This pivotal RBS 6Nations Championship encounter sees unchanged Ireland going for the Triple Crown and a win keeps them on course for the Grand Slam. They have not won at Twickenham since 2010, but that should not put anyone off taking them at 13/8.
If Ireland are to win, they will need a strong kicking game in order to take advantage of England’s inexperience on the wing in Jack Nowell and Jonny May. The key, however, is only so much down to the boot of Conor Murray, Brian O’Driscoll, Rob Kearney and Jonathan Sexton.
England will sorely miss Dan Cole, who has started 45 of England’s last 48 Tests. He has been the fulcrum of England’s scrum. While David Whitehead is a competent tighthead, Stuart Lancaster’s side are sure to miss Cole.
There is no question that the Irish backs will challenge England at the breakdown. Likewise, England’s line-out, and in particular Dylan Hartley and Courtney Lawes, will be challenged by Brian O’Driscoll’s men.
Losing narrowly to New Zealand was no flash in the pan; Joe Schmidt’s Ireland are the real deal and England are simply too short at 4/6. Ireland look the value bet to pull off a shock. They can be backed at 19/20 in receipt of a 3.5-point handicap start.
Scott Johnson’s selections and tactics have been questioned in some quarters, with just six points scored in two 6Nations matches. But forget current form for a moment; Scotland are building for the 2015 World Cup and the Australian has been hampered by a lack of squad depth.
Scotland have won five of the last eight meetings with the Azzurri but have not come away from Rome with a victory since 2006 and the battle up front will be key.
Italy’s Alessandro Zanni, Roberto Barbieri Sergio Parisse go head-to-head with Ryan Wilson, Chris Fusaro and Johnnie Beattie at the breakdown. This battle up front will be key to the outcome, which, on paper, will be a tight affair.
Scotland are considered 8/5 outsiders, with Italy at 3/5. The draw is on offer at 21/1. We think Scotland have the capability to win this, but take them with a 6.5-point start at 4/7.
France should feel the full force of a Welsh backlash on Friday night. Pride has been hurt. A tactically superior Ireland left the champions dishevelled but Wales know that a victory will keep their hopes for a third successive title alive. France seek a third victory, following a fortunate win over England and a battering of Italy.
France have not beaten Wales since 2011 but the power of the French front row will fancy their chances against the Welsh front three who struggled against Ireland and Italy.
Ireland laid down the blue-print for beating Wales – kicking the leather out of the ball to nullify the Welsh attack. But Jean-Marc Doussain, who is likely to retain the kicking duties, produced a shaky display against Italy and despite their jaded display against an underrated Ireland, Wales look the bet at 4/6 to see of France (6/4).
Although four of the last six meetings have been drawn, Hammers lack potency up front with Andy Carroll suspended, and have won just one of their last eight vs. Saints. With Saints already safe and perhaps lacking in motivation, there is a fair argument for backing the more desperate hosts, who are just four points clear of the relegation zone and facing a tough run-in.
However, the Saints have a decent road record in the Premier League, winning three of their last six away from home (with two draws and only one defeat – a 2-1 reverse at Everton), so the visitors look a decent bet at 7/5 to take all three points at Upton Park.
John Gregory’s side are teetering on the brink of the relegation places in League One, while Walsall are on the verge of the playoff places. So how come the hosts are 1/1 and not odds-on to win this?
Simple. Crawley have not played for over a month, thanks to monsoon-like conditions deeming the Broadfield Stadium pitch unplayable. Crawley have six games in hand on Crewe, who are below them, and have six in hand of Tranmere, who are a point above them. Yet rustiness could prove a factor and the Midlands side can maintain their promotion push with a win.
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