The 2021 Six Nations kicks off this weekend and we get our first taste of international rugby for the year. Our punter Neal Hoogwerf has picked a lovely treble for this weekend’s action, beginning with Italy and France on Saturday and ending with Wales hosting Ireland on Sunday.
Italy v France
Saturday 6 February – 16:15
Rome plays host to the opening game of the 2021 Six Nations and Italy will be hoping to ensure an opening day upset. The Azzurri are heading into this fixture without six first team regulars, most notably Sebastian Negri and Jake Polledri. Franco Smith has opted for youth, with not a single player over the age of 30.
Les Bleus head into the Six Nations as second favourites behind England. It’s been an immense rise for French Rugby having finished as runners up in both the major tournaments in 2020. France will be hoping to break their decade long Six Nations drought and bring some much-needed silverware back to Paris.
On first view, it’s easy to side with a big handicap for the home side. Digging a little deeper into the archives sees Italy only losing by less than 21 points in two of their last eight meetings against France. With the way the French squad is building and the continued influence of defence-guru Shaun Edwards, it’s tough to see past a compelling opening weekend for Les Bleus in Rome.
England v Scotland
Saturday 6 February – 18:45
England enter the Six Nations as reigning champions and tournament favourites. Since they narrowly edged France in points difference last year, they have added the Autumn Nations Cup title to the trophy cabinet after overturning a second-string French outfit in extra time. Eddie Jones has opted to discard the dual-pivot axis in George Ford and Owen Farrell in favour of a ball running inside centre in Ollie Lawrence.
Looking at England’s recent form makes interesting reading. England haven’t covered a minus handicap dating back to the 2019 World Cup.
Scotland head to Twickenham with renewed optimism in what is starting to look like a well assembled project that coach Gregor Townsend is formulating. In the backline, they have mercurial playmaker back from the abyss to feed the dangerous outside backs in Duhan van der Merwe and Stuart Hogg. In the forward pack, Jonny Gray has been a cornerstone of the Exeter Chiefs setpiece dominance.
Glancing at the recent form, Scotland have covered the spread in five of their last six fixtures against England. Add to the fact that England have struggled against the spread recently, I’ll be confidently siding with the Scots this weekend.
Wales v Ireland
Sunday 7 February – 17:00
Wales will be looking to revitalize their performances as they stumbled to a 1-4 finish in the 2020 Six Nations and look past their worst calendar year in eight years. It’s been a difficult period for Welsh rugby as consistency has been hard to come by. At the time of writing, team news wasn’t freely available but it’s rumoured that coach Wayne Pivac is opting for George North in the centre birth.
Ireland head into the 2021 campaign after a solid previous campaign where their only blemish came in an away defeat to England at Twickenham. Ireland have named a full strength line up led by Jonny Sexton at flyhalf.
Usually, in European tournaments, it’s sensible to side with the home side when placed as underdogs. However, with the lack of spectator influence and having the technicalities of referee Wayne Barnes to consider, I’ll be putting my faith in the side likely to gain the ascendancy at the set piece. The Welsh are ripe for the picking and the travelling Irish will be ready to take advantage.