Balls.ie Rugby tipster 2Stat made a triumphant debut two weeks ago, picking every Six Nations game right and getting most of the scorelines right as well. Here are his thoughts on this weekend's rugby.
Ireland V France (Sat @ 5)
Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)
Assistant referees: Wayne Barnes (England), Greg Garner (England)
Television match official: Nigel Whitehouse (Wales)
15 Rob Kearney; 14 Fergus McFadden; 13 Brian O'Driscoll; 12 Luke Marshall; 11 Keith Earls; 10 Paddy Jackson; 9 Conor Murray; 1 Cian Healy ; 2 Rory Best; 3 Mike Ross; 4 Mike McCarthy; 5 Donnacha Ryan; 6 Peter O'Mahony; 7 Sean O'Brien; 8 Jamie Heaslip.
16 Sean Cronin; 17 David Kilcoyne; 18; Stephen Archer; 19 Donncha O'Callaghan; 20 Iain Henderson ; 21 Eoin Reddan ; 22 Ian Madigan; 23 Luke Fitzgerald.
15 Yoann Huget, 14 Vincent Clerc, 13 Florian Fritz, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Maxime Medard, 10 Frederic Michalak, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Thierry Dusautoir, 6 Yannick Nyanga, 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Christophe Samson, 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 Benjamin Kayser, 1 Thomas Domingo.
Replacements: 16 Guilhem Guirado, 17 Vincent Debaty, 18 Luc Ducalcon, 19 Sebastien Vahaamahina, 20 Antonie Claassen, 21 Maxime Machenaud, 22 Francois Trinh-Duc, 23 Mathieu Bastareaud.
Despite not making the match day 23, the last fortnight has all been about Ronan O’Gara. It has been a spectacular fall from grace for the Corkman, who at one point even found himself behind A.N. Other in the pecking order. Paddy Jackson’s recovery from a hamstring strain has seen Other drop out of the squad with Ian Madigan promoted to the bench. Ireland have an unbelievably poor record against the French, with one victory (2009 Grand Slam year), one draw (2012) and eleven defeats in the last thirteen games. Ireland have lost consecutive matches in the 6 Nations for the first time since 2008, but have not lost three in-a-row in a single Championship since 1998
The French on the other hand have lost their last three Test matches but have not lost four in a row since 1989. The visitors have also lost five successive matches in the 6 Nations which is their worst run in the Championship since 1958. They are also winless (if you include last year’s draw with Ireland) in their last six 6 Nations matches and have not gone seven games without a win in the tournament since 1927.
The French had England on the ropes in round 3 before making a raft of ill judged substitutions, among them the introduction of Freddie Michalak at out half. Incredibly he is once again brought into the pivotal role and it would appear that the Toulon scrum half (he does not play out half for his Club) has the same sort of hypnotic power over his coach Philippe Saint Andre that Paddy Wallace has had over Declan Kidney for the last decade. This is a tough one to call. Two desperate teams playing desperately. Historically, Irish wins against France are rare, and usually involve memorable performances from our marquee players, too many of whom are on the injured list.
History: 2001 (22-15), 2003 (15-12), 2005 (19-26), 2007 (17-20), 2009 (30-21), 2011 (22-25)
Bookies:– France by 1. 2Stat: France by 6.
Scotland V Wales (Sat @2:30)
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Glen Jackson (New Zealand), Lourens van der Merwe (South Africa)
Television match official: Giulio De Santis (Italy)
15 Leigh Halfpenny; 14 Alex Cuthbert; 13 Jonathan Davies; 12 Jamie Roberts; 11 George North; 10 Dan Biggar; 9 Mike Phillips; 1 Paul James; 2 Richard Hibbard; 3 Adam Jones; 4 Alun Wyn Jones; 5 Ian Evans; 6 Ryan Jones; 7 Sam Warburton; 8 Toby Faletau.
Ken Owens; Ryan Bevington; Scott Andrews; Andrew Coombs; Justin Tipuric; Lloyd Williams; James Hook; Scott Williams.
15 Stuart Hogg; 14 Sean Maitland; 13 Sean Lamont; 12 Matt Scott; 11 Tim Visser;10 Duncan Weir; 9 Greig Laidlaw; 1 Ryan Grant; 2 Ross Ford; 3 Euan Murray; 4 Richie Gray; 5 Jim Hamilton; 6 Robert Harley; 7 Kelly Brown; 8 Johnnie Beattie.
16 Dougie Hall; 17 Moray Low ; 18 Geoff Cross; 19 Alastair Kellock; 20 Ryan Wilson;
21 Henry Pyrgos; 22 Ruaridh Jackson; 23 Max Evans.
Hopefully Rafa Benitez will not be in Murrayfield where it is a battle of the ‘interim’ coaches, Johnson and Howley. For the fourth match running, Howley has named an unchanged back line, all seven of them live contenders to make the Lions tour to Australia. These two sides go into Saturday's match level on points in the 6 Nations table with two victories apiece and the visitors will be looking for their fifth successive away victory in the tournament, a feat they haven't achieved before. Owing to the fact that our own Paddy wasn’t even the worst Jackson on the field two weeks ago, Ruaridh Jackson drops to the bench in place of Duncan Weir. Regardless of the fact that they beat Ireland, Scotland, their lineout and back three (when the opposition kick carelessly) apart, are truly awful. Scott Johnson remarked earlier this week "It's as much about people and what they want to be and not deluding yourself. I'd like to be Brad Pitt, but the reality is different”. It’s quite possible that the Moneyball actor could get a game at centre for Scotland (he would certainly draw more attention on a dummy run), whose backline were actually torn apart by Ireland on several occasions.
History: 2001 (28-28), 2003 (30-22), 2005 (22-46), 2007 (21-09), 2009 (13-26), 2011 (06-24)
Bookies – Wales by 5. 2Stat – Wales by 12.
England v Italy (Sun @ 3)
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Nigel Owens (Wales), Mathieu Raynal (France)
Television match official: Simon McDowell (Ireland)
This is one of the most one sided fixtures in the Six Nations. So much so that you wonder if Sergio Parisse now wishes he had been more insulting to the referee when being sent off in a recent French club game, as his ban has been subsequently reduced, thus allowing to start this Saturday. Points machine Owen Farrell is missing through injury but Toby Flood is more than a capable replacement. The home side are chasing a Grand Slam and no-one will want to miss that final game in Cardiff. England are dismissing any talk of taking the Italians for granted, which inevitably means that they are. However this will matter little as the Italians are still very one dimensional and have only been made look otherwise this season by some passive French defence on the opening day. Stuart Lancaster has created an environment where, despite three wins from three, not too many players are sure of their place in the side. This will give England that ruthless edge they have lacked for many years.
Bookies: England by 26. 2Stat: England by 30.
History: 2001 (80-23), 2003 (40-05), 2005 (39-07), 2007 (20-07), 2009 (36-11), 2011 (59-13)
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