Azzurri able to surpass low expectations at HQ



Tomorrow – 2.30pm BBC1

ENGLAND got off to a winning start at the Millennium Stadium last week, their first victory in Cardiff since 2003. Carrying the confidence from Friday’s thriller, Martin Johnson’s side returns to Twickenham where they welcome Italy for the first of three consecutive Tests at HQ.

After coming within three minutes of beating Ireland at the Stadio Flaminio last weekend, the Italians arrive in London hoping to end a winless run of 16 matches against the Red Rose. While Nick Mallett’s side are not well enough equipped to do so against the most promising England XV for a number of years, they can be expected to get within the 23 point handicap set by Paddy Power and should be backed at 10/11.

In their 11 years competing in the Six Nations Championship, there’s no doubt that Italy have struggled more than any other side but in match terms, they are often underrated. In 2008, the Azzurri got to within four points of England (19-23), while only five points separated the sides last year. In 2009, when the Italians last came to Twickenham, England did claim a 36-11 victory – a winning margin of 25 points – but that can largely be put down to a crazy experiment which saw flanker Mauro Bergamasco played as scrum-half.

I expect it to be tight in the opening period as the Italian forwards cause the England pack trouble. I’m particularly looking forward to the battle between Azzurri tight-head Martin Castrogiovanni and his Leicester Tigers understudy Dan Cole, but as the game progresses England’s superior stamina and discipline should see them pull away. Victory by a couple of converted tries will keep the Twickenham crowd happy and England to win by 11-20 points at 5/2 with Paddy Power seems a good bet. Chris Ashton received a ticking-off for his elaborate dive across the line for his first try against Wales, but he confirmed his knack of being in the right place at the right time. The Italians are sure to be wary of him after that performance, but whether they can stop him is another matter. Three players – Austin Healy, Jason Robinson and Mark Cueto – have scored hat-tricks against Italy and it’s certainly not beyond Ashton to join that list. It’s not for the faint-hearted, opening punters up to a potential 47 point loss, but a buy of Ashton’s try minutes with Sporting Index is highly tempting for those brave enough.

Italy to win (+23) at 10/11 with Paddy Power
England to win by 11-20 pts at 5/2 with Paddy Power
Buy Ashton’s try minutes at 47 with Sporting Index



Tomorrow – 12.45pm Sky Sports 1

MANCHESTER United’s defeat at Wolves last Saturday has breathed fresh life into the title race and a game against local rivals Manchester City wouldn’t necessarily be top of Sir Alex Ferguson’s wish list for his side’s next fixture.

It’s true that United have been excellent at home this season, but City are difficult to beat and it’s likely that Roberto Mancini will set his stall out in exactly the same way as he’s already done this season. City have played five games against the top five, scoring just one goal, and their matches at Arsenal and Tottenham, as well as at Eastlands against United, all ended goalless.

The Red Devils are the only side in the league with an undefeated home record this term and they’ve dropped just two points out of a possible 39. They average over three goals per game at Old Trafford, so it’s understandable that they are a general 4/5 shot.

However, Mancini is always defensive against the best teams and it’s no coincidence that there has been just one goal (a 90th minute Paul Scholes header) in the two league Manchester derbies since he’s taken the reins.

United have the class to break down any side at Old Trafford, but Arsenal couldn’t manage to score at the Emirates against City and I can see a similar outcome here.

The draw is available at 11/4 with Victor Chandler, which is worth taking, as is the 9/1 on Betdaq about no goalscorer. In United’s four games against the top five this season there have been just three goals and in City’s five against the same opposition there have been only four, so a sell of goals at 2.6 with Sporting Index is surely the correct call.

Match to be drawn at 11/4 with Victor Chandler
No goalscorer at 9/1 on Betdaq
Sell total goals at 2.6 with Sporting Index