Wales Unconvincing, Head Scratching England, France Remain Six Nations Favourites

The opening round of the RBS Six Nations went according to plan last weekend. Even though I was backing the favourites, I will take three from three.

Scotland and Italy were their usual plucky selves, with Italy giving Wales some uncomfortable moments in the second half after Wales had jumped out to a 17-3 lead at the break.

But they could only muster two penalty goals in the second stanza compared to the Italians' two tries.

This must be of some concern to Warren Gatland and his coaching team - but a win is a win.

However with a close Six Nations predicted by many, points both for and against could easily come into play and a home tie against Italy should have reaped bigger rewards for the men from the valleys.

Ireland were far more clinical against Scotland on Sunday. Jonny Sexton showed that form is temporary and class is permanent with an assured display and they simply outmuscled Scotland in the second spell.

In the process, Ireland became somewhat shorter in the odds to lift the trophy.

In the game of the round, France were very lucky to escape with the win in Paris.

A lot of attention has been drawn to Stuart Lancaster's substitutions and, while some were 'head scratchers', the game still should have been seen off by the visitors.

Outside of the scrum, I thought England dominated the game and looked the more inventive in attack. However their inability to cover the backfield ultimately cost them.

Two tries from kicks, gave France a 16-3 lead, but England got back into the game and took the lead through a converted Luther Burrell try.

But they couldn't hold on and the French saved their best for last, with Gael Fickou crossing to put a dent into England’s Six Nations chances.

Lancaster has stated he was relatively happy with the performance and I agree as I see a lot of growth to come from this side over the tournament and beyond.

This week sees Ireland hosting Wales in a battle of the first round winners.

I wasn't convinced with Wales at the start of the tournament and my thinking hasn't changed. The instant return to form of Jonny Sexton is of welcome relief to Irish fans and his game management will be crucial to their success.

The battle of the breakdown could decide this one with Gatland stating that he wasn't happy with this part of the Welsh game last weekend.

He has also questioned the official’s scrum decisions in the first game similar to what Graham Rowntree did last year.

However on that occasion, Gatland accused the English of ‘whinging’ and said it was just ‘sour grapes’.

The hypocritical Gatland could well be questioning the refereeing decisions again as I see them coming out on the wrong side of the ledger on Saturday.

I feel Ireland have more attacking threats and the home field advantage will be enough to pip the Welsh in what will be a close game.

In game number two, the Calcutta Cup is up for grabs at Murrayfield. England will be stinging from last weekend’s heart breaker while the Scots will be going back to the drawing board after their poor second half performance.

I see a similar result with Scotland being in touch at half-time but I fully expect England to ease away to a comfortable win and get their championship back on track.

Lancaster has named an unchanged team as he continues to build for next year’s World Cup and all eyes will be on the substitutions. But it won’t matter who he puts on as a sluggish Scottish side will struggle to get much out of the English defence on Saturday.

The final game on Sunday between France and Italy should see a home win but France will need to improve dramatically if they are to win the title this year.

Italy won this fixture last year and they are not to be underestimated. Parisse will again lead from the front and two-try hero Michele Campagnaro would like to have a similar impact on this game.

I really feel this match will be a lot closer than expected but France will be too strong and will remain at the top of the table after round two.

I still feel France has the strength of schedule to win it all but they need to make vast improvements if they are to achieve that.

Read Scott Hamilton's predictions from the first round of the RBS 6 Nations

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