After a week off, the Six Nations is back and Chris Rivers has cast his eye across the fixtures for round three to pick out his favourite bets.
Ireland -10.5 first half handicap
Alex Dombrant (England) anytime tryscorer
France to win by one to 12 points
|What||Italy v Ireland|
|Where||Stadio Olimpico, Rome|
|When||14:15, Saturday, 25th February|
|How to watch||ITV1|
|Odds||Italy 14/1, Draw 50/1, Ireland 1/50|
Ireland are now odds-on to win only their fourth Grand Slam after a thrilling bonus-point win over France in round two. It was a truly brilliant performance by Andy Farrell’s side and the margin of victory could have been far wider had Ireland been more efficient in the French 22.
Another strong defensive showing meant they weren’t left to rue those missed opportunities as Ireland stretched their winning run in Test matches to seven.
Irish rugby has arguably never been in better shape and facing the world’s number one ranked side is a formidable proposition right now. Italy are the next side in Ireland’s sights and although the Azzurri have performed with credit in losing efforts against France and England so far, the Irish are on another level.
Italy are improving but the gap between these two sides was massive last year when Ireland won 57-6 - the Azzurri’s largest margin of defeat in the Six Nations since 2018 - and may not have shrunk enough to the hosts to make this a competitive game. This looks a bad match up for the Italians, who struggled to cope with England’s physicality at times at Twickenham and now face a ferocious Ireland team.
Ireland have won the last 12 meetings by an average margin of 31 points and even though they’ve made some significant changes with Craig Casey and Ross Byrne coming in as the half-backs, a comfortable victory is expected.
Ireland have tended to hit teams hard and fast in this Six Nations, scoring at a point a minute against Wales for the first 27 minutes in round one and scoring three tries in the opening half against France. They’ve scored the first try in six of their last seven Six Nations matches and could look to put away an Italy side that tends to play its best stuff after the break early.
|What||Wales v England|
|Where||Principality Stadium, Cardiff|
|When||16:45, Saturday, 25th February|
|How to watch||BBC1|
|Odds||Wales 21/10, Draw 22/1, England 10/23|
Wales were humbled by Scotland at Murrayfield in round two as all their flaws were laid bare, most notably a toothless attack that’s scored only two tries and a leaky defence which has now conceded 30-plus points in four of their last six games. A lack of discipline and inability to get the fundamentals right at the set piece only add to Gatland’s laundry list of issues.
While Wales will be galvanised by the visit of England, there are just too many problems to overcome for a Welsh team showing nine changes from the Scotland loss. England are also a work in progress but there have been far more positives to take from their two performances so far. They’ve played with good tempo and an attacking mindset in spells under Steve Borthwick, and should have enough to secure a first win in Cardiff since 2017.
England can physically dominate Wales, who have had major issues stopping big ball carriers from getting over the gain line. That could lead to a big afternoon for No.8 Alex Dombrant, who ranks second for carries and metres made for England in the Six Nations and knows how to get across the whitewash.
|What||France v Scotland|
|Where||Stade de France, Saint-Denis|
|When||15:00, Sunday, 26th February|
|How to watch||ITV1|
|Odds||France 2/7, Draw 25/1, Scotland 3/1|
France’s title defence is hanging by a thread after their historic 14-match winning run was ended in Ireland and they can’t afford to slip up at home to Scotland. The Scots have won their first two matches of a Six Nations campaign for the first time ever and will no doubt go to Paris full of belief they can keep their Grand Slam ambitions on track.
This is a fixture that tends to bring the best out of Scotland, who have won half of the last 10 meetings with France, including on their last outing at the Stade de France, while they’ve covered the handicap on six of their last seven trips to Paris.
Their dynamic and efficient attack should stretch a French defence that’s underperformed based on the previous high standards implemented by defence coach Shaun Edwards.
And yet, for all the positivity surrounding Scotland, France’s track record in recent big games makes them tough to go against.
Les Bleus have shown a remarkable ability to come out on top in tight games under Fabien Galthie - seven of their last 10 wins have been by margins of 12 points or less - and can repeat that trick at Scotland’s expense.