Two weekend matches are close to call!

LIAM BOTHAM COLUMN

A warm hello to all IRC members and newsletters subscribers,

I am looking forward to writing this column for you, and I’ll be focusing mainly on rugby and cricket. I am a golf fanatic too – l spend arduous hours watching the game and even more hours working on my swing, but we’ll be leaving the golf puzzles to Warren Todd, who keeps amazing us with his uncannily accurate predictions.

While I’m not a betting expert and I don’t want this to be seen as a tipping column, I’ll be giving you the most important clues, or pointers if you wish, to determine the outcome of the games in discussion. We’ll also be looking at some key battles within those matches to point you in the right direction. And maybe you’ll learn something interesting along the way.

I’ve heard some betting people say, ‘don’t tip me, just give me your opinion, or your information, and I will use it to my best advantage’. I quite like that as a point of departure, and will approach this column as such.

The two matches under scrutiny in today’s column will be those between Llanelli’s Scarlets and the Cardiff Blues, kick-off at 8pm (UK); and the Irish teams Connacht and The Ospreys, set to do battle on Sunday at 3pm (UK).

As you may know, my son James plays at flanker for the Cardiff Blues, but that won’t be influencing my assessments for this match and whichever game he’ll be taking part in, in future. I’ll be considering the specific merits and factors pertaining to every match as objectively as possible.

I am expecting James to have a big game. He is disappointed at not having been selected for the Welsh Six Nations side and will be going out to prove a point.

James will be in the midst of the action in what is expected to a be a solid and evenly matched forward battle, with the Scarlets fielding a strong pack including international lock Jake Ball, who is playing his last season at the club before returning to Australia.

The battle will be decided up front, while the backline can put a stamp on it.

I’m looking forward, especially, to the contest at flyhalf between Cardiff’s Jarrod Evans and the Scarlet equivalent, Dan Jones. Evans is a very exciting prospect, definitely one of the best flyhalves in the UK at present.

Also worth noting is the clash of Jonathan Davies and Ray Lee-Lo on outside centre, and the mentioned Jake Ball vs Seb Davies at lock.

All the Scarlet squad members picked for Wales will be playing in this game, with the notable exception of Josh Mcleod, who was selected ahead of James for the Welsh team. I was really looking forward to the pair locking horns, and I’m not sure why the Scarlets back-rower will be sitting this one out.

This should be a game as close as any and making a confident call is not easy. It’s a bit of a grudge return match for the Scarlets, having lost 20-29 to the Blues in Cardiff a fortnight ago. But there is a factor I’d like to bring into reckoning to close, and it swings my sentiments marginally towards the Blues. Cardiff has a new interim rugby director in 53-year-old Dai Young (headline photo), who left the club a decade ago to serve Wasps, and is known for making a difference.

I’m expecting a more expansive approach from the Blues, and with their quality at the back we could see some exciting moments. While the Scarlets will be home favourites, I’d call it it 25-20 for the Blues.

The teams have not been announced for the In the Connacht-Ospreys clash so I can’t do match-ups, but I’ll be siding with the home-advantaged Connacht, thought again just by a small margin. They’re coming off some excellent pre-Christmas form, and also trounced Leinster on their home turf when they met early in January.

Dan Lydiate has been outstanding for the Ospreys, not sure if he’ll be playing, and one to watch will be Ospreys scrumhalf Rhys Webb, not picked for Wales this time but set for a big performance.

I think Bundee Aki will be one to look out for among the Connacht troops, if he is fit.

As we know, the Ospreys are a good side, never a pushover, but Connacht is an improved squad and, arguably, has some momentum going for them right now.

Until next time.