By Aidan Elder | Chief Sports Writer
We were expecting week one of the Six Nations to be open and it certainly was. Whilst we had ‘open’ in the ‘9 to 5, five days a week’ sort of way in our heads, we actually got open in the ’24 hours a day, nine days a week, 380 days a year, bring your own tequila, wear your best g-string, leave your keys in the bowl’ sort of way.
It was a rip-roaring start to the Six Nations. As long as you’re not Welsh, Scottish or French. If you are and you needed a bowl of comforting consolation to help you get through the week, your teams played a part in some cracking matches featuring some stunning rugby. And fuelled by that surge of delirious optimism, we’re expecting similar this weekend. Here’s the Paddy Power Blog’s attempt to hurl some crap at the wall in the hope we’ll get a prediction right.
Scotland v Italy
Saturday, 1.30pm – BBC1 and RTE2
It’s a pisser when chronological order means you’ve to start with the least important game of the weekend, but keeping reading because there’s some pretty good insults further down the page.
Scotland host Italy with the intent of putting the visitors back in pole position for receipt of the unwanted wooden spoon. The Italians were brilliant in beating France and rather than Scotland facing a surly team demoralised by one of the world’s giants, they’ve got an Italian team walking with a spring in their trendy loafers.
Scotland showed some flair against England last week and if you can manage to do the impossible and find a ‘glass half full’ Scotsman, he might even tell you the final score flattered the Sweet Chariot. The commanding second half display from England confirmed what we already knew about the Scots lacking top class quality throughout the squad.
On recent form, you can’t really make a case for Scotland, but if you want to ignore evidence and side with a blind belief in the Scots’ innate and possibly non-existent rugby superiority over the Italians, go for it – it might work out. They’ve got home advantage and a vociferous rendition of Flower of Scotland tends to give them a lift. The Scots might well win the match, but Italy +5 at Evens on the handicap looks a better value option.
France v Wales
Saturday, 5pm – BBC1 and RTE2
Wales are off to Paris with the title of ‘Six Nations crisis team’ going to the loser. The French players too Gallic and cool to show emotion about getting shocked in Rome, but behind the carefully trimmed designer stubble, you could see that they were distraught. Distraught and still effortlessly cool.
Les Bleus will think they can improve, but that’s pretty much how they always feel. In fairness they might be right because their problems on Sunday stemmed largely from complacency and the belief that their cocky swaggering would eventually turn the Italians into a pile of blubbing cowards. In fairness, that’s an assumption a lot of people have made – especially at wartime.
Wales arguably have more to worry about because they threw the kitchen sink at Ireland and couldn’t blow the house down. It’s made all the more alarming since Romain Poite’s ‘pin the tail on the donkey’ approach to refereeing led to Ireland playing half the second period with just 14 men. Still though, don’t be too harsh on them, they’re missing some big names and they’re still reeling from that grave injustice that was done to them in the World Cup semi … yadda, yadda … build a bridge.
Having said all that, I’ve just had a Twix and I’m less grumpy now. My attitude to Wales has completely changed and at 10/3, they might be worth a shot for a surprise win. Certainly Wales with a +9 point handicap at Evens is a good call. It’s amazing what a Twix and humbling defeat can do for you.
Ireland v England
Sunday, 3pm – BBC1 and RTE2
The big one of this weekend is in Dublin were Ireland and England will express a gazillion years of Anglo-Hibernian animosity through the medium of beating each other to a pulp and skip passes. After impressive opening weekend victories, the teams are harder to separate than Sir Clive Woodward and his overwhelming sense of smugness. It could go either way, but like a highly strung five year old whose parents have recently divorced, it’s certain to be a nail-biter.
England haven’t won a Six Nations game in Dublin since 2003. That sounds slightly more ‘melodramatic EastEnders cliffhanger’ than it needs to be really because they’ve only played four Six Nations games in Ireland since then. Plus two of those games were when Martin Johnson was head coach/angry looking man on the sidelines, so you can write them off like they’re HMV vouchers. Stuart Lancaster has molded them into an efficient team and they’re working on the flair.
Flair isn’t much of a problem for Ireland at the moment as Simon Zebo’s Messi moment showed in Cardiff. With the world’s financial system now rogering the country slightly less forcefully and the rugby team playing well, there’s a swagger and confidence about the nation we haven’t seen since the time B*Witched turned the UK hit parade into their little bitch with four number ones on the bounce. As the example of the late 90s denim clad pop princesses illustrates, it only takes one ‘Jesse Hold On’ to burst the bubble and consistency has not been Ireland’s friend in recent seasons. Putting together back to back performances against big teams is an issue.
Ireland are good enough to beat England and home advantage should help that happen. They’re Evens to win the match and because of the ‘closer than a sex pest on a packed commuter train’ nature of the game, the Handicap is scratch. The Alternative Handicap of Ireland -6 points at 2/1 could be the shout if all this talk of B*Witched as bizarrely fueled some national pride.