Wales Vs Ireland – Millennium Stadium, Cardiff. Saturday 2 February 13:30 Live on BBC1
This will be a very feisty and interesting game. Both sides have potential Lions captains in Sam Warburton and Jamie Heaslip so both will want to make their mark. A returning Brain O’Driscoll resumes his centre partnership with Gordon D’arcy for a record 48th time at International level, they provide a solid base for Jonathan Sexton to get the game ticking over. The 34 year old Leinster man still has so much to give and I wouldn’t count him out on going on a fourth Lions tour.
The Welsh have a lot of injury problems in the second row with to Alun Wynn Jones, Luke Charteris and Bradley Davies all out, so Andrew Coombes and Ian Evans are given their chance. They are without Rhys Priestland at 10, so the Ospreys Dan Biggar has been given the nod over James Hook.
A mouthwatering game that will be very tight, however I think the Irish will pull it out of the bag with their superior experience in the Welsh back yard.
Prediction – Ireland by 4
England vs Scotland – Twickenham, London. Saturday 2 February 16:00 Live on BBC1
This game will be a defining moment for both sides. For England it’s a game for them to prove that the win against the All Blacks in the Autumn wasn’t a flash in the pan and that they are building to something great. For Scotland it is a chance to banish the ghosts of the Autumn series and begin to actually play some decent rugby. Hopefully Scott Johnson will get the best out of the Jocks to keep them in the game.
My man to watch Billy Twelvetrees has been given his first cap following an injury to Manu Tuilagi, and it is more of an audition for him and Brad Barritt as to who will partner the English Wrecking ball when he returns next week to face the Irish. Twelvetrees excites me as he brings a bit of flair and composure that the Red Rose has been missing in the middle of the park, I am keen to see how he performs with Owen Farrell at 10. In the pack Joe Marler replaces Alex Corbisiero who is out for the whole campaign and Tom Youngs keeps the hooker jersey from a returning Dylan Hartley.
For the Sots Johnnie Beattie gets a recall at number 8 for the first time since 2011, the Montpellier man has been in fine form for club this year and deserves his chance, and Kiwi born Sean Maitland gets his first cap on the wing. Captain Kelly Brown knows his team are in for a tough ride at Twickenham, it’s just how his team responds that will shape the outcome.
Prediction – England by 15
Italy vs France – Stadio Olimpico, Rome. Sunday 3 February 15:00 Live on BBC1
Even at home the Italians will struggle against the French, who like the English are bringing their best rugby to the table at the moment. I predict a France win but by how much will depend on Sergio Parisses men and if they can stem the French Onslaught. Mathieu Bastareaud will mix it from the start and I expect a few battered Italians by the final whistle.
Prediction – France by 20
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