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Meetings between Wales and England are always highly charged affairs and things are unlikely to be any different when they next meet in Cardiff on Saturday 23rd February. England won their most recent meeting at the Six Nations tournament at Twickenham as they picked up a fifth successive win over the Welsh with a narrow 12-6 success.
That would seem a rather big leap of faith considering that England debacle, and the fact that France have lost their last 120 minutes of Six Nations rugby 68-11, following on from going in 16-0 up against Wales at half-time.
That is some level of capitulation, even by the standards of a second-tier rugby nation, though I suppose that is where France reside these days, given their recent results. They have won only eight of their last 32 internationals dating back to 2016, and just one of their last nine matches since beating England 22-16 in Paris last March.
But France are a far better side than that woeful run of results would suggest, and the tide will turn soon. Certainly their record against Scotland in Paris should give them plenty of encouragement.
Since losing to them in the capital in 1999, France are 10 from 10 against the Scots at home, though granted the visitors have kept them honest of late, with the winning margin in matches since 2013 reading 7, 7, 3 and 6.
That, of course, doesn’t immediately fill one with hope that the weekend handicap line is bridgeable, especially taking into account their recent travails, but the team news is very much in their favour.
And a look at France’s recent record at home, that Fiji November defeat and Japan draw aside, suggests the performances have been there, if not the score lines.
They somehow contrived to lose their tournament opener 24-19 to Wales, and it is worth remembering that, since 2017, they have lost only by a point to South Africa, two to Ireland in that match, and again by just three to the Springboks in November.
Morgan Parra and Camille Lopez were always going to carry a fair bit of the can for that Twickenham trouncing, with the scrum-half looking a shadow of his former self, perhaps not surprising given that he found himself fielding the high ball so often. He was literally knocked right off his game, and the half-backs have been jettisoned from the squad.
Parra’s replacement Antoine Dupont looked strong and threatening when he came on against England, and maybe he and fellow youngster Romain Ntmack can ignite a back-line which has a more orthodox feel to it than a fortnight ago – yes, I know I said I liked the look of the starting XV at Twickenham – with Gael Fickou and Yoann Huget switching to their more familiar club positions.
Hopefully, the Toulouse combinations can click for their country, with Thomas Ramos coming in at full-back, too.
Equally, the back three don’t want to allow Scotland to be able to kick into an empty 22 this weekend. It really was a staggering sight to such vast expanses of space in behind the French lines at Twickenham.
France may as well have had Gerard Depardieu sweeping and hopefully they has been working on this area this week, given they named their side on Tuesday, two days before anyone else.
The French have, surprisingly, stayed loyal to the front five who started against England, and hopefully the eight can do a job their size suggests they should to be able to achieve against the Scots, namely supply set-piece ball.
Camille Chat looked a real handful when coming on for Racing 92 at home to Toulouse at the weekend, and he will cause waves when he comes on for Guilhem Guirado at hooker, so he initially interested me for a speculative last try-scorer punt at 25/1.
He hasn’t scored in three starts for France (16 appearances in total) and isn’t prolific for his club – he hasn’t dotted down since October (against Pau), and has scored just twice this season – but he often plays second fiddle to Dimitri Szarzewski at Racing.
He will be very prominent in the final quarter, just as he was against Toulouse on Sunday, but the issue is when he comes on. Guirado came off on 58 minutes against Wales and is always subbed, so while he has lasted 70 minutes and more in some recent games in this tournament, I can’t recommend a bet and will stick to France -6 as my sole wager.
Scotland were unconvincing against Italy in their opener but they were a bit unlucky not to push Ireland closer in Murrayfield last time, though their lack of accuracy was again their undoing against the below-par visitors.
Their injury list has now reached A&E levels on a Saturday night, with Finn Russell joining fellow main man and attacking threat Stuart Hogg on the sidelines, as well as other key men such as Huw Jones, WP Nel, Ryan Wilson and Hamish Watson.
They are perhaps the only side in world rugby that could be over-confident after a 36-point defeat, so that is a worry, as ridiculous as it sounds, and my staking plan has been adjusted accordingly.
The second game up on Saturday is Wales v England and, in truth, I have already got enough riding on the match without any further interest. However, I have to get involved at the prices with Wales a bet with a five-point start.
Wales: 15 Liam Williams, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Gareth Davies, 1 Rob Evans, 2 Ken Owens, 3 Tomas Francis, 4 Cory Hill, 5 Alun-Wyn Jones (captain), 6 Josh Navidi, 7 Justin Tipuric, 8 Ross Moriarty.
Replacements: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Nicky Smith, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Adam Beard, 20 Aaron Wainwright, 21 Aled Davies, 22 Dan Biggar, 23 Owen Watkin.
England: 15 Elliot Daly, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Manu Tuilagi, 11 Jonny May, 10 Owen Farrell (c), 9 Ben Youngs; 1 Ben Moon, 2 Jamie George, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 4 Courtney Lawes, 5 George Kruis, 6 Mark Wilson, 7 Tom Curry, 8 Billy Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Ellis Genge, 18 Harry Williams, 19 Joe Launchbury, 20 Brad Shields, 21 Dan Robson, 22 George Ford, 23 Joe Cokanasiga.