England v Italy
Over 27.5 points in the second half (4/5, Paddy Power)
A new Six Nations referee, a clumsy England attack and an Italy side that likes nothing more than playing the role of spillers, means it could end up being another frustrating afternoon for England at Twickenham.
Of course, England will win, they always do against the Azzurri. Butthe annual problem is gauging how successful or not the visitors will be in playing the damage-limitation game.
One thing you can normally rely on, though, is for England to rack up the points after half-time. In the last five fixtures against Italy, they have scored double the number of tries after the break than before it, and during that time, the points column shows an 83/167 split.
Each team to score one or more tries in each half (7/2, Paddy Power).
As bad as Italy have been against England (they have never beaten them in 27 Tests), they are normally good for a few points. Last season, an unconverted try was all they could manage, but that was only the third time in 15 years that the Azzurri failed to get into double figures in the fixture.
We don’t expect Italy to start shredding the England defence to pieces, but a try on either side of half-time is not beyond the realms of possibility.
England should have no problem keeping their side of the bargain, despite being kept tryless by Scotland in last weekend’s 11-6 defeat.
Big Billy to be the man of the match (10/1, various bookmakers)
Next season, Vunipola might be playing for his place at No.8 not just with England but at Saracens, if rival Ben AEarl returns from his loan spell at Bristol.
Vunipola needs a big performance after criticism against the Scots last week, and he tends to do well against Italy, in terms of carrying and tackles made, areas that always catch the pundit’s eye.
Scotland v Wales
Scotland to beat Wales by 1-12 points (8/5, Sporting Index)
We’re backing Scotland to enter uncharted waters and kick off a Six Nations Championship with back-to-back wins for the first time ever.
On the three previous occasions that they have began a Six Nations campaign with a win, they have been beaten in the next fixture. But this Scotland team seems to have more mental resolve. How else would they have won at Twickenham and put 38 years of misery to bed?
Wales will head north determined to build on an opening day win of their own but the injuries they have taken on board, not to mention the astronomically high tackle count against Ireland, will undoubtedly have taken its toll on a side that seems to take one step forward and two steps back.
Recent Scotland v Wales have not been high-scoring affairs (Scotland won 14-10 in Llanelli back in October), and with freezing cold weather conditions and a strong wind blowing across Murrayfield, whoever wins the gain line collisions and their own set-piece ball is likely to come out on top.
More trust can be put in Scotland’s set-piece than Wales’ and we believe Gregor Townsend’s side will create another piece of history, with the margin anywhere between 1-12 points.
Ireland v France
A week is a long time in sport, so they say. And Billy Burns fans would love nothing more than for the fly-half to go from zero to hero and inspire Ireland to an unexpected win against Les Bleus.
If he is anything like his brother, Billy, Burns does not lack for confidence and will back himself to put last Sunday’s late errant penalty touchfinder behind him after coming into the starting line-up in the place of injured captain, Johnny Sexton.
However, pairing Burns alongside another international rookie in scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park, does not inspire confidence that the fairytale scenario will unfold.
Gibson-Park makes up the untested half-back partnership because Conor Murray is also missing through injury and France will have a distinct edge in this crucial game-controlling area.
Dupont man-of-the-match (13/2, Unibet)
Ireland will do well to lose 195 international caps’ worth of experience and not be adversely affected, especially when Gibson-Park’s opposite number Antoine Dupont continues to play out of his skin.
Dupont continued his fine form of 2020 in the 50-10 win over Italy in Rome last weekend, earning himself the man-of-the-match accolade, and who’s to say he won’t bag another?
France to win by 11-15 points (13/2, Betfred)
Soon after the teams were announced William Hill cut their odds on a France win by 11-15 points from 7/1 to 11/2. But Betfred are still offering an appealing 13/2.
With a settled team – they have only made two changes, neither enforced – and confidence sky high, now is as good a time as any for France to win in Dublin for the first time in 10 years, and not only that but to do it in stylebegab