Hurt England Take On Confident Wales

Scott Hamilton, Leicester Tigers fullback and ex All-Black

A great defensive effort from England ended my previously 100 per cent pundit's record in this year’s RBS Six Nations.

You can certainly see Joe Schmidt’s influence on the Irish side. They produced some stunning moves, one of which led to Rob Kearney’s try and others which severely tested the English defence.

The detail that Schmidt demands is evident right up to Paul O’Connell’s block on an England defender which helped spring Kearney through for his try.

However, they tended to lose their way after a few phases and the smothering English defence then took over and ultimately won them the game. 

England created plenty of chances themselves but their conversion rate wasn’t great and that is something Steve Lancaster and his team will be working on.

But England fully deserved the win and in the process have stormed back into title contention which looks like it will be decided by points difference.

Ireland now face Italy in the first game of round four and while a win seems a mere formality they will be looking to strengthen their differential. 

At the moment, it stands as Ireland (+42) England (+21) Wales (+6) and France (+1) with all four teams having won two games and lost one.

If Ireland produce a dominant victory coupled with a win over France in the last round, it will see them take the title.

The Italians will be smarting from their loss and it seems likely they have squandered their only chance for a win in this year’s tournament.

So, as a result, I am going for Ireland to win by 25-30 points.

Wales rebounded with a dominant display against the enigma that is France.

The consistently inconsistent French side’s points differential has suffered from the big loss and now they will have to rely on other teams doing them a favour.

They will need to hammer the Scots if they are to have any chance of winning the title and they will have to do that without Morgan Parra.

He was tipped to be starting this test but has been banned for two weeks for a head-butt.

Their inside-half combination hasn’t been working well, with Jean Marc Doussain having a forgettable game at scrum-half against Wales and Jules Plisson struggling to impose himself in the fly-half position over the first three games.

The Scots, on the back of David Weir’s stunning drop goal have probably done enough to avoid the wooden spoon this year.

They bring France to Murrayfield, after receiving a much needed confidence boost against the Italians.

The French performance against Wales and the fact they are playing at home must give the Scots some hope that they can turn France over for the first time since 2006.

But for me, even though France are playing well below their best, the gulf between the top four and bottom two is too great and France will have to much firepower for the resurgent Scots.

I’m going France by 10-15 points.

In the last game of the weekend, Twickenham hosts the rematch of last year’s Six Nations finale.

That heavy defeat still hurts the England team and they will be desperate to make amends.

To add to the occasion, the loser will drop out of contention for the title.

This game already has a lot of media hype surrounding it and it will be a pressure cooker atmosphere at HQ come 3pm on Sunday. 

Danny Care and Owen Farrell have had a strong tournament whilst Mike Brown continues to impress at the back.

He has been a major reason why England have twice as many line breaks than Wales so far in the tournament.

Billy Vunipola will be a big loss as England rely a lot on his strong carrying to get over the gain line.

He has amassed 39 carries so far – far more than anyone else in his side.

Gloucester’s Ben Morgan is a good replacement but he needs to impose himself physically and dent the Welsh line like Vunipola did so well over the first three games. 

Wales will be full of confidence after the French game and last year’s encounter with the English.

Warren Gatland caused some surprise with the dropping of Mike Phillips. Phillips has had a big influence on Gatland’s teams in the last few years but with the more mobile Rhys Webb looking like he is taking over, this signals the desire to play more expansively and give the likes of George North more time on the ball.

I don’t expect a lot of points in this one so discipline and goal kicking will be crucial.

Both sides boast expert marksman so staying on the right side of referee Romain Poite will be a priority.

Wales have conceded 28 penalties compared to England’s 18 so far so this must be a point the Welsh camp will be emphasising this week.

The England lads love playing at Twickenham and in my opinion have the best defensive side in the competition.

I’m sure they won’t leave as many chances out on the field this week. England will come out on top in this one, albeit in a tight contest, and in the process help to erase the horrible memories from the Cardiff debacle last season.

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