Danny Till has two selections for England v Wales on Sunday.
After the coronavirus saw the cancellation of Ireland against Italy, the only Six Nations on Saturday see England welcome Wales to Twickenham.
Before we get into the opening game of the weekend, a quick look back at round three where I got my selections horribly wrong. Italy showed a lot of endeavor against Scotland but failing to score a point at home is pretty unforgivable and as the game wore on you could just see they were never going to cover the handicap of +8. At Twickenham, Ireland produced an extremely disappointing performance and surely Andy Farrell will be looking at some big changes, which was a particularly bad call with hindsight.
The result at the Principality Stadium did lift the spirits as France produced a pretty accomplished display (and rode their luck at times) to beat Wales and put themselves in pole position for the title, but we will have to wait and see how the coronavirus situation develops as there may not even be a final round of fixtures.
But let's get back to this weekend's fixtures.
England silenced a few doubters with their 24-12 victory over Ireland in round three, and while it was hard not to be impressed by their physicality and intensity (especially in defence) they still haven’t scaled the heights they did at the World Cup.
Eddie Jones has once again tinkered with his side bringing Mark Wilson in for the injured Sam Underhill, while Anthony Watson returns on the wing in place of Jonathan Joseph. The bench again sees a 6:2 split, with Jones again look to bully his opponents into submission.
Wales have reacted to their second consecutive Six Nations defeat by recalling Liam Williams on the wing, while Josh Navidi also features for the first time this tournament in place of Taulupe Faletau at number eight.
England can make another fast start at Twickenham
One of the major features of England’s play over the past 18 months has been their ability to start games with real purpose and strike early. In their last four home games in the Six Nations, England have opened the scoring with a try inside the first 10 minutes.
A deeper look into the stats shows that in the last 12 games where England have kicked off, they have scored a try inside 10 minutes on nine occasions. They are extremely good at getting on the front foot early and then taking advantage of any early lapses in the defence.
With the same backline taking the field which helped vanquish the All Blacks in the World Cup, I think England will be looking to hit Wales early on and force them to chase the game. So I make an England try as the first scoring play as my opening bet of the game.
My second bet also follows the theme of England’s strong starts. In their last six games at Twickenham (including World Cup warm-ups) the men in white won the first half every time, with margins of 22, 24, 24, 14, 12 and 17 – an average of 18.33 (while they average a winning margin of 8.9 points in the first half of their last five home games with Wales in the Six Nations).
Add this to the fact Wales traditionally aren’t strong starters, they have trailed going into the break, in four of their last five matches, with margins of 9, 3, 18, 5 and 8 points – an average of 8.6.
I have no doubt that Wayne Pivac is trying to get Wales to play a more exciting brand of rugby, but they are clearly having some problems adapting to the new system and their defence isn’t the same red wall it was under Shaun Edwards.
If they try to play too much rugby from deep and England’s defence brings the same energy it did against Ireland, then it could be a long day at HQ for the visitors. I just feel England will again come roaring out the blocks in the
So considering all this I think England -5 on the first half handicap is a very solid bet and hopefully we can have our feet up at half-time with two winners already in the bag.