In the world of Rugby Union, 2015 is a pivotal year given that it’s a World Cup year and that England will be the official hosts of this festival of Rugby. However, before that event takes place later this year, there is the small matter of the 2015 Six Nations, which started a few weeks ago with a spectacular opening game at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff between England and Wales.
Since then a further round of games has taken place and the Six Nations has already taken shape, with two teams, England and Ireland unbeaten, two other teams, Wales and France each with one win and one defeat and two teams, Scotland and Italy both winless.
It just so happens that this weekend sees all those combinations of teams face off in what is going to be undoubtedly the pivotal weekend when it comes to deciding the fate of the Six Nations trophy.
With that in mind, let’s take a close look at each of the crunch games that are scheduled for this weekend in the order they are to be played and how you should approach them on Bet365. If you aren’t yet a customer of Bet365, UK punters who sign up today will receive $100 free sports bets from Bet 365.
Scotland v Italy (Murrayfield: Saturday 28th February 14:30 Kick Off)
The first game of the weekend sees Scotland and Italy cross swords with neither team having enjoyed a victory in the current Six Nations. Indeed, for the past few years, this clash has often decided which team ends up with the ‘wooden spoon’ of five defeats on their resume.
Of the two sides, it is Scotland that have been by far and away the most impressive. The Scots only narrowly lost in France, where slack concession of penalties at key times saw them hand the French a victory that they probably did not deserve. Then a week or so later, the Scots were unlucky to go down to a very narrow 23-26 defeat to a strong Wales team at Murrayfield, once again a lack of experience and indiscipline at key times proving very costly.
Compare that with Italy who were beaten 26-3 in Rome by Ireland and then 47-17 by England and it looks a solid bet that the Scots will be the team celebrating at Murrayfield come the close of play on Saturday. Scotland’s squad is very much in rebuilding mode, but they should have the ability to emerge with a relatively easy win in this encounter.
Top Bets: I like the look of Scotland to win by 16-20 points, which is a 5/1 shot with Bet365 at the time of writing.
France v Wales (Stade de France: Saturday 28th February 17:00 Kick Off UK Time)
The second game on Saturday sees the two teams who have won one and lost one game in the competition thus far face off as France welcome Wales to the Stade de France in what is a crucial game for both teams.
Defeat for either team and the likelihood is that they will, at best, finish in a distant fourth spot in the Six Nations, hardly ideal preparation in a World Cup year. Victory and there is still a chance that they could land the Six Nations title, if other results go their way.
The home side were unconvincing winners in their first game, defeating an improving Scotland side 15-8 in Paris. That scoreline doesn’t tell the whole story of the game however as Vern Cotter’s Scots put up a stern resistance and it was only the concession of penalties at key times that really turned this game in France’s favour. In their second game in Dublin, France scored the only try of the game but this time they fell foul of conceding too many penalties as five penalties from Jonathan Sexton and one from Ian Madigan clinched an 18-11 victory for the home side.
Wales started brightly in their opener against England, taking an early lead but a dominant second half performance from England turned the game around and led to the visitors recording a very important 16-21 victory. The Welsh then struggled against an improving Scotland at Murrayfield before they snatched victory by 23-26 thanks chiefly to Jonathan Davies second half try and a spirited defensive performance.
This is an exceptionally close game to call and it may well come down to which side can control the ball and who concedes, the least number of penalties. On that score, the added experience of this Welsh team may prove vital, but against a partisan French crowd, the home side will be confident of securing a victory.
Top Bet: The bookies have France as the 8/13 favourites here but I think the Welsh are a very strong side and despite being on the road, I am backing them at 11/8 to emerge with what would be a memorable victory on French soil.
Ireland v England (Aviva Stadium, Sunday 1st March 15:00 Kick Off)
The final game of the weekend sees the two teams with 100% winning records face off in Dublin in the game that many are already seeing as the one that is likely to decide the destiny of the Six Nations title.
Hosts Ireland started their Six Nations with a trip to Rome and emerged with a confident, if unspectacular 3-25 victory over Italy.Strong Irish defence arguably the highlight of a performance where the Irish were never really threatened at any point in the game.
That certainly wasn’t the case when they welcomed France to Dublin a week later, the home side thankful to the boot of Jonathan Sexton for five successful penalties as they came away without a try, but with an 18-11 victory.
England started the competition in Wales with a tough game at the Millennium Stadium. Wales began well but over time England gained a stranglehold in the game and a superb second half performance saw Chris Robshaw’s men emerge with a superb 16-21 victory.
Next up was Italy, but despite a 47-17 victory, England’s defence was a little lacking at times and the Italians took advantage on two or three occasions to grab points when perhaps they shouldn’t. England were never in danger of losing this, but the 47-17 scoreline was a little flattering.
Any such errors will likely be more heavily punished against an Ireland side that will be itching for their first victory over England since March 2011, England winning the last four matches between these sides, three in the Six Nations and one 2011 Rugby World Cup warm up game.
Whoever wins this game however, will likely hold the key to winning the Six Nations, although both teams have tricky games coming up in the run in which could scupper their hopes of a Grand Slam.
Top Bet: The bookies absolutely cannot call this one, with both sides 10/11 shots and the draw 18/1. This could come down to penalties and as such, Ireland’s Jonathan Sexton could be key. I’m backing Ireland to steal this by a margin of just 1-5 points, at odds of 15/4 with Bet365.
Image By Skadd77 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0]