After a flurry of activity in recent weeks, this weekend represents the calm before the storm in the world of rugby, with the clock ticking towards the Six Nations kick off next weekend. We’ll look at the first round games in more detail next week, but here’s the BetPreviews run through of the six countries involved, the key factors to look out for and the best value punt.
Market Price: 2/1
Prognosis: Their win over the All Blacks has sent expectation levels through the roof and there is a feeling in England right now that Stuart Lancaster has this team moving in the right direction. The injury to Manu Tuilagi, as well as causing some fun and games at recent press conferences, does diminish their ability to break defensive lines and create confusion in the back line however. Neither should we forget how poorly they played against Australia. Home advantage against France is critical but their lack of a creative spark is possibly going to cause them problems in games where they are better than the opposition but fail to convert superiority into tries.
Key Factor: They need to set the tone with a big performance against the Scots. They should be capable of winning the Calcutta Cup with a little to spare and Scott Johnson’s comments will surely add fuel to the fire. Nonetheless England need to turn the screw and not turn the match into Braveheart revisited.
Market Price: 2/1
Prognosis: They have to travel to London and Dublin so in that sense it could be a tough year for the French to prevail, but on the other hand they have plenty of in form players to choose from and it’s impossible to pick out a weak link in the team. It seems ridiculous to back the French when they are a short price but the old days of French inconsistency are something of a caricature now. This current groups is being slowly moulded and their Autumn series was impressive from start to finish.
Key Factor: They have a great young panel and they’ll line out with as much flair in the first XV as we would expect from any French team, but they need Freddy Michalak to play controlled as well as creative rugby at 10. Poor decision making is one thing that could cost the French dearly and they need to make sure that their hard earned gains up front are converted into points and territory.
Market Price: 4/1
Prognosis: England and France will travel to Dublin so if they are to win back the championship, they have the right set of fixtures to do so. However their provincial teams aren’t in the kind of form that they’d like and one win over Argentina isn’t enough to convince us that everything is rosy in the green island just yet.
Key Factor: For quite some time now, Ireland’s trump card has been their imaginative play in the back division. However Brian O’Driscoll is battling both Father Time and some injuries, Tommy Bowe is a long term absentee and Luke Fitzgerald is another player who probably won’t be fit enough. Craig Gilroy and Simon Zebo look very capable at times but Six Nations rugby is a huge step up in class and Ireland need big production from their three quarter line.
Market Price: 9/2
Prognosis: Last year’s campaign feels like a world away now and while there wasn’t much focus put on the Welsh in advance of that campaign, they still found a way to produce strong performances when they needed it. In theory the same thing could happen now, but their pricing seems to almost presume that Wales will magically rediscover their form of twelve months ago. It’s one thing to respect their ability to step up their game, it’s quite another to presume that they will do so with a plethora of injury concerns and lack of consistency in team selection.
Key Factor: One of the few bright spots in Welsh rugby this season has been the strong play of Justin Tipuric in the back row, and the Ospreys seven is a strong contender to start for the Lions later in the year. He’s not even guaranteed a start in this Welsh team but if he can cause his usual havoc at the breakdown, he can disrupt opposition phases and create the kind of free flowing and turnover ridden game that will suit Wales’ ability to play off the cuff.
Market Price: 28/1
Prognosis: There is a general feeling up north that the Scots failed to really do justice to the coaching they got from Andy Robinson, but it remains to be seen if they do any better under Scott Johnson. The fixtures fall kindly for them and they do match up well with the Irish – winning the championship is beyond them but securing two wins should be their target and even three is not impossible.
Key Factor: It’s all about finishing for the Scots. They’ve been one of the worst countries in the world for converting possession and territory into tries and that has to change. Tim Visser is their wild card – his form in the Heineken Cup suggests that he’s a good club player rather than a potentially elite international, but if he defies that analysis, the Scots won’t be too far off.
Market Price: 200/1
Prognosis: They can’t win, but there’s no denying that the graph is moving in the right direction for the Italians and their outright odds don’t reflect the improvements that they’ve made in recent seasons. From an antepost betting point of view there’s not really much point in discussing them in detail, however we suspect we will be on their side quite frequently during the competition.
Key Factor: This campaign will be the real test of whether or not this Italian squad can buy into Jacques Brunel’s philosophy of running rugby and letting the backs play a much bigger part in the game. In theory this takes the game into territory where the Italians are less comfortable, however if they can add a second dimension to their play they could surprise people.
Championship: France to win @ 2/1 (3pt stake)