The middle weekend of the Six Nations is a pivotal one in every sense. Even teams with two defeats in their first two games can still win the title – and, conversely, teams with two wins can certainly lose it. But if you are in the first group and lose this weekend, your Six Nations is done.
England v France
This year, England are the only unbeaten team after convincing wins in both of their opening games. France languish at the bottom after somehow managing to lose against both Italy away and Wales on their home turf.
England look likely to be unchanged from their win in Dublin in their last game. Coach Stuart Lancaster has named the same squad of 23 players and with France likely to recall speedy winger Vincent Clerc it would be a surprise if England went with Manu Tuilagi as a winger as some have suggested.
A major concern for the French will be that their domestic fixture schedule meant that many of their players had hard games last weekend. Although they have come through with no serious injury losses, this promises to be another bruising game and stamina could be a key issue for Les Bleus.
There's little value in backing a win for England, but it is likely to be another close game so go for the 1-5 point win, on offer at 5/1 from William Hill.
All England fans should take a look at my free picks for the Cricket match between New Zealand & England.
Italy v Wales
The Italians were dealt a major blow on Wednesday when captain Sergio Parisse was banned for the rest of the tournament after being sent off for abusing a referee during a league match in France last Saturday. He is likely to appeal, but that appeal may well not be heard before kick off on Saturday.
In some respects, the change will not weaken the Italians too much. Alessandro Zanni will switch to the number eight position and veteran flanker Mauro Bergamasco will come in on the flank. It is something of a tribute to Bergamasco that he was the Italian team's talisman before Parisse was, yet he is still only 33 years old.
Wales stick with the same starting XV, which means there is no spot for fit-again captain Sam Warburton. He joins the bench alongside another returnee, lock Alun-Wyn Jones, but it has to be said that the side looked better without him.
Picking a winner of this one is harder than it looks. On the face of it you would expect an easy victory for the reigning Six Nations champions. But that win in Paris snapped an eight game losing streak that is hard to overlook, and the Italians were impressively organised in their home win over France.
It really all comes down to how, emotionally, the home team deal with losing their captain in such a contentious fashion. My bet is that they turn that Italian passion outwards and surprise the Welsh at betting odds of around 11/4 (William Hill, Bet 365, Ladbrokes)
Scotland v Ireland
In many ways this is the most intriguing contest of the week. After an appalling autumn which saw them even manage to lose to Tonga, Scotland were most people's favourite to be the whipping boys of this tournament. Instead, they put up a creditable show against England, beat an Italian side who had no so much a bad day at the office as the sort of day that makes you want to go home and kick kittens, and unearthed a genuine star in full back Stuart Hogg.
Against them are the serial underachievers of Ireland. If any side has been less than the sum of its parts in recent seasons it is the Irish and they have been living up to that this year, narrowly beating Wales after being 30-3 ahead and then losing to England at home in a game marred by poor discipline and even poorer kicking. Injury robs them of key men in first choice fly half Jonathan Sexton and veteran centre Gordon D'Arcy, whilst Cian Healy is suspended for his stamp on England's Dan Cole in the last game.
The crucial factor there is the loss of D'Arcy. That Ireland have persisted with a man so past his prime for so long says volumes about the death of Irish talent in that position and Scotland's midfield of the experienced Sean Lamont and fast-emerging Matt Scott should be well placed to exploit that weakness. I am adding Scotland as the final of my free picks at 13/10 with William Hill to pull of a slightly surprising victory.