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Six Nations betting tips: Ireland's Grand Slam quest faces a serious test

It's all on the line in the penultimate round of this year's Six Nations, with Ireland able to clinch the championship and the Racing Post's Chris Rivers has picked his best bets for three fiercely competitive games.

Best bets

Italy to win

1pt 23/20

Under 47 points in Italy v Wales

1pt 1/1

England over 21.5 points v France

2pts 5/6

Scotland +8.5

2pts 8/11

Improving Azzurri have Wales' number

The loser of Saturday's meeting in Rome is likely to suffer the ignominy of finishing bottom of the standings and collecting the wooden spoon, an unwanted honour that's gone to Italy in each of the last seven years.

Avoiding an eighth successive last place finish should be motivation enough for the Italians, who have earned plenty of plaudits for their recent performances. Both Wales and Italy have lost all three of their games to date, but there's been far more in the Azzurri's showings to suggest a win is around the corner compared to Wales.

Italy's attacking play has been a joy to watch, with the returning Paolo Garbisi pulling the strings in a creditable effort against Ireland last time out. 

The absence of explosive full-back Ange Capuozzo is a blow, limiting Italy's scoring potential, but there's still enough to like about this Italian side to suggest they can back up last year's win in Cardiff.

Welsh rugby is a shambles both on and off the field right now. Coach Warren Gatland doesn't seem to know what his strongest team is, making six changes from the loss to England in a desperate attempt to spark his team into life. 

Their attack has been ineffective, failing to break the 10-point barrier in a game. They are also struggling to match the physicality of their opponents and ill-disciplined means no side has given away more penalties. 

It's impossible to trust Wales to bounce back after 12 losses in the last 15 matches. Italy can edge a low-scoring contest with seven of the last nine meetings in the Eternal City featuring fewer than 47 points.

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Smith can inspire England attack

England and France both need a bonus-point win to keep their Six Nations dream alive for another week and that should make for an entertaining game at Twickenham, where Les Bleus have a dreadful record. 

France haven't won at English rugby's home in the Six Nations since 2005, losing on their last seven visits, and make their latest trip on the back of a far from convincing win over Scotland. 

The French are boosted by centre Jonathan Danty's return but are short-handed elsewhere, with a few key players missing from the pack. 

A drop in defensive standards - they've already conceded more tries (nine) in three rounds than in the entirety of last year's Six Nations-winning campaign (seven) - is another concern and is reflected in France only being marginal favourites.

Whether England can produce the kind of performance needed to beat a team that's only lost one of their last 16 Tests is debatable. They have failed to put together a complete 80-minutes under Steve Borthwick, and preference instead is for England to bag a few points.

The decision to drop captain Owen Farrell and start Marcus Smith at fly-half has divided opinion, but Borthwick needed to get creative with his attack. Throw into the mix Farrell's average from the kicking tee in the Six Nations being 47 per cent and a change was needed. 

England have shown flashes of their attacking talent this year and they can take it to a France defence that's conceded 24 points in Italy and 32 in Ireland.

Scots won't leave title party quietly

Ireland can wrap up a first Six Nations title in five years with a bonus-point win at Murrayfield, coupled with neither England nor France securing a bonus-point success. 

Scotland are unlikely to just roll over and oblige, though, given they still have a shot at the championship and this fixture, which will also decide the Triple Crown, feels like it should be closer than the handicap suggests.

Ireland welcome back the big guns after being without the likes of Johnny Sexton and Garry Ringrose for their nervy win in Italy and while they'll be better for it, they aren't quite as dominant on the road as they are in Dublin.

Scotland appear to match up nicely with Ireland having competed well in the lineout, a key piece of the Irish attack, while their varied attack can ask questions of the visitor's defence in the same way Italy did. 

Fly-half Finn Russell is playing at the peak of his powers right now, recording four assists and one try himself, and his showdown with maestro Sexton, in what are likely to be favourable conditions for Russell's style, will be fascinating. 

This fixture tends to be tight, with seven of the last eight meetings between the sides at Murrayfield decided by nine points or less and while Ireland will hit Scotland hard, the hosts can stand up to the challenge and keep this close.

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