England v Scotland seems to be a foregone conclusion, I seem to be the only person who’s been seriously underwhelmed by England. Italy proved that if you can knock them off their stride they can be beaten. Scotland could knock them off their stride by starting like a house on fire because England have been far stronger in the last 30 minutes of games than the first 30 minutes. They left incredibly late to beat Wales, they didn’t put France away until the 70th minute and it was the 47th when they took the decisive lead against Italy. Scotland on the other hand have scored tries in 2 of their first 3 games and against Wales they took the lead on the 44th minute and didn’t conceded another point in the game.
England should have an advantage at scrum time but with Mathieu Raynal refereeing that may not count for anything, I saw him referee Argentina v Australia at Twickenham and he was at best inconsistent and when it came to scrum time he was almost always wrong! Joe Marler wins his 50th cap today and he could find himself on the receiving end of the Frenchman’s whistle. The battle between the hookers could be fascinating, Dylan Hartley hasn’t really hit his straps after his prolonged pre-tournament ban and Fraser Brown has continued the good form he’s displayed for Glasgow Warriors but he is considerably smaller than the Kiwi opposite him. That’s a microcosm of the entire game, Scotland have the form but England generally have the size and power, however in the Second Row where Scotland’s Gray brothers (who sound like they’d make a great bespoke tailors) outweigh their opposite numbers by about 4 stone! The Scottish Centre pairing outweigh their English counterparts too (not on the bench, Ben Te’o is built like a house and weighs 2 stone and 9 pounds more than Mark Bennett) and after a pretty “intense” i.e devoid of skill 80 minutes of smash ’em, bash ’em rugby in Cardiff last night there’s a chance for all 6 Centres to put their hands up for Lions selection today.
You can get odds of 4-1 on Scotland turning the Sassernach’s over on their own patch today and there is a chance that all 3 of the underdogs could win this weekend so it could be worth a fiver. If Vern Cotter is feeling particularly mischievous then he’ll tell Scotland to stay well away from the first potential ruck situation, but he’ll have absolutely pilling in at the second one. John Barclay always seems an incredibly measured and level headed guy in interviews so whether or not he can whip his team up into the sort of frenzy they’ll need to shock England early doors will be fascinating.
Italy and France are 2 teams who are so incredibly inconsistent in terms of both confidence and accuracy that it’s impossible to know how this one will play out. The smart money is on France and you have to think they’ll win by virtue of just having a truly enormous pack of forwards, but England showed that they will fatigue and if Italy can move the ball (and Carli Canna definitely has the vision to see holes in defences) then Italy could sneak the win late on. The weather in Rome looks glorious so France won’t have to worry about the forward dominated, slow, turgid whistle-fest they endured in Dublin two weeks ago and they might be able to play the Barbarian style, free-flowing, offloading rugby that Guy Noves seems to be craving (they probably won’t, because their accuracy hasn’t been the greatest in recent times) but with individuals like Serin, Fickou, Vakatawa, Nakitaitaci and the newly restored Brice Dulin there should be some tries. From an Italian point of view Campagnaro and Venditti both have the power and pace to make defenders look incredibly silly so it’s really only Kiwi referee Ben O’Keefe standing between us spectators and an bucket of meat-pies!