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Six Nations: Slam hopes hinge on Paris battle

The Six Nations is a brutal competition. One round in and the title ambitions of half the field have been placed on life support or ended entirely.

England, Wales and Italy have been left picking up the pieces after costly defeats, far from comforted by the knowledge that only three teams have won the Six Nations after losing their opening game.

For their conquers, the outlook is far sunnier with Ireland, France and Scotland dreaming of championships and perhaps even the Holy Grail - a Grand Slam.

Those Slam ambitions are fragile though with Scotland needing a first win in Cardiff since 2002 to keep theirs alive. Meanwhile, a mouth-watering showdown between Ireland and France will see one or both teams' Grand Slam hopes fall by the wayside.

It's 13/10 that we crown a Grand Slam champion for the 12th time in Six Nations history this year with the winner of Saturday's crunch game in Paris set to be the one left holding all the cards.

Ireland on a roll

Ireland will head to the French capital on the back of nine straight wins, the latest of which came at a canter as they put a below-par Wales to the sword 29-7 in this year's championship opener.

The scoreline flattered the Welsh, failing to reflect the dominance of Andy Farrell's men in all facets.

A brutal defensive display gave Wales no room to work as Ireland controlled the game, punching holes in the Welsh line with their powerful pack when in possession.

While the backs failed to fire at times on Ireland's numerous trips into Wales territory, debutant Mack Hansen caught the eye and could prove a difference-maker for an Ireland side that haven't always found tries easy to come by.

The boot of Johnny Sexton will also be key to Ireland's hopes of a fourth title in the last nine years and the captain appeared in excellent form at the weekend, leaving those watching stunned with a couple of bending conversions.

France not firing on all cylinders

Sexton's kicking will need to be on point again if Ireland are to win in Paris with Ireland heading into that game at 13/8 to win the title and 9/2 to complete the Grand Slam.

The last time Ireland won in France in 2018 it kick-started a Slam year, but Les Bleus are a very different side to then.

The French have improved significantly, although that didn't show in the first half of the 37-10 win over Italy.

There was a danger of France being undercooked entering the tournament with Antone Dupont having missed nearly a month of action, while illness had affected their training camp, and that played out in the opening half against the Azzurri

They were able to blow off the cobwebs in the second half as the impressive Gabin Villiere completed a hat-trick late on, while Damien Penaud kept us his recent try-scoring exploits with an eighth try in his last 11 games.

Dupont admitted after the game that his side had made too many mistakes, but the worry for the rest of the field is that they may have already played their poorest game against the weakest opponent.

Ireland won't allow France to get away with so many errors and the hosts will need to be sharper in a game that could decide the fate of the title.

Both teams play three home games this year with France potentially having the easier away days in Wales and Scotland, while Ireland go to Twickenham later on in the tournament and Les Bleus are 10/3 to win the Grand Slam.

Scots sniffing title run

Scotland will certainly have something to say about the fate of the title with games against Ireland and France to come and at 6/1 can't be discounted from winning it themselves.

They will have taken massive confidence from their 20-17 win over England at Murrayfield, their sixth win in the last seven Test matches.

Finn Russell produced a composed performance in tricky conditions, while an excellent defensive showing from the Scots saw them across the line.

The victory came at a cost though with Jamie Ritchie suffering an injury and a Scotland squad not blessed with depth can't afford to lose too many players if they are to win a first Six Nations title.

Saturday's trip to Wales is the first of three away games for Scotland in this year's Championship and life on the road hasn't always been kind to Gregor Townsend's men despite recent improvements.

Following up the emotional win over England will be a big test, particularly with Wales in desperate mode. The Scots are 4/6 to make it two wins on the spin in this year's tournament with a Cardiff victory.

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England and Wales face make-or-break fixtures

Wales never got going in Dublin and the defending champions now face seeing their title defence ended by Scotland if they can't find a way to improve significantly.

Wales lacked a cutting edge against Ireland, while the absence of seven Lions players through injury and the lack of form many players have demonstrated at club level leaves Wayne Pivac facing a battle to save their campaign.

There were certainly more positives to be found in defeat for England than Wales with Eddie Jones' men having competed well, particularly up front against the Scottish pack.

Fly-half Marcus Smith stood out for the Red Rose, scoring all of England's 17 points and is growing into his role at number ten.

A blunt attack and a lack of punch from midfield duo Elliot Daly and Henry Slade were the biggest concerns for England but they could be addressed against Italy on Sunday.

The Azzurri have never beaten England in a Six Nations game and while they showed themselves to be competitive against France, there's still a long way to go with the possibility of another pointless campaign a real threat.

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