Rampant Ireland can deny Welsh a rare bit of success in Dublin

Dan Sheehan
Ireland’s Dan Sheehan (on the ground) and James Lowe were both in electric form against Italy and could prove too hot for Wales to handle in Dublin this weekend (Niall Carson/PA)

HAVING watched the first two rounds of this year’s championship and an entire series of Full Contact on Netflix, I’m starting to believe Ireland will never lose a Six Nations match ever again.

Of course, even saying that has put a curse on Andy Farrell’s men, but the bookies are thinking the same way, with Ireland now just 1/2 to complete a second successive Grand Slam in the coming weeks.

That no team has ever done that in the Six Nations era shows just how challenging it is, and yet it would actually be a shock were Farrell’s side to slip up now.

A trip to Twickenham on March 9 is clearly the biggest hurdle, but they should definitely go into that one with three wins under their belt, with Wales making the trip to Dublin on Saturday afternoon in the third round of matches.

The size of the task facing Warren Gatland’s winless Dragons is summed up by the fact they are 14/1 to clinch a first Six Nations victory on Irish soil since 2012.

The home side are no bigger than 1/20, and it would be a seismic shock were they to lose, which they won’t given the professionalism and experience in the ranks.

I didn’t expect them to beat France in Marseille, but a cruise by the Mediterranean was followed by a far more predictable win over Italy, who aren’t that much worse than this weekend’s opponents.

Gatland’s men have been slightly unlucky to lose their first two games to Scotland and then England by an aggregate of three points, and those outcomes show there is very little between the other ‘Triple Crown’ nations.

Ireland are light years ahead of the other three, and it shouldn’t be forgotten that Wales were 27-0 down to the Scots before they took the eye off the ball and the Welsh fought back with a fierce Cardiff crowd behind them.

The opening throes of that game showed how raw Gatland’s team can be, and while they also ran England close, going down 16-14 at Twickenham, Saturday will be a massive step up again.

The only thing open to debate is the winning margin for Ireland, and the bookies are generally going for a handicap of around 22 points.

The closest anyone got to them in Dublin last term was when Scotland were beaten by 21, and Italy were dismissed 36-0 at a canter 10 days ago.

Farrell was able to shuffle the pack for that one, and with Jamison Gibson-Park, Bundee Aki, Josh van der Flier, skipper Peter O’Mahony and Tadhg Furlong all ready to come back in, another comfortable afternoon is in store.

Ireland should cover the 21.5 point handicap (10/11 generally), while the 12/5 quoted by Boylesports about a home win by between 21 and 30 points is also worth backing.

Hooker Dan Sheehan has been in such good form in the first two games that he is now the 7/2 favourite to be Player of the Championship, and he leads the scoring charts with three tries.

The razor-sharp number two is always good for a try, while winger James Lowe was right back to his best against Italy, and it could be an idea to back them both to score, which is 13/8 with Boylesports.

While Ireland v Wales is the match most likely to have a bearing on the outcome of the championship, the Scotland v England clash that follows on Saturday is certain to be the closest of the weekend.

There is very little between these teams, and while the Scots have won the last three meetings, they have done so by no more than six points.

They do have slightly more flair to their game than their old enemies, and deserve to go into the Murrayfield clash as favourites, and they are generally 4/7 here.

That old Scottish tendency to let victories slip through their fingers was in evidence again last time out against France, although they did look to be robbed of a winning try at the death.

That injustice may just fire them up against an England team who are still on track for a Grand Slam they have practically no chance of winning, and I like the look of a Scottish win by 1-12 points at 8/5 here.


Ireland (-21.5) v Wales, 10/11 (General)

Ireland to win by 21-30 points, 12/5 (Boylesports)

James Lowe and Dan Sheehan both to score, 13/8 (Boylesports)

Scotland to beat England by 1-12 points, 8/5 (Boylesports)