It’s the contest that the vast majority of Irish rugby fans look forward to the most each and every year and the one that we have the most pride in our nation’s performances. Three titles since 2014 and not a wooden spoon in sight since 1998, it’s fair to say that we’re finally playing to our potential in the international game.
And with elite sports set to return in the coming months, it looks increasingly likely that the six nations teams will finally get their chance to play out the championship. It’s anyone’s championship still and with so many variables involved, this might be the perfect time to place a few outside bets. In fact, now is the perfect time to take advantage of those new member bonuses and free bets we keep reading about on review sites. Which means that you can keep your own money for the safe bets.
So what are Ireland’s chances? Let’s take a look at the remaining matches.
The Italy match
The truth is that no one expects anything less than a win against the six nations minnows. Italy have certainly improved as the showed us during the exhilarating 35-22 loss to France at the Stade de France. Up against a team that had just triumphed over World Cup finalists England, Italy looked set for a shellacking but credit where it’s due, they played some impressive rugby. Unfortunately for them, it proved to be a blip as they returned to form in the 0-17 home defeat to Scotland.
Although it seems unlikely that they will offer too much in the way of competition for Ireland, they certainly won’t lie down. After the long break, the Italians will be out to prove themselves and it could be a bruising encounter. Andy Farrell will look to protect some of his key players in the hopes of having them fit and ready for the final game against France, but we still expect him to field a strong side.
Establish a solid lead by halftime and the replacements can see out the rest of the game. Unfortunately, with match fitness bound to be an issue, it’s anyone’s guess as to how the game unfolds in the first half. Still, we expect Ireland to improve on last year’s tight 16-26 victory in Rome and win by a comfortable margin to secure that essential bonus point.
The France match
As soon as the fixture list came out we all knew that this was the big one. France away in the last game with everything on the line. It’s everything we could have hoped for. With one additional game to play, we could be in a better position in terms of sharpness and match fitness. At the same time, however, we are also at risk of injuries against Italy.
France know that nothing less than a bonus point win will do for them if England secure their expected bonus point win against Italy. To say the French will be up for it, is a major understatement. They will be harrying us from the first whistle to the last making our job all the more difficult.
With France having everything to play for, the match will be wide open. They’ll no doubt take risks and that could play into Irish hands. A bonus point against the French in France would ordinarily look like an impossible task, but in this scenario with both teams really going for it, a high-scoring game looks possible.
Sexton and Murray will be key in how we approach the game, but the French know this. While they may not be able to affect Murray’s game too much, they will certainly look to close down Sexton at every given opportunity. The Leinster man’s kicking game will have to be on point but he’s a player who relishes a challenge and pressure in equal measure.
Another key man will be 2018 player of the championship Jacob Stockdale. His ability to seemingly pluck wayward passes out of the air is something the French will have to be on guard for. His presence on the pitch could inhibit the French as the look to move the ball out wide. After all, he has proven time and again that he can punish the slightest mistakes.
It’s a tough one to call, but we reckon that if Ireland make it through the Italy match without any injuries to key players, they could secure that bonus point win. Even a win could be enough should our points difference be better than the English.
England and France
The English will feel that they are the favourites going into the final game. A bonus point win against Italy is likely, and if they’re on song, they could improve their points difference by some margin. They will, of course, be made to wait on the outcomes of both Ireland matches before they can celebrate.
France, on the other hand, have that Irish mountain to climb. The England match will likely kick off as planned ahead of the France Ireland match and so the French will know what they have to do to win. However, the problem for the French is that if England secure a bonus point, they can only tie with them at best with a bonus point of their own. Add to that the fact that they will have to better England’s winning margin by more than two points and you can see how difficult their task is.
From a psychological point of view, it would be better for Ireland if England win by a considerable margin giving the French a more difficult goal. That said, an England bonus point win would mean that Ireland would need that bonus point in France. At the end of the day, Ireland are the only team that have their fate in their own hands. Win both remaining games with a bonus point and it doesn’t matter what happens in the England game. Can they do it? Of course they can, but like we said earlier, a side bet on Italy stopping England getting that bonus point might be a bit of fun.