The 2013 edition of the Six Nations championship has passed the halfway stage, and this weekend’s penultimate round of fixtures could go a long way to determining the final outcome of the competition. Leaders England host Italy in what can be considered as a mere formality before Stuart Lancaster’s men travel to Cardiff to play for the Championship and the Grand Slam next week. Ireland host France in what almost unbelievably is effectively a game to determine who takes the wooden spoon this season, whilst Scotland and Wales, joint-second on the log, battle it out as the only contenders remaining for this year’s championship aside from England.
Below we take a look at this weekend’s games and at what betting opportunities they provide.
Scotland vs Wales (Saturday, 14:30 GMT, 09:30 EST)
With both teams still in with a mathematical chance of taking this year’s trophy, the winner of this game will decide who extends their title prospects one week further. Sam Warburton returns to the starting line-up for Wales (4/9) after having come off the bench in the victory against Italy, but Ryan Jones retains the captaincy ahead of him, as the Welsh attempt to win their fifth consecutive away game in the competition for the first time. Wales have won in three of their last four visits to Murrayfield and last year’s Grand Slam winners will want to take some momentum into next week’s clash against England. After being brushed aside by England in their first game, Scotland (2/1) have done well to win their next two. Flyhalf Duncan Weir makes his first start for his country, as interim coach Scott Johnson, who last month became the first coach in 14 years to see Scotland to consecutive wins in the Six Nations, brings him in ahead of Ruaridh Jackson in one of two changes to the side that beat Ireland last time out. With the Scots likely to be up for this game, and with home conditions going for them, the five point head start given to them at evens is worth a thought.
Ireland vs France (Saturday, 17:00 GMT, 12:00 EST)
France captain Thierry Dusatoir has demanded that his side (5/6) do whatever it takes to finally get the team on the board in the competition, and in order to avoid their first wooden spoon since 1999 and their first winless season since the ‘50s. The only side yet to register a point in the competition recall Fredi Michalak for this game, who replaces Trinh-Duc at flyhalf, perhaps a risky call considering Michalak has been playing most of his rugby from nine for Toulon this season. He joins Morgan Parra to make up the third different halfback combination in four game selections by coach Saint-Andre this season. Ireland (11/10) have only won once in their last 13 home games against the French, and the disappointing campaign for the Irish could take a turn for the disastrous should they lose this one. They lose flyhalf Johnny Sexton through injury, and Kidney has a choice as to whether to hand Ian Madigan a debut, or to go with Paddy Jackson, who struggled with his kicks on his debut against Scotland last time out. This could be a tough one to call.
England vs Italy (Sunday, 15:00 GMT, 10 EST)
England (at an unbackable 1/2000, and an equally unbackable 1/25 to win the competition outright) have comfortably been the form side of the competition this year, and will be looking to get past the always feisty Italian challenge this weekend without too many bruises ahead of their Grand Slam, and potential tournament decider, in Cardiff next week. Lancaster will be expected to bring in a few changes for this game, with Toby Flood, Danny Care and Tom Youngs getting some game time, as well as Tom Croft, who was recalled into the squad for the first time sustaining a serious neck injury. Thoughts of complacency have been dismissed by England management ahead of the game, and the only team to have won all their games this season will be expected to continue their form on Sunday. For Italy (33/1), captain Sergio Parisse returns from suspension, and will look to inspire his teammates to produce a more competitive effort than what they have put forth since their impressive win against France in the opening round of the competition. Italy are currently going for evens at 26 points.
Keep up with the latest news and events at the official Six Nations website.