Below are the predictions for the weekend from our machine learning rugby algorithm.
Only three teams realistically still in with a chance of the title: England with an enormous 87% chance, Wales with 8% and Ireland with 4%. Those bonus points really are important…
Scotland are first up against an ailing France in Paris. France are favourites to win this one with the algorithm giving them a 65% chance, predicting a four point winning margin for the French. If Scotland are to overcome these odds, this would be the first time that they have won in Paris since 1999, one of the reasons that the algorithm has France as narrow favourites.
Counting against Scotland though is their enormous injury list, with injuries to Finn Russell, Huw Jones and Stuart Hogg stripping them of their three most important backs. Additionally, France will feel under huge pressure to put in a strong performance after their miserable showing against England two weeks ago. Many pundits, and no doubt the French public, expect a powerful French backlash.
Next up we have Wales v England – a fixture which, if England win, will practically sew up the 2019 Six Nations for England. However, a Welsh win will throw a lifeline to themselves (and others), and reopen up the tournament excitement for the neutrals.
Form for both sides going into this fixture is strong; Wales are looking to extend their longest unbeaten run since 1909 whilst England’s only loss in the past 6 games was against New Zealand, where they were a solitary point away from beating the World Champions. Wales’s recent home form has also been impressive with only four losses in the previous 20 games, against New Zealand, England and Australia twice.
England’s recent form against Wales in Cardiff should give them optimism, having lost only two out of five since the start of the decade, particularly given Wales’s relatively laboured start to the 2019 Six Nations. Interestingly, an English win would level the two sides’ head to head in Cardiff since 1980 – ten all.
Regardless of form, both sides are more-than capable of winning this game with England only marginal favourites (we give them a 55% of winning). Dealing with the pressure will be critical for both sides and we all remember what happened the last time that England came to Cardiff looking to seal the Championship.
Finally, Ireland v Italy. Somewhat of a dead-rubber given Italy’s form in the Six Nations, although Ireland will still be looking for, and are expected to get, a bonus point win. This will keep them in with a shot of winning the tournament if England slip against Wales on Saturday.
The algorithm predicts a comfortable 27 point win for Ireland with Italy given only a 6% chance of winning.
Ireland’s team has not yet been announced but it will be interesting to see whether Joe Schmidt opts for consistency in order to build momentum for the rest of the tournament, or whether he uses it as an opportunity to try out a few players and combinations.
Schmidt will no doubt have Wales’s poor performance against Italy at the back of his mind. Wales made ten changes against Italy and struggled to an unconvincing 15-26 win with no bonus point.