Six Nations: Alex Payne has bets on the final round and is backing Ireland to beat France
Alex Payne picks out the best bets for the final round of the Six Nations, including France v Ireland.
Last Updated: 14/03/14 2:25pm
Italy v England
England have two options coming into this weekend but, whichever they take, clarity in what they're doing is absolutely key to ensuring they're successful. If they set out to chase down Ireland's points total they can have no regrets, but a fast and loose game may potentially play into the hands of the Italians - we saw how Ireland struggled in the early part of their match at the weekend by going too wide too soon. The more conservative option would be to focus on just the win and then hope France do them a favour in the final round, but the danger is the feeling of 'what if' if they fall short.
After defeat to Scotland, Italy seemed to overlook round four and Ireland to set themselves for the final challenge at home to England. After beating those in green at home last season, the Red Rose is now the only team they've not beaten since they entered the Six Nations in 2000. That day will come, but I don't think it is this year.
Stuart Lancaster's team has developed before our eyes throughout the course of this tournament - I'm not sure they'd lose the game in Paris now as they did in round 1, and I think they'll win in Rome to finish the campaign. The progression graph just keeps going up, and speaking with some of the players after the Wales game there is a greater confidence to them, a real excitement at the journey they're on.
There are warning signs - the last three games between these two have all finished within five points, and England have only scored one try against the Azzuri in their last two matches - a charge down by Charlie Hodgson two seasons ago. Italy are more than capable of getting in the way and causing a nuisance of themselves, but by their own admission they have regressed recently - with only one win in their last ten games; against Fiji. Providing that the clarity is in their game, I think England will weather what is thrown at them to finish well clear in the second half.
It wouldn't surprise me if there was a real emphasis this week on England sharpening their attack and perhaps trying a few things, which could bring a few tries. In the last ten years England have scored 35 tries against Italy, with 31 scored by backs. Chris Ashton scored four in 2011 as the Ash Splash was born, while Jason Robinson and Mark Cueto crossed for hat tricks in 2004 and 2005 respectively. That trend is reiterated with Italy conceding 30 tries to backs and only eight to forwards in their last 10 matches.
England's seven tries this campaign have come from three players - Luther Burrell, Mike Brown and Danny Care. I would consider all three again for anytime scores with Sky Bet (Burrell 6/5, Brown evens and Care 11/8 respectively) but given those three hat-tricks mentioned I would also play the Jonny May double try card at 5/2 with Sky Bet. He has looked elusive and, in the team for his unpredictability, will be desperate to finish with points to his name. Worth thinking about Manu Tuilagi as the last try scorer as well.
For Italy, Josh Furno (12/1 any time) has been the find for Italy. Parisse (11/2) will lead from the front again, but the danger man seems to be Michele Campagnaro who's scored three of their last seven tries and is priced at 12/1 for another.
But I think England will put their foot down in the second half (highest scoring at 8/11), and will beat the 13 point handicap on the alternative margin at 1/3 with Sky Bet.
Wales v Scotland
It is going to be interesting to see which of these two will lift themselves off the canvas this weekend. Having won ten of the last eleven against Scotland, Wales are clear favourites, and I think they will finish with a comfortable win at the Millennium Stadium. The last six years has seen Wales win by an average of thirteen points, and that feels about right for this weekend.
I've been amazed by some of the reaction in Wales to their loss to England. It has not been a great campaign, but the call for heads, changes and the blame flying about has been astonishing. Personally, I think the players are shattered from last summer's Lions tour, but to write them and Warren Gatland off is extreme. And I think they will deliver another reaction this weekend.
The fact that Scotland lost the game to such a poor French team just highlights how tough things are north of the border. That is now one win in six and, although the players spoke of positive elements, it is hard to see how they get past a hurting Welsh side in Cardiff.
In terms of the tries, Wales have scored 13 in the last five games against Scotland, with seven going to wingers. North and Cuthbert were very quiet against England and I would expect them to be much more involved this weekend (both 11/10 to score anytime tries). The other man who has been very honest in the aftermath of Twickenham is Jamie Roberts. He's not scored for Wales for two years, but is at his best when the pressure is on and is (11/4) to end that this weekend. I think Gatland will ensure his players know exactly what he expects of them in the final round.
Having not scored a try in four matches, Scotland have now scored two tries in both of their last two games, but I'm not going to encourage you to put too much money on dark blue 5 pointers this weekend. However, Hogg brought home the first try last week for this blog and remains the real danger man (20/1 first try, 4/1 anytime).
But Wales to get home by their recent average of 13 or so, so 11-15 on the spread at 4/1 with Sky Bet.
France v Ireland
And so to the finale. The happy ending for O'Driscoll, or France to somehow spoil the party?
Let's start with a word of caution - Ireland have won twice in Paris in thirty two years and have beaten France only once in fourteen attempts, although the last two games have been drawn (20/1 for that to be the cast again this weekend.) And although O'Driscoll has never beaten the All Blacks, he has his second worst record against France, with only a 32% win ratio over 14 years.
Having said that, there is a clear gulf between these two in terms of the rugby they're playing. There seem to be real problems within the French squad and they have been decidedly average since the win over England, but we all know what they can produce on a one off basis. It is something of a free hit this weekend - the press and fans seem to have given up already.
Although Ireland have developed under Joe Schmidt they did fail to better England's physicality - the one thing France will offer is power, especially with Picamoles back. I think this one will be tight, and Ireland could do with a fast start to quieten the crowd and sew the seeds of doubt in the hosts.
There aren't any obvious trends to try scorers in recent matches, so we'll use the form card which brings in Rob Kearney (3/1 anytime) and Andrew Trimble (5/2 anytime) who both have two tries this tournament, and Jamie Heaslip who has three tries in eight games against France (5/1 anytime for another). For the home side, Yoann Huget has a chance to be top try scorer this year (currently on three with Luther Burrell) and is at (9/4) for a try.
And the final word to O'Driscoll. He announced himself on the international stage with a hat-trick in Paris in 2000 (the last time Ireland won there) and for what is is worth he's priced at 125/1 to do it again. More realistic is the (7/2) for an anytime try. I would love to see him finish with the trophy. However, this French side is playing so poorly that I'm going with the fairy tale and Ireland to do it.
So Ireland, England and Wales to close out the championship with wins at 5/6.
And my trio of try scorers this week is May, Cuthbert and Trimble which comes in at 20/1 with Sky Bet. Hard to believe we're at the end already, but best of luck this weekend.