From Rugby World reader, Kate Bamber
The Six Nations kicks off this weekend, and there is plenty more rugby in the LV= Cup. Here are my previews and predictions for this weekend.
The Six Nations
Ireland v Italy
2009 Grand Slam champions Ireland play wooden spoon winners Italy in the opening clash of the tournament. Italy have leaked an average of 29 points per game since this time last year, and with Ireland’s sizzling backline of stars I can’t see this changing on Saturday. Italy has a strong scrum containing Castrogiavanni, Del Fava, Bortelami and Bergamasco, although the loss of World class eight man Sergio Parisse is huge. Despite this Italy will look to target the perceived weakness in Ireland’s front row, and Cian Healy will have to scrummage for his life. Ronan O’Gara is back in the 10 jersey for Ireland due to an injury to Jonny Sexton, and Brian O’Driscoll’s centre partner from Leinster, Gordon D’Arcy, is also named in the starting XV. With Italy’s backline lacking in spark, Ireland will walk this game.
My prediction: Ireland by 23.
England v Wales
A new look England play Wales in a match that celebrates a centenary of matches between the countries at Twickenham. Riki Flutey and Mathew Tait return and form yet another centre combination, whilst Delon Armitage starts at full back. Nick Easter is back at 8, and Foden and uncapped prop Dan Cole appear on the bench. Compared with November’s team, on paper this version of England has a lot more flair. Wales have an experienced pack which includes the all Lions front row of Adam Jones, Matthew Rees and Gethin Jenkins. Shane Williams and Leigh Halfpenny, two more Lions men are out on the wings, whilst Jamie Roberts will look to punch holes in England’s defence. Mike Phillips and Dwayne Peel are side lined due to injury which is a big loss to Wales coach Warren Gatland. Both sides are under pressure after lacklustre performances in November,
My prediction: England to win by 6.
Scotland v France
Defence is the keyword for Scotland who will look to dampen the French attack as they did in their 9-8 victory over Australia in November. The boot of Chris Paterson and the dogged determination of the forwards are crucial if Scotland are to stand a chance of turning over France. Imanol Harinordoquy is a big danger man for the visitors, both at the line-out and in the loose. Sebastian Chabal, Fabien Barcella and Damien Traille are all injured and will miss the game, and scrum-half Jean-Baptiste Elissalde replaces the banned Julien Dupuy. Scotland will be hoping that the brothers Lamont will step up and score tries and get their tournament off to a flyer.
My prediction: France to win by 12.