IRELAND were scrappy rather than fluid in Rome as they started their defence of the Six Nations.
Italy put up a better fight than the 26-3 scoreline suggests and if it hadn’t been for hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini getting sin-binned in the second half – which helped Ireland to finally penetrate an impressive home defence – then it would have been much closer.
In the end, a late second try put some gloss on what was an underwhelming Irish performance but a win – their eighth in a row – was the most important thing and Joe Schmidt’s side should go into Saturday’s clash at home to France full of confidence.
With England winning in Wales last Friday, despite being under-strength, the pendulum has swung in their favour as regards their tournament credentials. Sporting Index now make the Red Rose clear favourites on the Outright 60 Index, trading at 45-48, way ahead of Ireland at 36-39.
It’s now likely that the defining game of the championship will be Ireland versus England on 1st March in Dublin.
Les Bleus looked ordinary in defeating Scotland last weekend. If the Scots hadn’t conceded 11 penalties – five of which were converted – in the 15-8 defeat then it’s entirely possible to think they could have sneaked a win.
France are always hard to predict in this competition, but they have a good recent record away to the boys in green, losing only one of the last six matches.
Last year the sides met in Paris with Ireland winning there for only the second time in 42 years, which was enough to see them take the Six Nations crown on points difference. That, as well as memories of how impressively they saw off Australia and South Africa in the Autumn Internationals still fresh in the mind, means it’s hard to oppose the hosts tomorrow.
Expect Schmidt’s men to improve, especially with Jonathan Sexton, Sean O'Brien and Jamie Heaslip back in the side.
However, Ireland’s supremacy spread looks on the high side with Sporting Index, trading at 6-9 as March 1975 was the last time Ireland beat France at home by more than nine points.
The best bet is buying Ireland with a -1.5 handicap at 18 with Sporting Index. The market makes up 25 should Ireland defy that handicap.
Buy Ireland with a -1.5 handicap with Sporting Index