin of victory will do for Joe Schmidt's men. France are also on six points for the campaign so far but they are miles behind on points difference and would have to beat Ireland by a country mile to stand any chance of topping the table. While you could have set your watch by Ireland this year, France have been as unpredictable as ever. A last-gasp victory over England was followed by a clinical success over Italy, but they were poor against Wales and their performance last weekend against Scotland was shocking. However, they do have home advantage and coach Philippe Saint-Andre will be hoping that the return to the Stade de France sparks Les Bleus back into life. Brian O'Driscoll will start his final and 141st Test and Ireland will want to give him the perfect send-off. Peter O'Mahony returns to the starting XV at blindside flanker, with Iain Henderson reverting to the bench. As a result Rhys Ruddock drops out of the matchday squad, with Jordi Murphy in the number 20 jersey. There is also another change on the bench, where Ulster fly-half Paddy Jackson has been replaced by Leinster's Ian Madigan. Saint-André has made four changes to his starting XV and three of the four are bold changes as Toulouse number eight Louis Picamoles returns to the group but starts on the side of the scrum in the place of Sébastien Vahaamahina. Stade Français fly-half Jules Plisson is dropped completely from the squad in favour of Castres pivot Remi Tálès, who is promoted from the bench. Gaël Fickou starts at inside centre ahead of Maxime Mermoz, who is one of just two backs amongst the replacements. Racing Métro hooker Dimitri Szarzewski returns from an ankle injury to replace Brice Mach, who also drops out of the matchday 23 with Guilhem Guirado retaining his place on the bench. There's every reason for thinking that Ireland will win this match as they have been brilliant so far this year and they're arguably unlucky not to be coming into this match with a chance of landing a Grand Slam. Nevertheless, it would be folly to underestimate France, especially at home, and their squad entitles them to respect - especially at odds-against. Les Bleus are never an easy side to get right but they are definitely the value pick this weekend at home and a small bet is advised.

Verdict: France by 3.

  • Posted at 2215 GMT on 13/03/2014.

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